History in the National Archives (Milli Arşiv)
Milli Arşiv was established in 1971 with the aim of preserving and recording documents and pictures for the future.
By Chris ELLIOTT
When you are writing in the newspaper it is one thing to report facts as they are presented to you, but to write an account of news of yesteryear it requires a lot of hard work to research historical facts and with the language difficulties, it becomes somewhat difficult but with perseverance, the information is available.
For some while now I have been visiting the National Archive and Research Centre (Milli Arşiv) here in Girne and I went back there recently to meet with the Director, Gõkhan Şenĝor and this is a man who is so deeply interested and dedicated in his task of preserving the national treasures which are the records of past lives, events and activities.
Milli Arşiv was established in 1971 and reports direct to the Presidential Office with the aim of preserving and recording documents and pictures so these could be used by researchers who wished to discover more knowledge of the lives and activities of the past peoples of Cyprus,
In 1975 the National Archive moved to its current location which had been a very grandiose building in its heyday but where needs must, it has been adapted to serve its current function of storing mainly both Turkish and English material with a number of outer buildings also being used to preserve documents of the latter Ottoman and also the Greek Period which also form part of the rich heritage of Cyprus.
Gõkhan has been director of Milli Arşiv for the past 12 years and has been striving to take all of the old records and have them preserved, catalogued and filed in appropriate order for future use of researchers. When he first arrived he found the centre packed full of boxes of documents that had not been categorised by the various agencies that sent them. Time has moved on and progress is being made with this vital task and since then there has been a steady stream of more documents arriving with more and more records being categorised before they are sent to the centre.
The biggest problems faced when dealing with this monumental task is numbers of people to do the job, storage facilities and above all else space to work in, but we will learn more of this later.
To get a real understanding of the task in hand, Gõkhan took me on a tour of the centre with a visit to the upper rooms of the main building and as you go up the stairs you see scanning and photographic equipment used when Milli Arşiv first commenced its work. There is an incredible old map of Cyprus on the wall plus many fascinating pictures taken during the early British period. On entering the main rooms it was fascinating to see a plan filing cabinet that was donated by the Anglo Turkish Association. This is full of many ancient maps some of which have been identified, categorised and catalogued by the TRNC Mapping Department but many maps still await their return to complete this exercise.
In the main rooms and cupboards there are many Turkish books, ledgers newspapers plus photographs some of which still await sorting, identifying, cataloguing and placing in files.
On the ground floor there is a work area for researchers plus a collection of books and a very impressive British Authority, Blue Book collection. Nearby are also staff offices.
On coming down the stairs I was taken into the main scanning room where I saw two Indus Colour Book Scanner 5002 machines which
are worth approximately 30,000 US dollars each and one was donated by the Turkish Embassy and the other by the Islamic Development Foundation. Whilst I was able to take photographs of these machines and server room nearby where all data is stored, it was not possible to take a picture of an Ottoman record that was being processed because of my flash photography.
I was delighted however to receive from Gõkhan a scan taken by this machine of an Ottoman record of 1878 which shows a personal taxation record of an Ottoman soldier.
From here we visited an outer building built around 1982 and it was converted in 1987 and dedicated to the storage of Ottoman records which included many fine registers of court records and warrants and also village books. This collection was very impressive and nicely stored in purpose-built racking but working space is still very much a problem for the staff working there.
Next in our visit was another building which contained many Greek books, ledgers and newspapers which again were stored with care in purpose built racks but as in the other storage areas there was still more material to be sorted and categorised with very little space to do this in. In one area I spotted two new blue box files labelled Enosis and Eoka and looking inside them, there were some fascinating looking documents.
The staff of Milli Arşiv have been working under increasing difficulties but times are changing with the construction of a new building in the grounds which is due to open in a few month or so. This will have a large exhibition area in the reception foyer and a large conference centre and additional research rooms. In the basement there will be a far larger computer and data storage suite and of course a large number of rooms with special racking where all of the books and records can be stored under humidity controlled conditions which will ensure a better environment for their future preservation.
Outside the building will be open leisure areas where groups and researchers will be able to meet during their conferences.
So it is but a few months away when that very valuable space will become available and make it possible for a great level of archiving of all of this valuable material which is so important if we are to learn of the past and perhaps see where the future may lead us.
In the past I registered with the centre by filling out a form and included my passport identity and even though language can be a problem, I found I was received with great friendliness and was taken to a computer terminal and logged onto the database of records listed in English. Having established what you are looking for, this information is brought to you to read and take notes as you wish.
This place is an Aladdin’s cave of documents and books and currently there is a small leaflet in Turkish, English and Greek covering the following periods and apart from some documents associated with law or property, most information is open for public viewing by request.
1570-1878 Latter Ottoman Period
1878-1960 British Colonial Period
1960-1963 Republic of Cyprus Period
1964-1983 Turkish Administration Period
1983- To date TRNC Period
There is a web page in Turkish and for those for those that wish to test the water before visiting, please visit http://arsiv.kamunet.net. You can try a web translation and some areas will show in English. When you enter the site if you select “Eserler” then click on “Ingilizce Kolleksiyon” you will be presented with an English listing of a great many documents and/or books that can be reviewed when you visit the centre. Plans are in hand for a new website which will hopefully be multilingual but that is for the future.
For more information email email@example.com or telephone 0392 815 2156
Location of Milli Arşiv is between the British Cemetery and the Girne State Hospital on the right hand side of the road leading from Pia Bella Hotel to the centre of Girne.
Again I would like to express my thanks to Gõkhan Şenĝor and his staff for their past help and support and I look forward to telling you more when the new National Archive Centre opens.
This article was first published in the Cyprus Observer and reading of the work of the Girne American University Students in helping Milli Arsiv with the work of cataloging and transferring valuable records into the new centre, this past article has been re-published to try to show what hard work was required to create a New National Archive for future generations to visit and enjoy. We will also show shortly our recording of the opening of the new Milli Arsiv Center.
To read about the GAU Students click here