Second International Symposium on Islamic Civilisation in the Balkans, organised by IRCICA and the Academy of Sciences of Albania, the General Directorate of Archives (Albania), the University of Tirana, and İSAR Foundation, Tirana, Albania, 4-7 December 2003

The Second International Symposium on "Islamic Civilisation in the Balkans" has been held in Tirana, capital city of Albania. It was opened by the address of His Excellency Mr. Fatos Nano, Prime Minister of the Republic of Albania. Nearly 100 scholars and specialists from all over the world participated in the symposium. It was jointly organised by IRCICA, the Academy of Sciences of Albania, the General Directorate of Archives (Albania), the University of Tirana, and İSAR Foundation. Ninety-seven papers were presented during the symposium, in Albanian, English or Turkish.

The opening ceremony of the symposium heard the addresses of Prime Minister Mr. Fatos Nano, IRCICA Director General Prof. Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, and Prof. Dr. Ylli Popa, President of the Academy of Sciences. In the Plenary Session that followed, Professors Aleksander Meksi (Albania), Machiel Kiel (Holland), Mehmet İpşirli (Turkey) and Alexander Fedotoff (Bulgaria) presented their papers. Then the symposium continued with regular sessions. 18 sessions took place at the same time in two halls.

In his inaugural speech Mr. Fatos Nano, Prime Minister of Albania stated that the symposium brought together prominent intellectual forces from the Balkan region and from Europe, with the purpose of enlightening one of the specific values of mankind’s common culture, namely the "Islamic Civilisation". He underlined the fact that the holding of this symposium in Albania is an expression of the respect paid to reserving the values of Islamic civilisation and at the same time an expression of the belief in the necessity of studying those values and setting them free of myths, in order to make them an organic part of the peoples, who inherit them, and to make them constituents of the world civilisation. The Prime Minister indicated that the countries of the Balkan region have chosen, some in a decisive way, some gradually, to adapt their way of living, of coexistence and of the governing in accordance with European-Atlantic model. This is the model of concerted development of the multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-religious, multi-cultural and even multi-alphabetic civilisations. If this remains the main goal towards the future, this must also constitute the political and cultural standard in evaluating the past. Finally, he thanked the organisers of the symposium and the participants and wished them success.

Speaking at the inaugural session, the Director General of IRCICA Prof. İhsanoğlu expressed his pleasure that the symposium was enhanced by the high-level support extended by H.E. the Prime Minister and the Government of Albania and the Prime Minister’s participation. He also expressed his happiness to note the results of important achievements which were made in Albania since the time he first visited Tirana as a member of the OIC delegation, in 1992. The Director General reviewed the progress of cooperation between the Government and the institutions of Albania over the past years, and emphasised the important aspects of the symposium. He said this was the first large-scale scholarly activity hosted by the Republic of Albania in the field of studies on Islamic civilisation; and that therefore, it was the manifestation of an active role undertaken by the Republic of Albania within the framework of the cultural activities of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, of which it is a Member State since 1992. Prof. İhsanoğlu said that "the last two decades, especially the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin wall, saw numerous important developments around the world, including the Balkans. Some negative developments were seen, such as economic problems and the outbreak of ethnic strife and violence. However, there have also been very positive developments like the establishment of friendly relations among the countries of the region, economic development, and international cooperation in various fields, improvement in the status and rights of the minorities. These were facilitated by the constructive attitude of the parties, fostered by attempts to understand each other and build more contacts and cooperation. This new situation started to yield its results in various fields, including the scientific and scholarly fields, and the present symposium is a good example of this."

The symposium aimed at promoting regional scholarly cooperation within and around the Balkans, encouraging studies on the Balkans, as well as studies on regional aspects of Islamic civilisation. It is expected to open a new chapter in Balkan studies after the initiative which was taken with the first symposium held in Sofia, in 2000. The papers presented will be published in the form of a comprehensive book and constitute an important contribution to studies in this field.

The symposium emphasised primarily peaceful coexistence, tolerance, religious and cultural harmony and dialogue in the Balkans. Several papers offered new insights and methodology and suggested new approaches to the study of the problems and the region. The results, suggestions and future prospects were put forward and discussed systematically at the closing session of the symposium on 7 December. Several issues discussed during the symposium enriched the visions, opened new horizons and created some ideas for the future. In that context, the following view was expressed: "We all agree that we are at a new era for the study of the Balkans. There emerges a new scholarship free of bias, hatred, preconceived ideas and ideological dogmas. It has an open mind; it is scientific and objective. This new approach will replace the old historiography. Yet, the new historiography is not isolated from other contemporary scientific currents and scholarship. We have to respect history and work for peaceful coexistence. We should not fall into the trap of clash of civilizations or old foci."

It was asserted that a network of scholars had already been established through the two symposia IRCICA had organized on Islamic Civilisation in the Balkans. The participants as well as some members of the audience had come to know each other and updated their knowledge and information. This network, which made use of the modern technological means as well, was more promising. Besides, the following idea born out of an informal meeting of Prof. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the Director General of IRCICA, with some of the participants was revealed and the audience’s comments and suggestions were requested: "The symposium should be self-perpetuating, sort of autonomous and dynamic. Of course, IRCICA will still give its support, but the symposium should also fly on its own wings." The participants welcomed this suggestion. The idea of institutionalising the symposium in the form of an association, which must have its own statues, was supported strongly. The association could also later join international scholarly organisations. Upon the proposal of the Director General of IRCICA, the closing session was considered the founding meeting for the association. During the discussions it was also suggested that some of the future symposia focus on specific topics, and that interdisciplinary and comparative approaches be emphasised. The proposals and recommendations put forward at the symposium are being studied for follow-up and implementation.