free archaeology and Occupy Gezi: the Turkish archaeology graduate with no future

Posted: 01/07/2013 in free archaeology, News & Analysis, Research, resistance
Tags: , , , , ,

I want to look at the (Türkiyeli) Turkish archaeology graduate with no future, from the great risk of an economic crisis in Turkey, through the radical nature of the archaeological profession internationally and especially in Turkey, to the apparent certainty of a financial crisis in archaeology, and the outburst of archaeological resistance.

I’ve provided (tl;dr) background on the protests and their repression, the protesters and their politics, and the archaeology of Gezi Park. I’ve also looked at civil resistance in Gola Çetu; the politics of (a lack of) archaeological work; (non-)(re-)memorialisation of the Armenian Genocide.

As the police/state is persecuting resisters, I’ve protected some sources (and preserved a full version of this post offline). Protected sources are cited as “(P)”.

The graduate with no future

Not me… Paul Mason (@paulmasonnews) linked to a protest clip video and said that the ‘key memes’ of the protests were ‘#graduatewithnofuture #barricade #vendettamask #csgas’.

In Why It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere: the New Global Revolutions, Mason identifies a transnational youth culture, between the salariat and the proletariat, in which the youths are unable to get a secure job, or even any job. (Guy Standing identifies everybody in such a position as the precariat.) Students’ precarious labour and indebtedness are essential to both their lives and the economic/financial system. And now, graduates have to work longer, for less money, to pay greater debts, with less security.

Paweł Morski (@Pawelmorski) queried, ‘#graduatewithnofuture ? In Turkey? Not really.’ Likewise, London Revisited (@LondonRevisited) exclaimed, ‘graduateswithnofuture ? We are talking about Turkey! Fasting growing economy in Europe. You are supposed to know economics.’

Stunted growth, persistent unemployment

In fact, Turkey’s growth has become stunted. In 2011, it was the fastest-growing economy in Europe; in 2012, it was still the second-fastest, but not because it was doing well, just because (almost) everyone else was doing worse. Moreover, its growth has been fueled by foreign purchases of public services; now it has to pay off that dangerously high and volatile debt, its economy is at great risk.

Even when the country was booming, its unemployment remained around 10%; and now its youth unemployment problem is growing worryingly. The most recent statistics show that 10.5% of Turkey’s workforce, 20.4% of its youth workforce and 30% of its graduate workforce are unemployed. (Turkey’s unemployment problem is not like Greece‘s, or Spain‘s, or even the Eurozone‘s; but it is comparable to the UK‘s and the Arab Spring countries‘.)

Struggling and sinking

When it was reported that Turkish unemployment rates were lower than European ones, Sonnu Global commented,

This is a lie !!!! I have many friends who [have a] good education[al] background but [are] struggling to find jobs. And those who are working[…] are working in fear because many bosses in turkey [are] terrible[….]

Our economy is good blah blah[…] open your eyes[…] capita income is still bad[…] For eg: [there are] lots of people living [on] 800TL[.] how can these people survive[?…] Rent itself cost 700 TL[… The] economy [is] good… only for individual[s,] not for workers … minimum salary should be 1500TL and 40 hours…

Obviously, individuals’ unfortunate experiences do not necessarily reflect the average experience. Still, here, they corroborate the data and prove the existence of (justifiably) bitter, educated yet unemployed or precariously-employed groups amongst younger generations. Sonnu displayed (understandable) distrust of the state, frustration with his and his social network’s wrecked life opportunities (the chance to choose between exploitation and unemployment), outrage at rampant social and economic inequality and the elite’s enrichment through the poor’s impoverishment…

While the wholly unemployed may “only” be a minority, they are a huge minority; plus, combined, those either unemployed or precariously-employed might form a majority and could certainly form a challenge to the current social (dis)order. Both within their profession and within the revolution, archaeologists and other cultural heritage workers provide a striking example.

The archaeology graduate with no future

Archaeology as a radical profession

Internationally, archaeology is the lowest paid graduate career and has ‘some of the worst terms and conditions of employment‘. Much archaeological labour is precarious; some of its workers are so precarious that they can’t afford union membership. So, even at economic peaks in secure countries with (relatively) stable economies, archaeologists’ economic position and social experience make them the professionals perhaps closest to labourers and most left-wing.

Moreover, while any labour can be a bonding (or an alienating) experience, archaeological excavation is often conducted by small teams who learn, work, socialise and sleep together in basic conditions in isolated locations for weeks or months at a time (and everyone enjoys a good mattock). So, it can be a particularly powerful experience, which establishes a ‘close tightness of community‘; and, due to international education and work, this community forms an international network.

The generational crisis in the archaeological profession

As the costs of living and education rise, and as wages fall and jobs collapse in the archaeological sector, there is a generational crisis for young workers and early career professionals. Behind the long-standing reserve army of underemployed and insecure workers, there’s now a reserve army of experienced but wholly unemployed workers, so it’s exceptionally difficult for young archaeologists to get any work at all, let alone to build up the skills and experience that they need to get a relatively secure position.

An angry cultural heritage worker in Turkey has communicated ‘the indignation of an archaeology graduate who cannot get appointed or do his own work [atanmayan kendi işini yapamayan bir arkeoloji mezununun kızgınlıkları]’. The indignant archaeologist highlights additional structural barriers to education and employment (such as exams that inexplicably include computerised accounting/book-keeping).

The Turkish archaeology graduate with no future

Graduates with bleak futures are an identifiable group in Turkey, but that doesn’t begin to describe the situation.

In Turkey, the unemployed archaeologist is as notorious as Indiana Jones and Lara Croft

Asked if they were happy working in someone else’s childhood dream job, one assured the questioner, ‘certainly not. Being an archaeologist, I’m not working. [elbette hayır. Arkeolog olarak calismiyorum.]'(P) The questioner observed that ‘this appears to be all archaeologists’ fate [tüm arkeologların kaderi bu sanırım]’.(P)

‘The most normal thing in the world is to be an archaeologist who cannot get hired [Dunyanin en normal seyi = atanamayan arkeolog olmak].’ For at least more than a decade, a (widely-circulated and repeatedly-published) cartoon has depicted the skeleton of a museum worker in a display case, which informs visitors that ‘I became a skeleton through unemployment… but in the end I found a great job… [işsizlikten bir kemik haline geldim… ama sonunda harika bir iş buldum…]’; national newspapers have told their readers about ‘being an archaeologist in Turkey ([which means] being unemployed) [Türkiye’de arkeolog (=işsiz) olmak]’; family and friends have warned their loved ones off the profession because ‘you’ll remain unemployed [işsiz kalırsın]’; others have ‘give[n] up [vazgeçiyorum]’ before they’ve begun because they don’t want ‘to go hungry [aç kalıcam]’.

(Obviously, there are people who ‘still want to be an archaeologist… it’s [their] dream [hala arkeolog olmak istiyoruuum… hayallerim]’; but it will probably remain a dream, and there are many others who have ‘given up on being an archaeologist [Arkeolog olcam vazgeçtim]’.)

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

Even if archaeologists do get a job through a torpil (string-puller), the overwhelming majority don’t get economic security: ‘they are left on their own in financial difficulties, with wages at retirement 60% lower than those of people with technical accreditation [teknik kabul edilmelerine karşın emekli olduklarında maaşları %60 oranında düşüp geçim sıkıntısı ile baş başa bırakılıyorlar]’. And the reality is that thousands of archaeologists are not fortunate enough to find insecure employment.

The tragedy of the Turkish archaeology student

Universities have more than two thousand students in each year of their four-year archaeology courses. They make all of their eight thousand plus ‘students participate in digs without pay [ücretsiz olarak kazılarda görev alan öğrenciler]’. As there is ‘a continuous supply of new students [sürekli yeni öğrenci sirkülasyonu olduğundan]’, so there is always a workforce to generate the data upon which their dig directors and university professors build their own careers.

Consequently, ‘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]]‘. In another post, I will demonstrate that much of this unemployment is deliberately and illegally created in order to enable culturally-destructive political and economic projects.

For years, there has been a group: Either Close Departments of Archaeology or Increase the Hiring of Archaeologists (P). People felt moved to thank the Ministry of Culture for hiring fifteen archaeologists in one year (2013).(P) Archaeology students’ exploitation makes them perversely look forward to their inevitable unemployment: ‘I saw a qualified unemployed archaeologist. At least they had a name. They weren’t someone-who-does-archaeology, they were an archaeologist. I was jealous.’ (P)

Unimaginably massive cuts to university archaeology budgets

A couple of weeks before Occupy Gezi – considering its notorious non-reporting of the revolution, ironically – CNN Türk reported that ‘those [universities] that don’t pay half won’t get a dig permit [Yarısını ödemeyene arkeolojik kazı izni yok]’:

In many of Turkey’s provinces, wherever you lay your hand, you are confronted with a historic site. But now it’s going to get difficult to do excavations. Under a new directive that has been published [on the 13th of March], the responsibility to pay half of the costs is being given to universities. Those who don’t pay won’t get an excavation licence. So, do universities have sufficient budgets?

[Türkiye’nin birçok ilinde elinizi nereye atsanız, tarihi bir eserle karşılaşıyorsunuz. Ama artık kazı yapmak zorlaşacak. Yayınlanan yeni yönergede üniversitelere, masrafın yarısını ödeme zorunluluğu getiriliyor. [‘Türk kazıları için Kazı Başkan Adayının bağlı bulunduğu bilimsel kurum veya kuruluş tarafından her yıl Bakanlık tarafından verilecek ödeneğin izleyen yılda en az yarısı kadar destekte bulunacağı taahhüt edilir.’] Ödemeyene kazı izni yok. Peki üniversitelerin yeteri kadar bütçesi var mı?]

Guess the answer…

This is an unimaginably massive budget cut. And, considering just how crippling this attack is, there has been amazingly (and/or predictably) little comment. The day after the beginning of the occupation, one archaeologist (P) pondered:

it is certainly possible that there will be a retardation in the rate of scientific research, this is a difficult situation… The initiative/change may stumble… The terms are heavy.

Let’s say that the university has no money. What will happen? Does it mean a dig won’t be able to be done!? Yes! Okay, is an archaeology/archaeologist without digs possible!!!? No! What a contradiction this is!

Becoming unemployed in the midst of revolution

What was the title of the article that documented Turkish archaeologists’ mass unemployment? Young Archaeologists Have Rebelled. [Genç Arkeologlar Ayaklandı.] It was published two months before Gezi Park was occupied. In my annotated translation, 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 elsewhere’.

(Incidentally, the root meaning of “ayaklanmak” is “to get to one’s feet”, so it neatly echoes (digging) archaeologists’ (literally) working on their knees and foreshadows the standing protests.)

During the occupation, another two thousand archaeologists graduated and joined the back of the dole queue. So it’s no surprise that archaeologists were founding members of the occupation, or that archaeology students’ graduation ceremonies spontaneously became çapulcu protests: ‘everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance!’ (P)


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