The Russian State Library’s Center of Eastern Literature has the largest collection of Ottoman era books and other printed materials in the Turkish language in Europe and Russia, totaling around 35,000, according to a library official.
Speaking to the state-run Anadolu Agency, the center’s director, Marina Melanyina, said “the pearl of the collection is an assembly of first editions of Turkish books.”
“A total of 13,000 items are modern Turkish books, magazines, newspapers and other printed materials, ‘items of the Republic of Turkey,’ as we call them. The rest of the collection are items in the old Ottoman language, and among them is a collection of first-printed books issued by İbrahim Müteferrika Printing House. We have 16 of the 17 first editions [of this collection],” Melanyina said.
Books have been added to the collection since 1828 when the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Empire transferred to the library its collection of Turkish books when it received them as gifts from the Ottoman embassy at the time.
Starting from this, the collection continued to grow, thanks to several more such exchanges, purchases and donations.
“After the Republic of Turkey and the U.S.S.R. were formed, an exchange of books took place on a regular basis between our library and the Turkish Historical and Linguistic Societies,” she said.
“Currently, the Center of the Eastern Literature cooperates with the Turkish embassy and the Culture Ministry of Turkey. As a sign of gratitude to these structures for the support and donated books, the center has placed beautifully illustrated books about Turkey at a prominent place in the center’s reading room,” Melanyina added.
The Center of the Eastern Literature of the Russian State Library is also home to the first printed Turkish book — a two-volume dictionary called “Vankulu Lugati” from 1729. The book has been named after its translator, Mehmet Vankulu, the center’s director said, adding that the book was popular among educated Turks and used to be in high demand.
Another rare book in the collection is “Tarih-i-Hindi Garbi” (The History of West India) from 1730. This illustrated book is full of pictures of people and animals.
“Cihannuma” by Katip Celebi is another important book in the Russian State Library known for its illustrations. The book was originally published without illustrations, but that edition, granted by the Turkish embassy to the Russian State Library, came with numerous pictures and maps that were colored manually, she added.
Several collections of historical documents with reproductions of historical acts with signatures and notes of top officials of the Ottoman and Republican periods are also at the center.
The Russian State Library, founded in 1728, is the biggest library in continental Europe. As of January 2018, it consisted of 47 million items in 367 languages. Among famous readers who made use of the library’s vast collections were writers Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy, Russian emperors and politicians, including Vladimir Lenin.