free archaeology and Occupy Gezi: the politics of (a lack of) archaeological work

Posted: 02/07/2013 in free archaeology, News & Analysis, Research, resistance
Tags: , , , ,

Now, I’ll look at the politics of archaeological work in Taksim Square and Gezi Park. More specifically, I’ll look at the political causes of a lack of archaeological work, the deliberately and illegally created unemployment of archaeologists.

I believe that political and business interests quasi-legally or completely illegally prevent archaeologists doing their job, both in order to enable neoliberal development projects, and in order to prevent the revelation of politically-unacceptable archaeological evidence. In Munzur, they want to disguise or destroy Kurdish and Alevi cultural heritage and conflict archaeology/forensic archaeology; in Istanbul, they want to disguise or destroy evidence of the Ottoman Armenian community’s presence and persecution.

I’ve provided background on the protests and their repression, the protesters and their politics, and the archaeology of Gezi Park. The “proper” posts look at the Turkish archaeology graduate with no future; the politics of (a lack of) archaeological work; (non-)(re-)memorialisation of the Armenian Genocide; archaeologists at Gezi Park and on the barricades; and Gezi Park’s eligibility for UNESCO World Heritage status.

The politics of (a lack of) archaeological work

The elite’s disregard for archaeology and impatience for profit cannot (fully) explain their behaviour on the Topçu Barracks Project. After all, on the Yenikapı/Marmaray Metro Project, ‘500 workers and 60 specialists worked for 24 hours a day on three shifts’ for eight years (though its Yüksel construction contractors recently ‘invaded‘ the archaeological site, without official permission and against archaeologists’ protestations, and started work). The Seyitgazi sewage pipeline project includes meticulous excavation, because ‘it provides a valuable service to a city’s community [Bir şehrin halkına faydalı bir iş yapa[r]]’. There may be a far darker motive for the decision not to employ any archaeologists at all at Gezi Park.

The destruction of Surp Hagop cemetery

Between 1551 and 1939, Gezi Park was the Armenian community’s Surp Hagop/Pangaltı cemetery; through a series of acts between 1912 and 1939, it was unlawfully expropriated (confiscated) by the municipality, and destroyed. Its marble gravestones were sold off, bought up and turned into the steps of Gezi Park; and the Armenians’ remains are still buried beneath the park.

Wilful amnesia

During the construction of the Kasımpaşa road (the name of which you may recognise, because it’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s home neighbourhood), ‘gravestones belonging to Armenians were caught in the mechanical diggers’ teeth [kepçenin dişlerine Ermenilere ait mezar taşları takıldı]’. Thus, the Topçu Barracks Project may have tried to conduct the work without an archaeologist in order to avoid finding (so, in order to disguise or destroy) any inconvenient evidence of the historical presence and persecution of the Armenian community.

Archaeologists’ illegal unemployment enables both development and court orders to stop development

Cultural heritage law

Under the Cultural and Natural Heritage Protection Law and its amendments (Kültür ve Tabiat Varlıklarını Koruma Kanunu ve Değişiklik), developments must be licensed, excavations must be licensed, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s experts must be allowed to supervise developments (under watching briefs) and excavate wherever necessary. Yet only a tiny minority of municipalities even have an archaeologist in the office to do the desk-based assessment (DBA) of development proposals (and, therefore, to license, limit or prohibit developments on scientific grounds).

Archaeological excavation directive

Likewise, under the Directive Relating to Procedures and Principles that Will Be Obeyed on Administration, Restoration and Conservation Projects and Practices that Will Be Done at Archaeological Excavations and Excavated Areas (Arkeolojik Kazılarda Ve Kazı Alanlarında Yapılacak Düzenleme, Restorasyon Ve Konservasyon Proje Ve Uygulamalarında Uyulacak Usul Ve Esaslara İlişkin Yönerge),

Experts from different disciplines (restoration specialists, architects, conservators, construction engineers/civil engineers, material conservation specialists, soil scientists, etc.), as appropriate for the site’s quality and problems of protection, will be kept in excavation teams on works directed at the care, repair and protection of immovable cultural assets at archaeological sites, whether already-existing or brought into the open as a result of excavations.

[Arkeolojik alanlarda mevcut veya kazılar sonucu açığa çıkartılan taşınmaz kültür varlıklarının bakım, onarım, korunmasına yönelik çalışmalarda, alanın niteliğine ve koruma problemlerine uygun olarak; farklı disiplinlerden (restorasyon uzmanı, mimar, konservatör, inşaat mühendisi, malzeme koruma uzmanı, zemin mekanikçisi vb.) uzmanlar kazı ekiplerinde bulundurulur.]

It literally goes without saying that an appropriate specialist for an archaeological site would be an archaeologist.

Office policy

The Bureaux/Offices of Cultural Property Protection, Implementation and Inspection/Supervision (Kültür Varlıklarını Koruma, Uygulama ve Denetim Buroları (KUDEB)), do specify that ‘in the case of an archaeological site being found, in accordance with the characteristic[s] of [such] a site, it is mandatory/compulsory to employ at least one archaeologist [arkeolojik sit alanının bulunması halinde alanın özelliğine göre en az bir arkeologun görev alması zorunludur]’.

Preservative renovation law

Yet even when the laws are honoured they are exploited. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) found that development projects legalised under the Law for Preservation through Renovation and Utilisation through Revitalisation of Deteriorated Immovable Historical and Cultural Properties (Yıpranan Tarihi ve Kültürel Taşınmaz Varlıkların Yenilenerek Korunması ve Yaşatılarak Kullanılması Hakkında Kanun) were actually ‘unusually destructive‘.

The Taksim Topçu Barracks Project, which encompassed both the pedestrianisation of Taksim Square (and the tunnelisation of its traffic) and the building of Topçu Barracks over Gezi Park, violated cultural heritage law in both zones; and the Sulukule affair demonstrated utter contempt for local communities, professional ethics and the rule of law.

The Taksim Square Pedestrianisation Project violated cultural heritage law

During works for the Taksim Square Pedestrianisation Project (Taksim Meydanı Yayalaştırma Projesi), archaeological structures were found; however, ‘not being under experts’ supervision, the Ottoman architecture was removed very hastily [literally, like possessions rescued from a fire] by the construction firm [uzmanların denetiminde olmadan yangından mal kaçırırcasına bu Osmanlı mimarisi inşaat firması tarafından kaldırıldı]’.

WHY IS EXCAVATION[‘S BEING] UNDER SPECIALIST’S SUPERVISION IMPORTANT?

It is mandatory for a specialist in the excavation of architectural remains to attend wherever there is an archaeological excavation or the foundational works of any construction project. This is because there is always the possibility of the exposure of other architecture underneath or in the surroundings of this building. The building may be the continuation of another building. Also, an inventorying team may happen upon a site or sites during excavation. Lastly, the excavation process is itself too a documentation and must be under experts’ supervision.

IT WAS NOT POSSIBLE TO GET INFORMATION FROM THE MUSEUM

Our struggle to reach Istanbul Archaeology Museums in order to get information about the subject of the work’s excavation’s constituting a crime for there not being an archaeologist or specialist remained without result. Earlier, we were directed to Istanbul Province Culture Directorate. However, the Culture Directorate sent us back to the museum, saying that the museum was the addressee for this subject. Despite our calling the museum many times, and informing the museum that we were going to report news related with this subject and leaving our numbers many times, not one official gave us a call back.

The subject of the AKP’s praising itself by discussing ‘[its] ancestors’ and staking or not staking a claim to history has been left hanging in the air surrounded by question marks.

[UZMAN DENETİMİNDE KALDIRILMASI NEDEN ÖNEMLİ?

Herhangi bir arkeolojik kazı veya inşaat projesi temelli çalışmalarda bulunan mimari kalıntılar kaldırılırken uzman bulunmak zorundadır. Çünkü bu yapı kaldırılırken altında veya çevresinde başka bir mimari çıkma olasılığı her zaman vardır. Yapı farklı bir yapının devamı olabilir. Ayrıca kaldırılma esnasında envanterlik bir takım eser veya eserlere rastlanılabilir. Ensonu kaldırma işleminin kendisi de bir belgelemedir ve uzmanların denetiminde olmak zorundadır.

MÜZEDEN BİLGİ ALMAK MÜMKÜN OLMADI

Hiçbir arkeolog ve uzman olmadan bu yapının kaldırılması suç teşkil ettiğinden konu hakkında bilgi almak için İstanbul Arkeoloji Müzeleri’ne ulaşma çabalarımız sonuçsuz kaldı. Önce İstanbul İl Kültür Müdürlüğü’ne yönlendirildik. Kültür Müdürlüğü ise konunun muhatabı Müze’dir diyerek tekrar bizi Müze’ye yönlendirdi. Müze’yi defalarca aramamıza ve konuyla ilgili haber yapacağımız bilgisini verip numaralarımızı bırakmamıza rağmen hiçbir yetkiliden dönüş sağlanmadı.

AKP’nin ‘ecdadımız’ diyerek övündüğü tarihe de sahip çıkıp çıkmadığı konusu soru işaretleri içinde havada kaldı.]

Indeed, ‘despite the [Cultural Heritage Protection] Board’s [theoretically legally-binding] ruling that the excavation must be conducted under the supervision of the Directorate of Archaeology, excavation works were begun [by Kalyon Construction] on the 30th of October [2012] [Kurul’un kazının Arkeoloji Müdürlüğü denetiminde yapılması kararına rağmen kazı çalışmaları 30 Ekim’de başlatıldı]’.

The Topçu Barracks Project violated cultural heritage law

The Istanbul Cultural Heritage and Monuments Board(?) ordered a halt to the Topçu Barracks Project on the 16th of January 2013, but the government carried on regardless. On the 4th of February, Erdoğan declared that the ‘decision of the Committee is not important for me and we reject the rejection of the committee, the project to build a shopping mall and hotel in the area of the park will continue’; on the 27th of February, the Higher Board for the Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage(?) duly obeyed Erdoğan and overruled the Istanbul Board.

At the beginning of Occupy Gezi, the Taksim Gezi Park Protection and Beautification Association appealed against the overturning of the cancellation of the project. One of the many reasons for suspending Gezi Park’s redevelopment was the fact that ‘it was not appropriate from the perspective of cultural and natural heritage [kültürel ve doğal miras… açısından uygun olmadığı]’. It was not appropriate because the developers had not hired an archaeologist to oversee the pre-development excavation.

In a truly remarkable act of provocation, when he conceded that the new barracks could be used as a museum (but implied that he would manage to overturn the court order to stop the project completely, the same way his interference convinced the Higher Council for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage to overturn its own withdrawal of consent for the Topçu Barracks Project), he also stated that the ‘Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM)… should be demolished’ and replaced with ‘an opera house and a mosque‘…

Erdoğan argues that he does not want to destroy the environment; he wants to ‘reviv[e] history‘. Yet, if so, why didn’t the project employ an archaeologist either in the office to plan the project or on site to monitor the work? Why didn’t it employ a team of archaeologists to excavate the known archaeological site before its redevelopment? Why did courts twice find it inappropriate?

More honoured in the breach than the observance: preservation through renovation in the Sulukule Project

“More honoured in the breach than the observance” now means any commonly-ignored custom, which could well apply to Turkish cultural heritage law in general; but it originally meant a custom that it was more honourable to ignore than perform, which may apply to one law in particular, which is specialist legislation to protect vulnerable buildings that is more easily exploited than standard regulation.

The Reactive Monitoring Mission of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) judged that the Sulukule project, which was initially legally approved as a means of preserving historic and cultural property through its renovation, ‘effectively destroyed‘ whole districts of Istanbul’s World Heritage Site.

During the four-year (2008-2012) legal struggle of the Turkish Union of Chambers of Engineers and Architects (Türk Mühendis ve Mimar Odaları Birliği (TMMOB)), the Chamber of Urban Planners (Şehir Plancıları Odası (ŞPO)) and the Sulukule Roma Cultural Development and Solidarity Association (Sulukule Roman Kültürünü Geliştirme ve Dayanışma Derneği (SRKGDD)), the development project was not suspended.

Fatih Municipality continued the demolition programme and drafted a cosmetically-different project plan. Thus, when Istanbul’s Fourth Regional Court finally judged the programme illegal, the displaced Roma were even denied the demolition of the illegal new buildings and the restoration of their old community. The municipality simply completed its (insignificantly-modified) programme of gentrification.

Ultranationalist amnesia

Next, I’ll show both the context and the product of that amnesia: the prevalence and impunity of ultranationalists, who make it dangerous for community members to perform anti-racist and anti-nationalist cultural heritage work, even within the relatively free and democratic spaces of the resisters’ occupations.

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Comments
  1. […] free archaeology and Occupy Gezi: the politics of (a lack of) archaeological work […]

  2. […] in order to realise these environmentally and culturally destructive projects, the state must disregard its own laws on development and practice. Legally, the municipality/state institution must employ experts […]

  3. […] years-long struggle to save the historic Roma neighbourhood of Sulukule bonded together the Roma community, the architects and urban planners with whom they made their […]

  4. […] the archaeological background of Gezi Park, which I continue through an examination of the destruction of Surp Hagop cemetery and a consideration of the challenges that confront those who wish to speak honestly. You […]

  5. […] 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 […]

  6. […] are resisting the destruction of the cultural heritage of Kurds, Alevis, Roma, Armenians and other minority […]

  7. Jadaliyya says:

    […] to improper practice during the planning process, noting that there had been a lack of excavation. Archaeologist Sam Hardy has suggested that the absence of archaeologists employed by the municipal government on this occasion may have […]

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