free archaeology in Turkey: the archaeology graduate without a future

Posted: 25/05/2013 in free archaeology, Research, resistance
Tags: , , ,

Freakishly coincidentally, the day after Emily Johnson (@ejarchaeology) began the discussion on free archaeology (unpaid labour in cultural heritage management) in Britain, Radikal‘s Ömer Erbil (@omererbil) published an article on free archaeology in Turkey, and his commenters highlighted the persistent precarity of the (least un)lucky few employed cultural heritage workers. Young archaeologists have rebelled [genç arkeologlar ayaklandı] or, at least, protested against their exploitation…

I’ve translated and paraphrased Erbil’s excellent article and his readers’ enlightening comments; all depressing statistics are theirs, any embarrassing errors are mine. The article shows that the crisis in archaeological labour is international, but it also reveals coordinated professional resistance, which should be a lesson to archaeologists elsewhere.

Exploited, unemployed, indignant: the archaeology graduate without a future

The Turkish archaeology graduate appears to be the archetypal graduate without a future. In 2012, tourism generated TL23b, and Turkey’s museums and ruins earned more than TL280m ($150m) (from more than 28 million tourists’ visits); but the ringfenced archaeology budget was TL23m, and six thousand archaeologists remained unemployed. To put that in perspective, there are more unemployed archaeologists in Turkey than there are employed archaeologists in Britain. (If anyone knows British archaeologists’ unemployment statistics…)

Hence, ‘unemployed archaeologists who were made to work “for free” during their education are flooding the ministries with letters [Eğitim hayatları boyunca ‘bedavaya’ çalıştırılan işsiz arkeologlar bakanlıklara mektup yağdırıyor]’. Archaeologists ‘have finally revolted/rebelled/mutinied [sonunda isyan etti]’.

Seven hundred archaeologists have permanent positions in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Thousands of archaeologists have protested and petitioned both the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı) and the Ministry of Finance (Maliye Bakanlığı) because, while there are hundreds of scientific/research excavations and hundreds more rescue excavations, which require thousands of workers, ‘in the last four years, of six thousand unemployed archaeologists, only 19 have been hired [son 4 yılda işsiz 6 bin arkeologdan sadece 19’unun işe alınd[ı]]‘.

As needgett commented (seemingly based upon the Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s employment study),

Everyone’s given a position, why not archaeologists?

I don’t understand. Over the course of two years, a bunch of city planners, a bunch of architects, a bunch of engineers are hired, [but] two or three archaeologists. There are more urban planners in the Ministry of Culture than in the Ministry of Urban Planning. I’ve heard that, even though there are reports for the [cultural heritage] protection boards that require archaeologists’ authorship, in the absence of archaeologists, they are being written by urban planners. If this is true, however, according to the law, it is illegal.(1)

In fact, as Erbil explained, the problem is even worse than it seems, because (at least in some institutions) fewer jobs exist for which to hopelessly strive: forty years ago, Istanbul Archaeology Museums employed more than 70 specialists; now, they employ just 25.

And because 30 universities have archaeology departments, which produce 2,100 graduates every year (and another 6 universities plan to have archaeology departments), ‘every year, thousands more are added to this [Her yıl da buna binlercesi ekleniyor]’. It’s no longer a dole queue, it’s a dole community. As Amsterdam Vallon said in Gangs of New York (though best not repeated in Istanbul), ‘if you get all of us together, we ain’t got a gang, we’ve got an army’.

No pay, no gain: legal unpaid labour, illegal unemployment

If thousands of archaeologists are needed every year, why are only five hired?

Making a great sacrifice and working unpaid during their studies in order to uncover archaeological heritage that is important for Turkey’s tourism revenues, on graduating archaeologists remain unemployed….

During the four years of their education, [thousands of] students participate in digs without pay; [but] after learning the methods of scientific excavation, they graduate and remain unemployed. Even if institutions [thereby] fail to comply with the requirement to keep an archaeologist on site, they refuse to take on regular/permanent archaeologists.(2)

These unpaid students’ “employers”, of course, are paid faculty members, whose own careers are built from the products of their students’ unrewarded labour; and the national economy is boosted, too, though that is not reflected in investment in the profession.

Students are made to work on all excavations run by universities. Like workers, students use shovels and wheelbarrows to move soil. On the backs of students who work for free, excavations are realised, [and] the country’s tourism potential is increased. The excavated artefacts adorn museums’ display cases. Every year, excavations continue and, as there is a continuous circulation of new students behind them, graduated students’ universities do not care about their situation. Thousands of university graduate archaeologists remain unemployed.

Wanting experience and scientific expertise, however, the vast majority of archaeologists who participate in these excavations are students studying in archaeology departments….

It’s almost like the municipality does not exist within the boundaries of the archaeological site. According to the regulations of the [Cultural Property Protection, Implementation and Inspection Programme] KUDEP, these municipalities must employ at least one archaeologist. Yet the number of municipalities that are implementing this could almost be counted on the fingers of one hand.(3)

Victimised, frustrated, disappointed

Anlaşılmak commented,

Thanks to Radikal newspaper for hearing our cry

First of all, I thank Radikal for touching a raw nerve with [literally, pressing the bleeding wound of] those who have not wanted to hear this cry for years….

From a global archaeological perspective, amongst the richest [sites] are in this region. What a pity that, on graduating, they [archaeologists] cannot find work, they look desperately/helplessly at the personnel who have been able to start work at the Ministry of Culture; that too ends in disappointment/frustration.

Ultimately, the Finance Ministry hires staff but, strangely, whatever request is made by the Culture Ministry, finance isn’t given.(4)

In a thought that might reflect suspicions of the necessity of torpilaj (string-pulling) for a successful career as much as the reality of rüşvetçilik (corruption) in planning decisions over the preservation or development of historic sites, Anlaşılmak contemplated,

In this situation, the first thing that comes to mind is that, if archaeologists’ dependence upon black procedures in this country is intentional, it is necessary to think about whose interests are served.(5)

The archaeologist with a permanent job is still without a decent future

Even if archaeologists do get a job through a torpil (string-puller), (apart from a rarified elite of directors and professors) they don’t get economic security.

Unfortunately, in this region, the cradle of archaeology, all archaeologists, working or not, have been made victims in this situation.

While, in other countries, archaeologists are as valued as architects, urban planners and other professions, in this region, archaeologists who have practiced and learned world archaeology are valued as much as those with two years’ technical training, etc.; and they are left on their own in financial difficulties [literally, with a lack of income], with wages at retirement 60% lower than those of people with technical accreditation.(6)(7)

Whose interests are served? Ideological investment, financial benefit, cultural neglect?

In the context of powerful religious and business interests, which profit politically and economically from the loss of cultural assets, Osmaniyettin pleaded of the government,

Tip [(give) money to] religion, make hundreds of mosques; but develop/reconstruct this country too. On going to our ancient excavation areas, my heart bleeds; [look at] how foreigners revive and administer [their sites], our ruins are in a state of ruin.(8)


1: Herkese kadro var arkeologlara neden yok?

ben anlamıyorum bir sürü şehir plancısı bir sürü mimar bir sürü mühendis alınırken 2- 3 arkeolog alınıyor 2 yıl boyunca. walla şehircilik bakanlığından daha çok şehir plancısı var Kültür Bakanlığında. hatta arkeologların yazması gereken raporları bile arkeolog olmadığından şehir plancıları yazıyormuş diye duydum koruma kurullarında. eyer bu doğru ise kanunen yasal değil bu.

2: Türkiye’nin turizm gelirlerinde önemli bir yer tutan arkeolojik mirasın açığa çıkması için öğrenciliği zamanında büyük özveriyle para almadan çalışan arkeologlar, mezun olduğunda da işsiz kalmaktadır….

Eğitim aldıkları 4 yıl boyunca ücretsiz olarak kazılarda görev alan öğrenciler, bilimsel kazı yöntemlerini öğrendikten sonra mezun olup işsiz kalıyorlar. Bünyesinde arkeolog bulundurmak zorunda olan kurumlar bile buna uymayarak, kadrolu arkeolog almaya yanaşmıyor.

3: Üniversitelerin yaptığı tüm kazılarda öğrenciler çalıştırılıyor. Öğrenciler işçi gibi kazma kürek kullanıp, el arabaları ile toprak taşıyor. Bedava çalışan öğrencilerin sırtından kazılar gerçekleştiriliyor, ülkenin turizm potansiyeli arttırılıyor. Çıkarılan eserler müzelerin vitrinlerini süslüyor. Kazılar her yıl sürüyor ve arkadan sürekli yeni öğrenci sirkülasyonu olduğundan, mezun olan öğrencilerin durumu üniversiteleri de ilgilendirmiyor. Binlerce üniversite mezunu arkeolog işsiz kalıyor….

Uzmanlık ve bilimsel deneyim isteyen bu kazılarda görev alan arkeologların büyük çoğunluğu ise üniversitelerin arkeoloji bölümlerinde okuyan öğrenciler oluyor….

Sınırları içinde arkeolojik sit alanı olmayan belediye hemen hemen yok gibi. KUDEP [Kültür Varlıklarını Koruma, Uygulama ve Denetim Programı] yönetmeliğine göre ise bu belediyeler en az bir arkeolog istihdam etmek zorunda. Ancak bunu uygulayan belediye sayısı neredeyse bir elin parmakları kadar az sayıda.

4: Çığlığımızı duyan radikal gazetesine teşekkürler

Öncelikle yıllardır bu çığlığı duymak istemeyenlere karşı kanayan bu yaraya parmak basan radikal gazetesine teşekkür ederim….

Dünyanın arkeolojik açıdan en zenginlerinden olan bu coğrafyada ne yazık ki mezun olanlarda iş bulamamakta çaresizce sadece çalışabildikleri kültür bakanlığının açmış olduğu kadrolara bakmakta oda hüsranla sonlanmaktadır.

Sonuçta maliye bakanlığı kadro veriyor ama talep Kültür bakanlığınca yapılmakta her ne hikmetse biz istiyoruz maliye vermiyor deniliyor.

5: Bu durumda ilk akla gelen kasıtlı mı yapıldığı arkeologların bu ülkede zenci muamelesine tabi olması kimin çıkarına geliyor onu düşünmek lazım.

6: The translation of this sentence nearly destroyed me.

7: Maalesef Arkeolojinin beşiği bu coğrafyada çalışan çalışmayan tüm arkeologlar mağdur edilmiş durumda.

Uluslararasında arkeologlar mimar, şehirplancısı vb. mesleklerle eş değerdeyken dünya arkeolojisinin pratik yapıp öğrendiği bu coğrafyada çalışan Arkeologlar iki yıllık teknikler tütün expertizleri vb. ile aynı değerde tutuluyor ve teknik kabul edilmelerine karşın emekli olduklarında maaşları %60 oranında düşüp geçim sıkıntısı ile baş başa bırakılıyorlar.(6)

8: bas bas paraları diyanete, yap yüzlerce camiyi zaten ülkeyi de bu kalkındıracak. Bizdeki antik kazı alanlarına gidince içim kan ağlıyor, yabancılar nasıl canlandırıyor düzenliyor, bizimki harabenin de harabesi bir halde.


The article used to be available at: (and somewhere else before that) – and it may be available elsewhere in the future. I wish, wish that Mediterranean media websites would publish articles at one permanent address and leave them there. It’s also available at:

I completely preserved the quoted texts, but I inserted line/paragraph breaks into any unformatted text to make it easier to read.

I knew my non-conversational, “proper” (academic and media) Turkish had got worse, but translating – or trying to translate – this article and the readers’ comments was a crushing experience. I’m confident about a fair amount of it, and I don’t think anything’s dangerously wrong, but some of the fragmented and paragraph-long sentences may not be exact…

I had been trying (if not to improve, at least) not to lose my ‘Azeri’/’Iranian’ Turkish (which people from Turkey called Azeri/Iranian because sometimes (when I was concentrating on getting the words out of my mouth) I lost vowel harmony, and because I used some grammatical forms more or less than native Turkish-speakers), but I fear it’s impossible to keep such a different way of thinking and expressing thoughts without long-term immersion in the language.

[Originally posted on conflict antiquities]

  1. […] cross-posted on (un)free archaeology.] Exploited, unemployed, indignant: the archaeology graduate without a […]

  2. […] just a few days before Occupy Gezi, I argued that it ‘reveal[ed] coordinated professional resistance‘ to an international crisis, ‘which should be a lesson to archaeologists […]

  3. […] had already ‘rebelled [ayaklandı]‘, and engaged in ‘coordinated professional resistance‘, before the occupation of Gezi Park. Some of those rebellious archaeologists became founding […]

  4. […] and police brutality and as advocates of real democracy. Mass unemployment had driven them to rebel even before Occupy Gezi; the first protester hospitalised at Gezi Park was archaeology student […]

  5. […] workers’ for the province’s 19 ancient cities. There is not. Once, there were 6,000 (altı bin) qualified, experienced, unemployed archaeologists in Turkey; then, there were 8,000; […]

  6. […] are resisting their own mass unemployment. Before, at least six thousand were unemployed. Now, at least eight thousand are unemployed, very […]

  7. […] that archaeologists had (already) engaged in ‘coordinated professional resistance’ ( Likewise, when it all kicked off in EuroMaidan, Kyiv, Ukraine, I helped by translating, analysing […]

  8. […] outside the State Personnel Department on 25th September, also echo the Gezi uprising, though their resistance predates […]

  9. […] by Radikal journalist Ömer Erbil, already before the Gezi uprising, archaeologists had ‘rebelled [isyan […]

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