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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Mehmet Mehdi Ilhan (1946–2020)

by Peter Londey

We regret to make it known that Dr Mehmet Mehdi Ilhan died on Saturday 5 December at the age of 74. Dr Ilhan made an extraordinary contribution both to Turkish and Islamic studies in Australia, Europe and Turkey. He inspired the admiration, respect and affection of his colleagues, friends and students.

Dr Ilhan was the first scholar to establish the Turkish Studies program at the ANU Centre for Arab & Islamic Studies (The Middle East and Central Asia) in 2003 and taught the program until his retirement in 2012. This program remains unique in Australia with the range of language and non-language courses it offers and the rich grounding in the history, politics and society of Turkey.

Dr Ilhan was a multilingual scholar who was fluent in Turkish, Ottoman Turkish and Arabic. He will be remembered as a unique scholar and teacher who always offered support and encouragement to both his students and colleagues. He will be sadly missed.

Mehdi held a BA in Arabic and religious studies from the University of Leeds (1973), and a PhD from the University of Manchester (1977), with a thesis on ‘The 1518 Ottoman Cadastral Survey of the Sancak of Amid’. Later he taught at a number of institutions, including the Black Sea University (Romania), King Saud University (Saudi Arabia), and Al al- Bayt University (Jordan). From 1997 to 2003, he was a Professor in the Department of History at Middle East Technical University, Ankara. He maintained his connections with British scholars of the Ottoman world, in particular contributing to Project Paphlagonia led by Roger Matthews, then at University College London. By the time he came to Australia in 2003 Mehdi was a respected scholar of Ottoman history, particularly skilled in reading the difficult but highly informative Ottoman archival records. On one occasion, the Qatar government employed him to undertake archival research relating to a border dispute with Bahrain.

In Australia Mehdi took up a position as Convenor of Turkish Studies in the Centre of Arab and Islamic Studies (CAIS) at The Australian National University. While his time in CAIS was not always happy, he was able to join other ANU academics, including Professor Elizabeth Minchin, Dr Peter Londey and Lachlan McColl, in a project examining the long history of the Gallipoli peninsula. What Mehdi brought to this project was his ability to use the extensive Ottoman land, tax and administrative archival records relating to the area. He collected and tabulated these records over a number of years, as his teaching program permitted. Sadly, his sudden death has cut short some of the work he was doing analysing these records, but it is hoped that the work that has been done will still be able to be published, acknowledging Mehdi as a co-author.

Following retirement from CAIS in 2012, Mehdi also held positions at International Islamic University Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur and at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University in Turkey.

Mehdi was a true gentleman among scholars. Although he had a rare set of skills (even in Turkey, not many scholars can work as well with the Ottoman records), he never big-noted himself and was generous in using his knowledge to help others. He was always a cheerful and engaging presence; as one of those who worked with him on the Gallipoli project, I know I will miss him a lot. 

* Originally published by the ANU Centre for Arabic & Islamic Studies:

Additional Resources

Citation details

Peter Londey, 'Ilhan, Mehmet Mehdi (1946–2020)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 July 2024.

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