This post followed a visit to the formerly Roman family tomb, latterly Armenian mass grave, recently destroyed and covered up by the Turkish military with the help of the Turkish Historical Society.
[Updated on the 10th of June 2007.]
At 10.10pm on the 17th of May 2007, I recorded that,
I visited my first mass grave today, my first nationalist-archaeologist-allied-with-the-military-destroyed mass grave, too; now that's negative heritage tourism.That is to say, if the grave had been flooded since its reopening, it would have had to have flooded the material between the entrance (where it came in) and the far left corner (where it settled) and would have formed a solid mud puddle in the lowest areas, if not all, of that space; it did not.
It was the allegedly - to me, fairly definitely - Armenian (or other Other) mass grave in Kuru/Xirabebaba, for the reporting of which Ülkede Özgür Gündem was shut down and on the excavation of which David Gaunt refused to work.
I checked out of the dirty room (that had dirty sheets until I twice asked for clean ones, then got given one to put on myself) with the broken window and the broken mirror glass on the floor at the Başak Otel, tried to book in at the Öğretmen Evi, then ended up at the nice, pricey Bilen Otel, where my room's light was broken (now fixed). (Someone I met along the way is trying to do me the "favour" of finding me a place at the Polis Evi...)
I took a dolmuş as far as Nusaybın, where the difficulty of making people believe I was pronouncing the name properly and really did want to go to Kuru, not Dara, dispelled any notion of hitch-hiking. I tried to get a dolmuş to Akarsu to get a taxi from there, but the Akarsu dolmuş driver told me to get the dolmuş that actually went to Kuru.
I eventually found the driver for the dolmuş and his friend told me the fare was a very reasonable 5YTL each way; then they spoke in Kurdish and asked me if I wanted to go tomorrow. When I said 'no' to that and the idea of staying the night there and coming back the next day, the price jumped to $15 each way, then to 70YTL all in when I asked for the price in local currency.
I told them I knew that was more than three times the daily wage, but they just shrugged. I told them I was going to have some breakfast and think about it, whereupon they came with me and sat with me, staring at me; they really didn't want to lose this fare.
I nearly went with someone else and, when asked why, said because I trusted them; when he asked if I trusted him and I just stared back, he just grinned back at me. I got them down to 60YTL, then gave up and went with them....
First, I went to one of the many (unre-used) ancient, rock-cut burial chamber tombs. Then, I went to the certainly re-used, certainly somehow disturbed, Roman rock-cut burial chamber tomb.
There was new soil inside the entrance that had fallen in since its reopening, however, the floor inside was different, quite soft soil, only compacted by trampling.
There was one pocket of saturated and subsequently hardened soil - a solid mud puddle - but that was in the far left corner (as approached from the current entrance), the other side of the few remaining bones.
There is one other way that the grave could have been flooded and the solid mud puddle formed in the far left corner but not elsewhere: if the mud puddle had formed elsewhere, but the grave had subsequently been disturbed, the mud formed elsewhere would have been disturbed too; then, only the mud in the undisturbed corner would remain.
So, the surface layer sounds much less like mud formed by rain and much more like 'the mass grave was dumped with soil by the Turkish military'.
All of the Roman resting places seemed empty and all of the diagnostic bones from the top of the stack in the centre had gone; only a few long bones and one jaw fragment appeared to have remained.So, some diagnostic material has been removed.
If it were natural factors that had reburied or degraded "all" of the remains after the reopening of the tomb,
it[they] would have to have been exceptional conditions, to have covered the material on top without covering the material beneath that, or to have been such caustic rain, etc., to have decomposed the material on top entirely without leaving any identifiable wear or residue on the material beneath.
There has been talk of a few of the villagers having taken a few of the skulls themselves; however, there were dozens of skulls, so, even if a few villagers had taken a few skulls each, there would still be dozens of skulls missing.
Even if neither the Turkish military nor the Turkish Historical Society had interfered with the site directly, the very act of leaving the site exposed to risks, which must go against the Turkish Historical Society's staff's own professional standards, would have demonstrated a wilful carelessness.
That in itself would have been sufficient to cause concern and to challenge the state's narrative: after all, if it were not a mass grave, why not protect it, excavate it and prove that it were not a mass grave?
Before, I could only go on what I'd seen during the flash of the camera; now I've been able to upload and look at the photos. Some of the bones are greyish-black, others brown, while some of the long bones have new breaks in them (clearly visible because of the contrast between the brown or greyish-black exterior and the cream interior).
In the very poor light available, the few remaining bones looked very greyish-black; some villagers attributed this to the Turkish army's use of chemicals on the site, although that's wholly unconfirmed.
The newly-broken bones could have been trodden on by anyone and their presence cannot do anything apart from confirm some form of disturbance. The brown bones may be covered in or stained by dirt, soil, etc. and we cannot infer anything from their mere presence; scientific analysis could have told us something - if only that they were stains from the soil - but that is now impossible. The only greyish-black bones I've seen have been exposed to fire, burned.
After this site visit, I made my way to a long-ruined, possibly earthquake-"broken" ancient site, which villagers called a church; finally, I passed some of the few homes destroyed by the Turkish army in - if I remember correctly, 1995 - and left.[Updated on the 21st of June 2007.]
When I had discussed the burial site with locals, they had been divided on whether they thought it was a mass grave or not. A few of the men who thought it was a mass grave said that it was destroyed to hide the evidence and commented that, 'that's what they're doing to us'.
They agreed that the Turkish military was working on the assumption that, 'if there isn't a body, there isn't a crime'. (There are, however, hopes that the, 'no body, no crime' principle could be outmanoeuvred by developments in forensic archaeology, either through DNA testing of remaining bone fragments or even by identifying traces in the soil, although these would still be dependent upon the potential victims' descendant community being able to be identified and being willing to cooperate in the process.)
The logic of the "impartial joint excavation" of the mass grave falan falan falan is similar to that of the "impartial joint commission" on the history of the Armenian Genocide.
It is different though; beyond the futility of a joint commission with deniers who aren't scientists anyway, the erasure of the evidence puts scientists in the position of helping their opponents "prove" their case by their inability to prove their own.
On the 16th of May, I went through the usual routine - and the usual routine of getting out of one place and into another - so that by the time I'd got to Mardin, the day had already gone.
I met a friend for dinner and sketched out a(nother) plan for action. It was entirely contingent upon how today went, so it's not a problem that I didn't get round to making a proper note of it; it's little more than a list of places now.
The four places that I've definitely crossed off the list are (west-to-east):
- Manisa, an ancient town almost entirely 'destroyed by the Greek army during its 1922 retreat' (Ayliffe et al, 2003: 313);
- Şirince, an old Greek village inhabited by Muslim refugees from Thessaloniki (Ayliffe et al, 2003: 365);
- Side, a city once grown fat on slavery, later burned down and cleared out, allegedly by the Arab invasion, much later resettled by Cretan Muslim refugees, whom the government and the archaeological community failed to evict (Ayliffe et al, 2003: 556); and
- Vakıflıköy, the one remaining (openly) Armenian village in Turkey (Ayliffe et al, 2003: 597-598).
Anonymous [S.] commented that:
I cringe, I genuinely cringe, at the amateurishness and misinformation you are displaying with such eagerness. I've lived through 3 decades of self-interested or cowardly archaeologists turning a blind-eye to anything Armenian and never mentioning the "A" word in public. But their silence is preferable to your bullshit.I presume 'the amateurishness and misinformation' and 'bullshit' refer to me having read the Rough Guide to Turkey, rather than me having visited the mass grave in Kuru/Xirabebaba. As the title and contents of the post indicate, it comprises fieldwork notes extracts - that is, extracts from notes made during fieldwork.
What sort of fool seriously cites "The Rough Guide to Turkey" as an academic source? Grow up, or shut up and stop making a laughing-stock of archaeology as a profession.
Rarely, they are detailed analyses of sites and/or situations; occasionally, they are detailed descriptions of sites; more often than not, they are things that I've read in a book or newspaper, heard in conversation or seen visiting sites or just walking around and am keen to remember, hopefully helping me in my work, but possibly merely piquing my curiosity.
Perhaps I should state it explicitly:fieldwork notes are not academic texts; so, fieldwork sources are not necessarily academic sources. Perhaps I should also note that I will be using other "unacademic sources" in my academic work, critically, like the testimonies of locals and descendant communities about the treatments of cultural heritage sites.
In this case, I am aware of the around 80,000 open and unknown number of (possibly around 40,000) hidden Armenians in Turkey, but, as I was skimming through the guidebook, I noticed the mention of Vakıflıköy and jotted it down.
If there are other openly Armenian villages, I would be happy to correct the 'misinformation' I have apparently spread, but you will have to correct, rather than merely condemn, the Rough Guide line. You could call it amateurish, as it was amateur; it isn't part of my work.
Perhaps you are referring to the silence of archaeologists in Turkey (but, as I assume you are aware, speaking freely is dangerous in Turkey): in her damning assessment of the cultural and environmental impact of large dams in Turkey, Maggie Ronayne (2005: 79) specifically observed that,
Since this history, most especially the genocide of Armenian people from 1915-16, continues to be disputed by the Turkish State, it is unlikely that archaeologists could fully and independently investigate it. Without an assessment of this, the reservoir would submerge any traces and deny us historical truth.[End of first 21/06/07 update.]
Anonymous/S. followed up:
You were offered a seat in a regular dolmus service for 5TL each way. A dolmus will hold perhaps 14 people, so a full minibus would expect to earn its operator 70 TL each way. Yet you are complaining that he is offering you the same service for only 70TL return!Dolmuşes run fixed-fare services: they asked me for 70YTL because I was a yabancı [stranger/foreigner].
Petrol in Turkey costs the same as anywhere else – regardless of local wages. You seem to have been more concerned about saving 10TL/£4 that actually visiting the site. What was more important in your eyes?My main concern was to describe the practice of fieldwork; however, I could also point out that, had I been given the original fare, I would've saved 60YTL/£24, which would've paid for a day's hire of a taxi-guide, with which I could've visited some Georgian and/or Syrian sites that I wanted to see and that some concerned locals had been keen for me to see too.
Same for all your complaints about dirty sheets and so on. No one is interested in hearing of such petty sacrifices that are not, in the real scale of things, sacrifices at all.I agree that they are unimportant details in the scale of things, but they do give a more detailed image of the experience of fieldwork and that is something that I have been asked to provide by readers.
And why no info about how you located the site, how did you know which cave it was, and so on?There is no information about how I located the site because I do not wish to endanger those who have helped me by revealing their identities; moreover, information about the site's location, like photographs of its entrance, would help certain interested parties either to contaminate it further or to claim that people other than themselves may have found and contaminated the site.
David Gaunt seems to have jumped in and made specific allegations before he really knew anything for certain (i.e. before he or any other expert had visited the site).You clearly haven't read either of the pieces I provided links to above. (I also made available a larger collection of links to both Turkish-language and English-language sources on the site.)
(With my emphases) Blogian recorded that:
After seeing the site, Prof. Gaunt refused to continue his participation because the initial photographs of the mass grave (taken by a Turkish-language Kurdish newspaper) from October of 2006 - when it was discovered - were quite different from the site he was taken to. He told Zaman, "My impression is that this grave is one in which no scientific research can be carried out. The grave has undergone numerous changes so it is not recognizable."The Turkish Daily News also carried the explanation of why the site was one in which 'no scientific research' could have been carried out and, in another post, Blogian also presented before and after photographs of the site together to make it easier to see and understand the interference.
I suspect his hasty words were probably connected with generating self-publicity for his book that was published at the same time. And the site – now politicised and publicised – became, not unsurprisingly, a target for a little bit of cleansing by local officials.First, the coincidental timing was determined by the villagers' accidental discovery of the site; second, it became politicised and publicised because of its destruction, not destroyed because of its infamy; so, it would appear that, when you earlier said to me that, 'self-interested or cowardly archaeologists['].... silence is preferable to your bullshit', you would also find expert researchers' silence preferable.
As for the Rough Guide to Turkey – just about every single piece of information you have extracted from that book and written here is wrong. Do yourself a favour and bin it.By the happiest of coincidences, on picking up a copy of Today's Zaman, I read the article explaining why "Turkey's Christians like AK Party despite Islamist past", which interviewed locals in Vakıflı, 'Turkey's last surviving ethnic Armenian village' (pages 1 and 6).
As I said in my first update today, 'I would be happy to correct the "misinformation" I have apparently spread, but you will have to correct, rather than merely condemn, the Rough Guide line'. You continue to condemn without correction, which, I'm afraid, does give the impression that there is no correction to be made.
I don't want to present inaccurate information. If you have contrary sources, please direct me to them, so I can correct this post and help any other readers. If you don't, please don't waste my and any other readers' time with what appear to be attempts to undermine sources and deny facts that you find inconvenient.
[End of second 21/06/07 update.]
Elsewhere, on www.armeniangenocide.com, someone sounding distinctly like Anonymous/S., "bell-the-cat", opined:
That idiot is English, not British.I could say the same of someone who doesn't understand the difference between and so the ability to hold both English and British identities.
Honestly, Joseph, what he has written is so full of bullshit and lack of understanding that it is embarassing.
These fucks think they can turn up at a place, or a country, without knowing anything, and make their opinionated pronouncements as if they are the Word of God.(Having returned to Cyprus for two) I'd been living in Turkey for seven months when I visited the site, which I did after reading a dozen or more sources and having had contact with a few of the archaeologists involved.
I believe bell-the-cat is anonymous/S., (because someone came from there to here and posted a comment and) because of his follow-up post on the same site:
I can't believe he quotes "The Rough Guide to Turkey" as an academic source! One of the worst guidebooks available - and he hasn't even got the latest version!! (Probably - since he is someone who thinks arguing about the price of a minibus is more important that getting to a site - he got it because it was cheaply priced in a bookstore full of remaindered books).The Daily Telegraph found it '[t]he best of the bunch with sound practical information' and the Independent on Sunday judged it 'excellent'.
The reason I had the out-of-date edition is because I went to Turkey in September 2006 and the up-to-date edition was published in January 2007; that is to say, when I bought my copy, it was the up-to-date edition (and, as anyone who's been to Turkey will know, if you felt it absolutely necessary to have that year's list of hotels and restaurants, rather than their four-year-old one, you'd have a hard time finding the Rough Guide to Turkey in Turkey).
But it just re-inforces my opinion about him. Anyone who needs to use a guidebook is not knowledgeable enough about the subject to make a comments about that subject.Anonymous/S./bell-the-cat seems to confuse conducting research with using a guidebook to find good food and cheap accommodation and occasionally finding points of interest to follow up on.
My observations about the mass grave were those of an archaeologist who'd read all of the material he could get hold of on the site and talked with archaeologists and locals who had personal knowledge of it; my use of the Rough Guide to Turkey was limited to finding a cheap hotel in Mardin from which to travel out to Kuru from.
If a preternatural knowledge of previously-unvisited places' local hotels and restaurants is a professional benchmark for archaeologists, then I am clearly not qualified or knowledgeable enough to have an opinion about an archaeological site; if it isn't, then perhaps Anonymous/S./bell-the-cat is desperately trying to find an excuse to undermine the inconvenient facts presented above.
[End of third 21/06/07 update.]
It would be nice to go to Kayseri, as it is home to what is still Turkey's largest consecrated church, which is an Armenian church about 1,300 years old. It was home to a Greek and Armenian historic quarter around that church, but several years ago that was being bulldozed and redeveloped (Ayliffe et al, 2003: 677).Ayliffe, R, Dubin, M, Gawthrop, J. 2003: The Rough Guide to Turkey. London: Rough Guides.
So, it would be interesting to see - and show - just how invisible historic places become when they're built over, as a demonstration of how Cypriot villages, towns and cities may have had districts, neighbourhoods or even individual homes that were destroyed, the mere presence of which is inconceivable now (like the main mosque in Paphos, which is now under a main road).
I can't take much longer - at the very least, not now - but I could stay two or three more weeks and still get back to Cyprus in time for the CAARI conference. (I still have to move out of my flat in Istanbul, talk to the Turkish Historical Society and, at some point within that time, I'm going to go to Ankara and see the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations (Anadolu Medeniyetleri Müzesi).)
The sites I hope I will visit in my remaining time, listed in anti-clockwise order (as that's probably the order I'll visit them in), are:
Bu kadar. [I collapsed together the list and the descriptions from the notes, then separated some of the sites written as a group in the list.]
- the Keban Dam and Elazığ Museum, [because] the inefficiency of the Keban Dam is, perversely, one of the reasons for the new dams; finds from the sites submerged beneath it are displayed in Elazığ Museum;
- Hasankeyf and the site of the Ilısu Dam, [because] Hasankeyf is the most famous, active and resilient of the communities and sites to be flooded by the Ilısu Dam; the dam project was so harmful that it inspired the archaeological boycott;
- some of the warred villages between Siirt and Şırnak, [because] thousands of villages have been evacuated and/or destroyed by the Turkish military; I visited some in Lice district, Diyarbakır province and there appears to be a cluster of sites in this area;
- Hakkari, [because] Hakkari is a town swelling with those made refugees in their own country, internally displaced persons; it is surrounded by hamlets erased from history by the Turkish military (Ayliffe et al, 2003: 945-946);
- Van, [because] the population of Van is also increasing because of the conflict's displacement of villagers[...] Van's museum has a section on the Armenian Genocide, or not, as it's the state's narrative and seems a singularly appropriate place to see it, as during the First World War it was first ethnically cleansed of its Armenians by Turkish and Kurdish militaries and extremists and then of its Kurds and Turks by Russian and Armenian militaries[...] The old town of Van, which I expect to spend hours in, was utterly destroyed;
- Akhtamar, [because] Akhtamar Church is a historic Armenian church, built almost 1,000 years ago, which has recently been reopened as a museum;
- Çavuştepe/Cevizdibi and Karabulak, [because] Çavuştepe/Cevizdibi and Karabulak may be warred villages...;
- Eski Beyazıt near Doğu Beyazıt, [because] Eski Beyazıt was evacuated and destroyed in 1930 after its Kurdish population rebelled (Ayliffe et al, 2003: 951-952);
- Ani, [because] Ani was attacked by Mongols in the Thirteenth Century (though what impact this had and whether it contributed to its decline I don't know), but it was eventually abandoned after an earthquake in 1319 and a declining economy made it undesirable[...] Its Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator has had its images' faces damaged or destroyed (Ayliffe et al, 2003: 832) in a similar fashion to Palea Enklistra in Cyprus[...] There is also 'a striking example of ultranationalist archaeology in action' in 'the only indisputably Islamic item at Ani', the Selçuk Palace, being 'the only structure to receive any degree of archaeological investigation and maintenance' (Ayliffe et al, 2003: 833);
- Khtskonk, [because] Khtskonk/Beş Kilise had five churches, but four were destroyed by boulders or bombs at some point between 1920 and 1965;
- and the Çoruh River/Deriner Reservoir/Yusufeli Dam.
I also want to go to the Türkiye Eğitim Hizmet Çalişma Vakfı (Education Service Work Foundation of Turkey) or Kilim Projesi (Carpet Project) in Van, which sells carpets produced by village women paid a fair wage.