The Sir Percy Sykes Memorial Medal

The Sir Percy Sykes Memorial Medal has been awarded since 1947, with the generous support of the Sykes family, to distinguished travellers and writers deemed to have increased man’s knowledge of and stimulated interest in Asia.


On 11 March 2019, the Board of Trustees of the Society resolved to award the medal to Francesc Vendrell CMG in recognition of his lifelong commitment to the reduction and resolution of conflicts, particularly in Asian countries, and the important roles that he has played, and continues to play, in seeking peaceful outcomes to disputes within and between nations.

On 23 March 2016 the Council of the Society resolved to award the Sir Percy Sykes Memorial Medal jointly to Dr John Curtis and Dr Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, of the British Museum, in recognition of their outstanding contribution towards the improvement of cultural relations between Great Britain and the Islamic Republic of Iran by arranging the exhibition Iran and the World in the Safavid Age at the British Museum, patiently and tirelessly negotiating the loan of many items from Tehran and, subsequently, the loan of the Cyrus Cylinder from the British Museum first to Tehran and thereafter to a number of museums in the USA, thereby accomplishing an outstanding feat of cultural diplomacy at a time of difficult political relations between Iran and the West.

Christoph Baumer: Explorer & Historian; Founder and President of the Society for Exploration of EurAsia.

On 18 March 2015 the Council of the Society resolved to award the Sir Percy Sykes Medal to Christoph Baumer in recognition of his outstanding contribution towards knowledge of the cultural history of Central Asia. His expeditions to the Taklamakan and Lop Nor deserts and to Tibet, where he discovered a number of unknown ancient settlements; his tracing of the spread of the Assyrian church from south-eastern Turkey to Mongolia, China and southern India; his expeditions to document all the Buddhist monasteries of Wutai Shan in north-west China; his founding in 2004 of the Society for the Explorations of EurAsia, active in five Central Asian countries, together with the publication of his many sumptuously illustrated books on these subjects, have not only brought to life the stones and artefacts of long gone or disappearing civilisations but also show the contemporary human story in a manner that is both scholarly and accessible to the amateur.

On 25 September 2013, the Council of the Society resolved to award the Sir Percy Sykes Memorial medal to Nancy Hatch Dupree in recognition of her contribution to education and research in Afghanistan and, in particular, the establishment of The Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University. She and her husband, Louis, were forced out of Afghanistan in the 1970s and based themselves in Peshawar, Pakistan, where alongside helping Afghan refugees, they began collecting historical documents that now form the nucleus of the Afghanistan Centre. Louis died in 1989, but Nancy continued their joint work and returned to Afghanistan in 2005. There she arranged for the records, almost 300 sacks full, to be returned; however with nowhere to store or present them, she set about the establishment of the Afghanistan Centre. Her efforts prevailed and, with funds from the Finance Ministry and land from the university, the Centre is a testament to Nancy’s dedication to promoteeducation and research into Afghan history.

On 3 October 2012, the Council of the Society resolved to award the Sir Percy Sykes Memorial medal to Major Geoffrey Langlands CMG MBE in recognition of his contribution to education in Pakistan. First teaching English and Mathematics for 25 years at Aitchison College, becoming Principal of the Cadet College at Razmak, in the Tribal Areas and then, in 1989, taking over a school in Chitral in the Hindu Kush, now formally named the Langlands School and College, and overseeing its growth from 86 to 900 pupils, both boys and girls. He formally retired in early 2013 and resides again at Aitchison College, Lahore.

On 16 March 2011 the Council of the Society resolved to award the Sir Percy Sykes Memorial Medal to Professor Avi Shlaim, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the study of the Middle East in general and the Arab-Israeli issue in particular. Born to Jewish parents in Baghdad in 1945, he later did his national service in the Israeli armed forces. His distinguished career as writer, commentator, lecturer (to the Society among others) and academic culminated in the Professorship of International Relations at St. Antony’s College Oxford. His academic interest in the history of Israel began in 1982, when the Israeli government archives about the 1948 Arab-Israeli war were opened. He is considered one of the leading ‘new’ historians, a group of Israeli scholars who put forward critical interpretations of the history of Zionism and Israel.

Professor Shlaim’s frequent visits to the area have added insights and authority to his writings. His publications have been pre-eminent in the revisionist interpretation of Israel’s policy towards the Arab world during the sixty years following the achievement of statehood. His remarkably lucid style is always thought-provoking and often overturns orthodoxies on the Arab-Israeli issues. Particularly relevant are two of his works regarded as classics on the Middle East: ‘Collusion across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine’ (1988) and ‘The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World’ (2000).

Professor Shlaim has stimulated wider and more informed interest in Israel and Palestine and the broader region, in keeping with the aims of the Award and the traditions of the Society. In pursuance of the Council’s resolution, the award is made and a citation is presented on 11 May 2011 to Professor Avi Shlaim, FBA

In recognition of his outstanding literary contributions about the history of Asia. John Keay is an English journalist and historian who specialises in writing about India and the Far East, often with a particular focus on their colonisation and exploration by Europeans. He first visited India in 1965, and has made regular returns ever since including several visits to cover elections and conflicts as a political correspondent for the Economist.

He became a full-time author in 1971, publishing his first book ‘Into India’ in 1973 which stayed in print for 30 years. Since then he has been the author of over 20 books, all factual, mostly historical and largely to do with Asia. Reviewers and readers praise his work for its combination of meticulous research, irreverent wit, powerful narrative and lively prose. In the 1980s he worked for BBC Radio as a writer and presenter during which time he wrote ‘India Discovered’, the story of how British Colonists came to find out about the great artefacts of Indian culture and architecture. He is now hailed as one of our most outstanding historians.

Fred Halliday FBA is a Fellow of the Royal Academy. He has been Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics since 1985.

In recognition of her contribution to the study of Central Asia. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, her frequent visits to the area have added insights and authority to her writings which have helped in increase a general understanding of regional developments, including the emergence of political systems and the role of Islam in the Central Asian States. Her publications have cast light on such subjects as the emerging political order in the Caspian states, the formation of Kazakh identity and minorities in a time of change. Her role as an editor or co-editor has added much to scholarship about the area and her lively and sometimes controversial engagement in discussion of regional issues has stimulated wider interest in Central Asia in keeping with the aims of the Award and with the traditions of the Society.

In recognising that his writings and broad-casting have stimulated a wide interest in several regions of Asia. The travelling and historical research integral to his work have increased public knowledge of those regions and conveyed a message of tolerance and mutual understanding. The themes of quest and journey that recur in the content and titles of his books aptly fit the criteria for the Medal. Together with the learning which dedicated research has brought him, he exemplifies values for which the Royal Society for Asian Affairs stands and for which it considers him eminently worthy of the award.

Mr Charles Allen is a respected scholar and writer. He has lectured to the Society on topics as diverse as the search for Mt. Kailas and Asoka Maurya.

The award recognises the joint contribution of Mr Maurice Zinkin OBE and Mrs Taya Zinkin to increasing man’s knowledge of India and the surrounding region, and to stimulating interest in Asia more broadly, through their joint and individual publications as well as through their output over a period of some 30 years of articles and reviews in the Society’s Journal Asian Affairs, and in Mr Zinkin’s case through his membership for 12 years of the Journal’s Editorial Board. These activities have earned them widespread esteem for their deep understanding of an extensive range of Asian topics. The award is made in recognition of her work and that of her late husband.

For increasing man’s knowledge of the Indian sub-continent through his work as a journalist, broadcaster and writer, and for the empathy he has for the Indian people and the esteem in which he is held by them.

In recognition of his outstanding contribution to increasing man’s knowledge of Central Asia through his extensive travels, scholarship and writings.

In recognition of his notable contribution towards promoting knowledge and understanding of Asia and fostering cultural relations between Commonwealth and Asian countries.

In recognition of his long and distinguished academic record and wide range of writings covering the history, culture and politics of the Arab and Islamic lands.

In recognition of his knowledge of, and involvement in, Anglo-Persian relations and his advancement of understanding between the two countries over many years. And as an author.

Emeritus Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of London. In recognition of his work in Islamic Studies.

In recognition of his work as an author, traveller and historian.

In recognition of his services to archaeology.

Keeper of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum.

Director of the School of Oriental and African Studies. An academic who has furthered communications between Asian countries and this country.

For his contribution to the fields of learning and diplomacy and to the knowledge of Turkestan.

For his contribution to the knowledge of East Asian Civilisation.

For his work on Caucasian and Turkish history.

For distinguished services to archaeology and study of Tibet and Buddhism.

In recognition of his work on Transcaspia and adjacent regions.

For his work as Director of the India Office Library.

For her work as a Russian Specialist.

Cecil J. Edmonds was a British political officer who served with the British Expeditionary Forces in Mesopotamia and western Persia, and later in the civil administration of Iraq. From 1935 to 1945 he was adviser to the Ministry of Interior in Iraq.

Director of the Central Asian Research Centre.

Anthropologist, Traveller and Author

Traveller, Scholar and Historian

For Service in India, Tibet and his ‘History of Tibet’

Diplomat and author

Naturalist, Explorer and Author

Traveller and author

For his work in filming the conquest of Everest

Traveller and author

Persian historian

Authority on Muslim architecture

Latest Recipient

Francesc Vendrell CMG, 1940-2022

Frances Vendrell CMG spent most of his professional life working with the UN or the EU. This award was made in recognition of his lifetime of commitment to the reduction and resolution of conflicts, particularly in Asian countries.

He was Deputy Personal Representative of the Secretary-General for Central America (Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala conflicts) in 1987-92.

He was Director for Asia and the Pacific In the UN Department of Political Affairs between 1992 and 1999, during which time he served concurrently as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cambodia (1996-99) and Papua New Guinea (on the conflict in Bougainville) in 1996-99 and  as Senior Adviser to the Secretary-General on the deployment of his good offices in Burma/Myanmar.

Francesc was deeply involved in the issue of East Timor, serving as the Secretary-General’s Deputy Personal Representative, whose good offices led to the self-determination referendum in late August 1999 and its subsequent independence.

Francesc served as the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Afghanistan in 2000-02 and as the EU Special Representative for Afghanistan between 2002 and 2008.

Francesc held an LLB from King’s College, London and an MA from Cambridge.