Muazzez İlmiye Çığ, Turkey’s oldest living person, celebrated her 110th birthday

Muazzez İlmiye Çığ in her later years (undated photo)

The Gerontology Research Group is delighted to announce that Mrs. Muazzez İlmiye Çığ, a Turkish archaeologist, Sumerologist, assyriologist and writer, specializes in the study of Sumerian civilization, and the oldest living person in Turkey, celebrated her 110th birthday on 20 June 2024.

Muazzez İlmiye Çığ (née İtil) was born in Bursa, Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) on 20 June 1914. Her parents were Crimean Tatars both of whose families had immigrated to Turkey, with her father’s side settling in the town of Merzifon, and her mother’s side in the northwestern city of Bursa, Turkey’s fourth-largest, which was, at the time, a major regional administrative center of the Ottoman Empire.  Muazzez Ilmiye was born in Bursa, a few weeks before the outbreak of World War I and, by the time of her fifth birthday in 1919, the Greek Army’s invasion of İzmir prompted her father, who was a teacher, to seek safety for the family by moving to the city of Çorum where young Muazzez completed her primary studies. She subsequently returned to Bursa and, by the time of her 17th birthday in 1931, graduated from its training facility for elementary school teachers.

Educational credentials

After nearly five years of educating children in another northwestern city, Eskisehir, she began studies in 1936 at Ankara University’s Department of Hittitology, established the previous year by modern Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Among her teachers were two of the period’s most eminent scholars of Hittite culture and history, Hans Gustav Guterbock and Benno Landsberger, both Hitler-era German-Jewish refugees, who spent World War II as professors in Turkey.

Upon receiving her degree in 1940, she began a multi-decade career at Museum of the Ancient Orient, one of three such institutions comprising Istanbul Archaeology Museums, as a resident specialist in the field of cuneiform tablets, thousands of which were being stored untranslated and unclassified in the facility’s archives. In the intervening years, due to her efforts in the deciphering and publication of the tablets, the Museum became a Middle Eastern languages learning center attended by ancient history researchers from every part of the world

Professional career and court case

She was married to M. Kemal Cig, the director of Topkapı Museum, Muazzez Ilmiye Cig is also a prominent advocate for secularism and women’s rights in Turkey, and an honorary member of German Archeology Institute and İstanbul University Institute of Prehistoric Sciences. She has gained renown in her profession for the diligent and systematic investigation evident in her books, scholarly papers and general interest articles published in magazines and newspapers such as Belleten and Bilim ve Utopya. In 2002, her autobiography, Çivi çiviyi söker, framed as a series of interviews by journalist Serhat Ozturk was published by the country’s premier national financial institution Turkiye Is Bankasi.

She and her publisher were charged with “inciting hatred based on religious differences”. The dismissal of the charges in the first hearing on 31 October 2006, and her acquittal brought additional publicity to Prof. Cig. In her trial, she denied the charges, declaring “I am a woman of science … I never insulted anyone”. At that initial trial hearing, the judge dismissed her case and, following a trial less than half hour in duration, the book’s publisher was acquitted.

On 20 June 2024, she celebrated her 110th birthday, probably becoming the first undisputed female supercentenarian in Turkey, as well as the second supercentenarian ever recorded in Turkey, after World War I veteran Yakup Satar (11 March 1898 – 2 April 2008) who died at the age of 110 years, 22 days.

Türkiye’nin ilk kadın sümeroloğu 110 yaşında

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