Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Turkish fieldwork notes: abandoned villages material

Kurdistan/Turkey fieldwork notes extracts

(Skip the first few paragraphs to read what I jotted down about the way the material traces of the abandoned villages in northern Kurdistan/south-eastern Turkey could inform my work in Cyprus.)

At 11.55pm on the 10th of May 2007, I noted that,
as I was still deciding what to do where, I thought I'd go to Mardin and think about it over a cup of tea in the old town. Before I could get there, though, I had to endure a homeless, drunk Turkish man at the bus station, flagging me down, telling me he was going there too and proceeding to say the same vacuous things over and over again - 'we're friends we are', etc., as he swigged from the bottle. He denied then condemned the fact that people were always trying to cheat me... then tried to himself, trying to get me to give him my bus fare, then, when I refused and insisted on giving it to the fare collector, just begging for it, the poor old sod.

I got to Mardin, had the tea watching a cheerfully competitive game of dominoes, then came to Diyarbakır. The South-East really is heavily-militarised. I had noticed the military checks on all of the buses, but first really felt it today, having been checked twice in about as many hours and hearing people bitching about it as we pulled away (something I presume they hadn't felt free to do on the mixed bus from Urfa to Mardin).

I found my hotel and went off to find food and internet access, (eventually) eating börek (after the usual issues with my order being "reinterpreted" by the staff) and checking what e-mail I could; evidently, the "anti-porn" controls on the computers here are so strict that the "-sex" in "Sussex" triggers them and anything university-related - even Facebook - is blocked.

I had decided that I would spend the next couple of days trying to visit a few of the thousands upon thousands of Kurdish 'abandoned villages' - 'evacuated villages' - some burned or bombed (I'm not yet sure if any [some] were bulldozed) - to record how much is discernible from the material traces.

Most of the places I'll see, if I get to see them, were attacked between four and seventeen years ago, so they should prove a good guide as to how much I'll be able to tell and verify in Cyprus, as well as possibly providing an interpretive key, as the means of their damage and destruction is frequently known.

Before I left this morning - maybe before I went to sleep last night - I'd also skimmed through the Rough Guide to Turkey and identified and listed various communities' cultural heritage sites that had been damaged or destroyed in various ways, from the incidental to the intentional- earthquakes, vandalism, erasure, etc.

They're from a broader range of places (some of which I won't be able to visit because of their location outside of the area) and times and will hopefully confirm which signs can be associated with which actions (and which must be treated with caution or excluded because they are inconclusive) and further information about how long the evidence survives in the [visible] (archaeological) record.

As an aside, it would be interesting to see if different communities' cultural heritage sites merited different treatments or if there were "trends" in destruction that are visible. I understand that some of the abandoned village sites are difficult or impossible to find and/or identify without a local (Kurdish) guide.

At the same time, I would draw a lot of attention to myself and my guide going through the checkpoints, spending my time in the non-places, maybe being found looking at destroyed sites and might be restricted in or prevented from doing my "work" [it's negative cultural heritage tourism, but it informs my work in Cyprus, just as visiting war-torn sites in Britain might], so maybe I'll go it alone (it would help reduce the potential number of sites to a manageable one). We shall see.

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