Turkey’s fight against cultural plunder should start at home

Cultural import restrictions may be a double-edged sword.

That’s why recently The U.S. government announces the import of restricted cultural property originating in Turkey, Under the latter’s request, leading to Mixed reaction, Including anger. Although illicit trafficking in cultural relics is a serious problem, some experts worry that Turkey may use the new agreement to further marginalize displaced indigenous communities by reducing any little autonomy they have over the disappearing heritage.

As a researcher of heritage crime and protection politics with family roots in Armenian and Assyrian communities that were erased by the Ottoman Empire, I don’t believe that Turkey implemented the US import ban out of good faith. Because if it really cares about its huge cultural heritage, Turkey will start such protection in the country.

Since establishing a republic on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, Turkey has erased much of its diverse heritage. The Turkish government deliberately destroyed, illegally confiscated or deliberately ignored the holy sites of the indigenous communities, especially Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks.These communities are victims State-supported genocide and ethnic cleansing during and after World War I, Turkey strongly denies well-documented crimes. Number of Armenian churches and monasteries active in the Ottoman Empire before 1914 Only 2,989; Almost everything has been razed, damaged or reused.

On December 4, 2020, at the Greek Orthodox Church in Istanbul, Turkey, the senior protector and restorer Venizelos Gavrilakis worked to clean and restore the 16th-century Byzantine Christian icon.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

On June 16, the three major U.S. institutions Publish “Import restrictions imposed on the categories of archaeological and ethnological materials in Turkey”. The list is based on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the United States and Turkey on the last full day of January 19, 2021. Donald TrumpOf the president. This list includes “archaeological materials” from nearly 1.2 million to 1770, and “ethnological materials” from the past 1900 to 1923.There are two dozen similar Bilateral agreement, Which can be updated every five years.

“The January 19 Memorandum of Understanding did not fully meet the four requirements set by the 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA),” said Elizabeth Proudmu, Turkey’s religious and geopolitical expert, and a former member of the US Committee on International Religious Freedom. She insisted that the memorandum of understanding violated American law.

Most specifically, Prodromou believes that Turkey has failed to take measures that comply with international obligations. “Turkey arbitrarily decided to convert the great Byzantine Orthodox Church of Hagia Sophia and St. Saviour Chora’s World Heritage Sites into mosques. This violates the 1970 UNESCO Convention, so the Trump administration’s signing of the Memorandum of Understanding is a flagrant act . Ignore international agreements and U.S. laws. Therefore, the current memorandum of understanding makes the U.S. State Department an enforcement tool for Turkey’s national cultural heritage policy, aimed at eliminating indigenous religious and minority communities in the country,” she said. Prodromou called on the Biden administration to “abolish or at least suspend and renegotiate the memorandum of understanding.”

Although Turkey has expressed international concerns about the illegal trafficking of cultural relics, it has done little to combat large-scale domestic robberies.People would think that the robbery was a covert operation, but Thousands of Turkish web pages Commit to what they affectionately call the “treasure hunt”.

A kind YouTube Robbery Training Channel, As a content marketing page for a metal detector supplier, train Its 53,000 subscribers looted ancient Christian sites. In this 31-minute video, UgurElektronik.com owner Uğur Kulaç draws a sketch of the interior design of a church to determine the location of the “buried treasure.”

In 2018, Kuraki was Turkish archaeologists criticized A government-registered organization was established, called the Anatolian Treasure Hunter Training and Research Association.in a National media In appearance, Kuraki claimed that there were 4 million treasure hunters in Turkey, criticizing many of them for being unskilled and “illegal activities.”

Khulavank, a major pilgrimage site
Before the Armenian genocide in modern Turkey, Kuravank was a major pilgrimage site.
Herair Hawke Khacherian

Turkish government issued local Robbery permit and request to report treasure foundIn addition to shops in Kulaç, search for the keyword “dedektör” on the Internet to find more than 200 shops specializing in sales and rentals in Turkey, including the insensitive Asur Dedektör (Assyrian detector) in Malatya.

Kuraki is a Verified Facebook userHe is not the only “treasure hunter” who has been legalized by the tech giant’s verification badge.In other popular Turkish social media “treasure hunt” accounts, YouTube has verified Adventurous treasurer (Has more than 479,000 subscribers), archaeologist (Over 200,000 subscribers) and Mouth definition (More than 190,000 subscribers), the title of the training video is like “Armenian treasure” with”Greek treasure.”

The Holy Apostles of the Mush Abbey
The remains of the monastery of Msho Surp Arakelots (Mush Holy Apostles), once the main center of Armenian theology in the Middle Ages. Today, it is used to shelter goats.
Herair Hawke Khacherian

The Turkish “treasure hunt” is a by-product of genocide. German social anthropologist Alice von Bieberstein conducted field research in Mush, former Armenia where Kurds live. She believes that although “poverty and the global fascination with underground resources” are factors, the local The “treasure hunt” and “fundamental state violence” and deprivation, namely the Armenian genocide.

Although it was crowdsourcing, the robbery was sponsored by the state.As author The spirit of law: the plundering of wealth in the Armenian genocide It has been shown that although the Turkish Civil Code requires the establishment of a land deed database, the property records related to the Armenian genocide are still top secret. The Turkish government has systematically supervised “treasure hunts” in churches, cemeteries, old houses, and even remote rural caves, so much so that anthropologist and robbery researcher Önder Çelik description Turkey’s treasure hunting bureaucracy serves as an “alternative archive for the study of the Armenian genocide”.

Ironically, the recent US ban on illegal Turkish artifacts left out top looted items related to Armenian history. Obviously missing from the import list are heavily looted coins. Kingdom of Cilicia, Armenia, Dating back to the 11th to 14th centuries.Although some Silesian Armenian bronze coins sell for as low as $10 each in the Western market, scarce specimens such as Bilingual silver coinsTo commemorate the brief Armenian-Seljuk alliance before the Mongolian conquest, a good condition can exceed $1,000. Ancient coins are considered to be the “smoking guns” of archaeological sites. Their looting, especially in unreported situations, can hinder new discoveries.

The closure of the destructive “treasure hunt” industrial complex will be a key step in cultural protection in Turkey and other regions.

“Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus for nearly half a century has created conditions for the looting of local Christian heritage. Therefore, the U.S. government and heritage communities are very aware of the presence of the Turkish army in Libya and other places in northern Syria and the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Indirect heritage puts the movable and immovable heritage of local communities at great risk,” Prodromou pointed out.

In October, it was reported that the Turkish army oversaw a fierce air strike against Nagorno-Karabakh (known as Arzah by Armenians) by its junior ally Azerbaijan, including Double strike On the Cathedral of St. Saviour in Shu’s.With the help of Turkey, Azerbaijan now controls most of the region, where it is reported that there are Armenian monuments Keep erasing, Especially considering Azerbaijan’s Destructive records, To have a stakeholder community worried.

Repair Assistant Asli Erel Cleanup Icon
Restoration assistant Asli Erel cleans and restores 19th-century Byzantine Christian icons at the Greek Orthodox Church in Istanbul, Turkey on December 4, 2020.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

If it chooses to support cultural protection abroad, Turkey can advise Azerbaijan not to regard the Armenian monument as a source of hatred, but as a source of hatred. The key to peace, Through actions such as allowing Armenian pilgrims to go to ancient holy sites such as Dadiwank, Tsitsyrnawank and Wankasar, these churches are newly launched Bible Museum Online Exhibition Recently under the control of Azerbaijan.Turkey’s influence on Azerbaijan cannot be underestimated: the latter has recently formally established the effective model of the Turkish government Appointment of leaders of religious minorities.

Cultural protection and destruction are political choices. A well-meaning Turkey can choose to return their respective confiscated properties to the Greek, Assyrian, and Armenian communities. It can encourage future generations of displaced communities to make pilgrimages to these locations by removing barriers to access such as visa fees.Turkey can invite Armenian and Greek experts and local archaeologists to jointly excavate Christian monuments, including archaeological sites, such as Amitabha with cheap, The long-lost candidate of Tigranocerta, the capital of the Hellenistic Armenian Empire.Doing the latter can be a positive role model for Azerbaijan, otherwise Even deny existence A similar archaeological site, Tigranakt in Alsakh, is in its recently acquired territory.

Turkey has taken active measures to nominate Christian memorial complexes in recent years Agtamar, year with Midyat As a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On this basis, Turkey should dismantle its predatory industrial complex.

Simon Maghakyan is a visiting scholar at Tufts University and a lecturer at the University of Colorado Denver. Funding from the Armenian General Philanthropy Union (AGBU) made his writing research possible.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author.

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