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Shirin Akiner (1942-2019) – in Memoriam



Shirin Akiner

Shirin Akiner (1942-2019) came to the School of Slavonic and East European Studies of London University in 1965 as one of several ‘mature’ students as they were quaintly known at that time. As I was only in my second year of teaching and more or less the same age as these students I became friendly with several of them. Shirin was a brilliant student, recently widowed with a small child, Metin, after her husband had been killed in a car crash.

She was born to a Pakistani diplomat and Welsh mother, but brought up in a British school and spoke and wrote impeccable English. I got to know Shirin quite early on, as we shared an interest in classical music, although this is a serious understatement in her case, as she had studied the fiddle in Moscow and Amsterdam under the outstanding Soviet violinist David Oistrakh; I believe that after the tragedy of her husband’s death she never played the violin again. She remarried in the 1970s a scholarly businessman, David Mitchell, and moved from Willesden to Chelsea, and became known in non-academic life as Shirin Akiner Mitchell.

I am sure that it was I who aroused her interest in Belarus in the late 1960sa~ and introduced her to the Francis Skaryna Library and Fr Alexander. With the latter’s help she wrote an article, ‘Contemporary Young Byelorussian Poets (1967-1975)’, published in the Journal of Byelorussian Studies (hereafter JBS), III, 4 (1975), pp. 342-53, which was subsequently taken up by the Belarusians of eastern Poland who produced a Polish-language booklet from this article.Earlier, inspired no doubt by the excellent piece by Fr Nadson in collaboration with G.M. Meredith-Owens, a Professor in the Department of Islamic Studies, University of Toronto and  well-known specialist in Persian miniatures, ‘The Byelorussian Tartars and Their Writings’, JBS, II, 2 (1969), pp. 141-76, she also wrote an article on a cognate subject: ‘The Vocabulary of a Byelorussian K’it’ab in the British Museum’, JBS, III, 1 (1973), which later was expanded and revised, becoming a first-class book published by a prestigious German publisher: The Religious Language of the Belarusian Tatar Kitab, Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 2009.  On a lighter note, when occasionally we were invited to lunch with Fr Alexander who was an excellent cook in addition to his many other achievements, I would bring a bottle of wine whilst she, more sensibly, contributed some excellent coffee.

Always interested in Near and Central Asia, after an excellent degree in Russian with subsidiary Turkish, Shirin turned mainly to study of Central Asia, becoming a Research Associate at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, where she had mainly faithful postgraduates, and also an Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Despite a glittering career in this field of study, she was loyal to her links with Belarus and Belarusians who, in turn, valued her work. For instance, in 1983 at the International Congress of Slavists in Kyiv, the Belarusian delegation insisted on my bringing her to meet them. In London, she regularly attended various launches, celebrations and other events. In fact, the last time I saw Shirin and her husband was at an exhibition of Belarusian art less than a year ago. She will sorely be missed by her son and husband, and by many scholars around the world, as well as by the Belarusian community in London that she supported so well.

Arnold McMillin
Emeritus Professor
University College London



March 11, 2024

Anglo-Belarusian Society AGM 2024 and 70th Anniversary Day -16th March 2024

1. Annual General Meeting of the Anglo-Belarusian Society (14:00-15:30) 2. Celebration of the 70th Birthday of ABS (16:00-18:00) The afternoon will take place in two parts on Saturday 16th March 2024, at 52 Penn Road, London, N7, between 1400-1800:- 14:00-15:30 : Annual General Meeting, formal business including reports, election of the Council, and discussion of… Continue reading Anglo-Belarusian Society AGM 2024 and 70th Anniversary Day -16th March 2024

February 15, 2024

International Mother Language Day with Andrej Chadanovič, 24 February 2pm

The Anglo-Belarusian Society cordially invites you to the traditional celebration of International Mother Language Day, which will take place on 24 February 2024 at 2 p.m. in the Skaryna Library. Established by UNESCO, this day aims to promote awareness of cultural traditions based on mutual understanding, tolerance and dialogue. This has become especially important in… Continue reading International Mother Language Day with Andrej Chadanovič, 24 February 2pm

November 30, 2023

Kaliady and Batlejka 2023 (Christmas celebration), Saturday 16 December 2023, 3pm-5pm

All members and friends of the Belarusian community in Britain are cordially invited to the traditional Kaliady celebration organised by the Anglo-Belarusian Society on Saturday 16th December 2023, starting at 3pm, at the Church of St. Cyril of Turau, followed by a service and tea with biscuits at the Marian House afterwards. From 4pm there… Continue reading Kaliady and Batlejka 2023 (Christmas celebration), Saturday 16 December 2023, 3pm-5pm

November 30, 2023

An Afternoon with two Belarus Book Authors – Paul Hansbury and Vasil Eudakimau, Saturday 02/12 14:30-17:00

 Talk by Paul Hansbury – “Is There Such a Thing as “Belarus?”, followed by Q & A Vladimir Putin doesn’t appear to think there should be an independent Belarus : in his notorious 2021 essay “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” he argued that Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians were a single triune nation.… Continue reading An Afternoon with two Belarus Book Authors – Paul Hansbury and Vasil Eudakimau, Saturday 02/12 14:30-17:00

October 2, 2023

Vanda Martins’ Reflections as a Translator and Poet in Lithuania and Scotland, Thu 12 Oct 19:00-20:30, Edinburgh

Vanda Martins’ Reflections as a Translator and Poet in Lithuania and Scotland THU 12 OCT 2023 @ 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM VENUE : ANATOMY LECTURE THEATRE, SUMMERHALL – 1, Summerhall, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL AGE GROUP: 12+ (UNDER 16S WITH ADULT) PART 1 : SOVIET DEPORTATIONS FROM LITHUANIA – REVELATION BY TRANSLATION – A talk by Vanda… Continue reading Vanda Martins’ Reflections as a Translator and Poet in Lithuania and Scotland, Thu 12 Oct 19:00-20:30, Edinburgh

September 27, 2023

Meeting with Vanda Martins, Sat 7 Oct 14:00, London

On Saturday 7th October 2023 at 2pm, at the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library in North Finchley, Vanda Martins, a Belarusian poet from Lithuania, will talk about Dalia Grinkievičiūtė’s book “Lithuanians by Laptev Sea”, translated by Vanda into Belarusian. Vanda is also going to present poems from her upcoming trilingual book about Vilnia-Wilnia-Vilnius. This event will… Continue reading Meeting with Vanda Martins, Sat 7 Oct 14:00, London

December 10, 2022

Kaliady celebration, Batlejka and the 25th Anniversary of Narodny Albom

All members and friends of the Belarusian community in Britain are cordially invited to the traditional Kaliady celebration organised by the Anglo-Belarusian Society on Sunday 11th December 2022, 3pm At: Church of St Cyril of Turau & All the Patron Saints of the Belarusian People Marian House, Holden Avenue, London N12 8HY There will be… Continue reading Kaliady celebration, Batlejka and the 25th Anniversary of Narodny Albom

December 10, 2022

Kupalle (Midsummer) Celebration 2023

Saturday 24 June 2023, 3pm-10pm The Anglo-Belarusian Society cordially invites its members and friends to the traditional Kupalle (Midsummer)celebration in the garden of 37 Holden Road, London N12 8HS (the nearest tube stop is Woodside Park). The celebration is organised in partnership with the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum and the Belarusian Catholic Mission,… Continue reading Kupalle (Midsummer) Celebration 2023

October 31, 2022

Centennial Commemoration of Auberon Herbert

Talks with recollections about Auberon Herbert from Pavel Shevtsov, Jim Dingley and Arnold McMillan. This will give an interesting and informative insight into the high level of activity of the Anglo Belarusian Society in the 1950’s to 1970’s, during Auberon Herbert’s active period with the Society. The meeting will be held both in-person at Marian… Continue reading Centennial Commemoration of Auberon Herbert