Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Turkey fieldwork notes: Belkız/Zeugma; Birecik Dam

Kurdistan/Turkey fieldwork notes extracts

At 12.30am on the 4th of May 2007, I noted that,
Apparently, not getting to Belkız/Zeugma before was the result of confusion between the dolmuş driver the teachers, their friend and I over the definition of the term, "özel araç", which was used by the teachers' friend, the teachers and the dolmuş driver, the teacher's friend explaining to me (in English) that to visit Belkız/Zeugma, I had to go as part of a tour.

Today, I went to the Tourism Directorate and asked about the tours. I was told that they didn't run any and that all that was necessary was for me to get myself there; so, I got a taxi from Nizip.

I was struck when I first saw the dam between the hills; it's big - and it's not even near the size the largest will be, at Ilısu. Before arriving at the site under excavation, we passed several rock-cut tombs, which we stopped at on the way back.

I left the taxi driver looking out over the still waters and walked around, getting a few photos trying to convey the size of the enterprise and the features of the unflooded areas; none of the flooded material was visible fromthe accessible areas and it may be too deep to see even from what is now the shore.
I understand that the excavated every mosaic found, but unless they hit natural all over the area under excavation, which I doubt, I presume there was some material - walls, etc. - that remain, submerged.
As we made out way back from the site, we stopped off at the tombs. I got a few photos of the tombs and the tags and devotional notes that (normally) youths have written on contemporary and historic architcture throughut their landscapes. I scrabbled up to see the tomb furthest from the site, several metres up (as opposed to the others, which were at or around ground level).

The most striking thing, however, was what I noticed as I toddled down the slope and up the other edge back to the road and the taxi: the group grazing goats there comprised only women and children, no men. (If I remember rightly, this ties in with the conflict's destruction and displacement of community.)

I wish I'd had the time - and the courage - to talk to them. I need better Turkish. As it is, I smiled at them and went on my way; by the time I was back in Antep, I had to eat and do some administrative stuff for the rest of my time in northern Kurdistan/south-eastern Turkey and for my return to Cyprus.

If I hadn't lost the day I was supposed to spend at Karkamış talking with various security services, I could've at least passed my time in the villages' cafes, trying to talk to people there.

As it is, the only meaningful discussion I've had with the local community was with an old man at Belkız/Zeugma, when, looking from the site over the reservoir to the dam, I sighed wistfully, 'and this is going to happen at Hasankeyf too?' and he replied, nodding, with a sound between a laugh and a growl that sounded like resignation.

So much of the international news coverage I've had access to has seemed somehow to have missed that, by saying that if it doesn't get what it wants, it will intervene, the Turkish army has intervened.

Contrary to what some media have said, there have not been three or three-and-a-half coups in the last fifty years (three "proper" and one "postmodern"), but four with a fifth in the pipeline.

It looks like I'll be living under Turkey's middle-class occupation (Cyprus) by then, unless something happens to induce it early while I'm still living under its working-class occupation.
At 10.05pm, I wrote that I had,
finally made it to the archaeological museum in Antep/Gaziantep/Gazi Antep. It has a small general exhibition (in Turkish only), rudimentarily-labelled objects in glass cases with small period panels by eachsection, but its heart is certainly in Belkız/Zeugma.

The site's mosaics and frescoes really are impressive, as were the works to excavate and conserve them. I saw a good video about it in English, which also talked about the economic role of the site in the locality; a mass of excited schoolchildren sounded like they really enjoyed the whole experience, which is a good sign.

I knew that the Roman Pantheon adopted or assimilated the god(s) and/or goddess(es) of the communities it took in, but I can't remember learning about its treatment of "local" deities; I guess that was subsumed within the general theme. (One of the mosaics was of Zeugma's 'River God'.)

One of the other mosaics was of a 'Gypsy girl', which, if its Gypsy identity were grounded in evidence, would be very interesting indeed, as a marker and ancient artistic representation of a member of a Gypsy community. (In the official merchandise, none of which fit me, unfortunately, she was reinterpreted as Gaia.)

Obviously, the idea of "a Gypsy" or, perhaps particularly, of "a Gypsy" in the ancient world, could sound culture-historical; however, if we remember that identities are produced, reproduced and manipulated, deployed, discarded and destroyed and that it is in particular historical circumstances and in pursuit of particular things that identities are so used and abused, then their study may help us understand those pasts and presents and the people who made them the way they were.

I don't know much about Gypsies' communities histories, but I wonder, if this "Gypsy girl" were a "Gypsy girl", whether the Roman representation communicates the same ambiguity about her and her community that is expressed in old folk songs like "the raggle-taggle Gypsies" or recent films like "Chocolat".

After the museum, I went to Kurtuluş Camii/Camisi (Independence Mosque), which was originally an Armenian Church built in ?, converted first to a prison (for enemies of the state?) during the War of Independence and then to a mosque afterwards.

When I was asking around for it, if people did know which one I meant and believe me that I wanted to go there rather than Ulu Camii, they almost always referred to it as '[the place that] used to be a church, now it's a mosque' ('it was a church, now it's a mosque').

It was always very matter-of-fact and, presumably, reflects the fact that, because muslims still consider Jesus a prophet and Christianity as "nearly right" ('of the Book'), they have no fundamental objection to the conversion of churches into mosques, as they understandably consider their religious use of the holy site as reverence, rather than desecration respectful, rather than desecratory.

Still, even if the idea of "rescuing" an "abandoned" site from decay appears respectful, there must be some awareness of the circumstances in which the site was "abandoned" and the meaning of its appropriation.

Indeed, given the Turkish community's education about that history, it is quite possible that, for those who know about that mosque and its history, there would be a conscious (defensive) disregard for the feelings of the affected community. For Turkish nationalists, the site and its treatment probably convey pride and both demonstrate and symbolise their "nation"'s "natural superiority" and "historical justice".

It would be interesting to find out how much the local community know about its "in-between" use as a prison and to learn their understandings of it and its significance. The Rough Guide to Turkey said that it was possible to go to the top of the minaret, but, having been been allowed to go up and having found the door at the top locked, I asked the keeper for the key and was told that it had since been nailed shut.

Having left the mosque, I retraced my steps past two neighbouring buildings, one decaying, the other being renovated, to the decomposing body of what used to be a Christian or Jewish home. (I couldn't find any identifying marks, but it was in their quarter.)

It has obviously not been inhabited for a long time, although its continued use by youths was evident in the rubbish deposits on its floors and the graffiti on its walls; there seemed to be some evidence of violent destruction, but that could be the evidence of youths' boredom.

All anyone in the vicinity (all of whom were keen for me to visit and photograph the site) could or would tell me was that whatever happened, whenever it happened, it was 'a long time ago', which echoed Greek Cypriots' conversation-killers at negative heritage sites in southern Cyprus.
There's nothing else important, but if I find myself at a very loose end, I'll fill in notes on a conversation in which about half the sentences were 'Allah'a et', a visit to Antep fortress and a debate over the existence of buses.

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