Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Turkey fieldwork notes: negative heritage tourist

Kurdistan/Turkey fieldwork notes extracts

At 11.15pm on the 15th of May 2007, I concluded that,
maybe I am a tourist after all - an academic tourist, or the negative heritage tourist I always knew I was.

I went to Diyarbakır Müzesi (Museum) and looked round. Some of the sites displayed were impressive, including a forty-four metre (44m) high tell site and another site that had contained tonnes of obsidian, all of it carried from more than one hundred kilometres (100km) away, although, sadly, not every gram of it was on show.

On my way out, I mentioned that I was an archaeologist and that I was looking at the dams and the staff introduced me to the director, who I later learned is active in the Save Hasankeyf Initiative [unfortunately, their website seems to have been usurped].

I repeated that I was looking at the dams and their effects on society; she said she understood, then told me that for her to be able to help me, I needed to get permission from the Municipality (Diyarbakır Belediyesi), where the security guards have evidently started to recognise the forlorn Englishman tramping around trying to talk to people.... There, I met someone who explained what the Museum Director had meant: I needed a research permit - or, I should have at least given oral notice of my study. I hadn't even thought about it.

In Kosova/Kosovo, I hadn't needed one, or no-one had said I did, because I was only doing the feasibility study to see if work there would be possible in the future.

In Cyprus, I'd tried and tried and tried to get a permit, or to give oral notice and it took pestering the relevant people to have the opportunity to give written and oral notice (or, rather, to have the oral and written recognition of my oral and written notice). There, as I wasn't collecting materials by fieldwalking or excavating, a licence (apparently) wasn't necessary.

In Turkey, up until a couple of weeks ago, I'd just been here for the language courses. This month was supposed to be wandering around, talking to locals and archaeologists as I had in Kosovo, learning about the situation so I could discuss it productively in my thesis, as the dichotomy of the boycott of the dam project in northern Kurdistan/south-eastern Turkey and cooperation with work in occupied Iraq was such a strong proof of the ethical crisis in archaeology.

I do want to set up photoblogs within my research pages [I will set up photoblogs within my personal pages] for the relevant sites, publicising them, but I don't want to research and write my thesis on them.

It was completely understandable, however: talking to villagers, I'd started explaining that I was working in Cyprus, etc., etc., etc., whereupon the'd asked me why I was here, so I'd cut it down to my interest in northern Kurdistan/south-eastern Turkey.

As I'd got comfortable with saying it in Turkish and hadn't thought about how it sounded to archaeologists or public sector workers (who could be held accountable for my unregistered, unmonitored "work"), I just trotted out the old line. Hopefully, if I contact them and eplain myself better, something will come of it.

As for the mass grave in Kuru/Xirabebaba and the abandoned villages, I don't know; they are more like work, but I might face even more trouble than I do already if I alert the state - the army - to what I'm looking at.

The mass grave would be a fascinating case study, but if it's completely off-limits as a military zone and I have to rely on the material I've got so far or a little bit more - blissfully, at least they're all very public about it - it's going to be quite piecemeal.

Like the dam-affected sites, I want to photoblog them to publicise them - in and of themselves and as evidence of the circumstances making work with the Ilısu Dam Project unethical - and I want to use them to help me understand the abandoned villages in Cyprus - but as far as I know the archaeologists aren't actively involved in them - in the same way? at all? - as those in Cyprus, so they don't form an ethical dilemma in the same way. (Then there's the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) stuff, but I don't know what role, if any, archaeologists played in that.)

Maybe the obligation I feel to document and present the evacuation and destruction of the villages led me to talk in terms of "work" and so to the misunderstanding between me and the people today...

Talking today, a lot of the stuff we all said had been said in the excellent reports[...], but, perhaps just phrased differently, having gone over the registered archaeological status of Hasankeyf that stops villagers helping themselves, the state choosing not to help them and then to disregard its own laws and their rights and flood the whole place, one summed it up, 'they have to choose between poverty and displacement'.

Having already hit the barrier that only states can submit sites for inscription on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Centre (WHC) World Heritage List (WHL) (so, the Turkish state doesn't), one said that they were trying to get it on 'ICOMOS's "most endangered list"', which would also help redress the imbalance in the resources available to the communities and concerned people trying to save Hasankeyf and the state trying to destroy it.
I'm not certain whether they meant the International Council of Sites and Monuments (ICOMOS) Heritage at Risk List or the World Monuments Fund (WHF) World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites.

[Updated on the 7th of June 2007.]

Good bad news (as reported in "World Monuments Fund unveils 2008 watch list" by James Murdock on the 6th of June 2007 on the Architectural Record): Hasankeyf has been listed on the World Monuments Fund 2008 World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites. It was listed, partially accurately, under 'Sites Threatened by Economic and Development Pressures', as it is, 'where a dam that will be used for half a century will flood a site that was already ancient when Alexander the Great conquered the known world'.

The walled city of Famagusta in northern Cyprus, however, was listed under 'Sites Threatened by Conflict', as it is 'now neglected as political deadlock over the island’s sovereignty continues'. Hsankeyf is not merely threatened by 'economic and development pressures', because the Ilisu Dam is not merely an economic or developmental tool: the dam is part of Turkey's persecution of the Kurdish community; Hasankeyf is 'threatened by conflict'.

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