Occupy Gezi: archaeologists at Gezi Park, archaeologists on the barricades

Posted: 10/07/2013 in free archaeology, News & Analysis, Research, resistance
Tags: , ,

Turkish archaeology students and graduates with no future had already ‘rebelled [ayaklandı]’, and engaged in ‘coordinated professional resistance‘, before the occupation of Gezi Park. Some of those rebellious archaeologists became founding members of the occupation and chappullers in the streets and squares. So, here, I want to explore the nature and practice of cultural heritage workers’ resistance.

I briefly review the development of archaeologists’ struggle and solidarity through historic resistance. Then, in more detail, I consider radicalisation through the economics of archaeology; radicalisation through the politics of archaeology; and the archaeological elements of the Gezi Park Manifesto. Once I’ve done that, I explore the activity of archaeologists at Gezi Park; radicalisation through the experience of resistance; and the activity of archaeologists in the squares, in the streets and on the barricades.

Like the other posts, this is too long to read; but it collates and translates a lot of information; and I hope to write a summary this week, a Digger Declaration. [Why are archaeologists resisting in Turkey?]

(Elsewhere, I’ve provided background on the protests and their repression, the protesters and their politics, and the archaeology of Gezi Park.)

As the police/state is persecuting (social) media users (and chappullers in general), I’m protecting my sources. I’ve got a complete archive offline (and will put it online as soon as possible). Currently-protected sources are cited as “(P)”.

Historic resistance

In Turkey, archaeologists ‘as archaeologists have been in resistance for years’.(P) Many of the acts have been challenges to specific projects, but not all of them. When I was in south-eastern Turkey years ago, I met archaeologists who authored anonymous guides, which told histories that were unacceptable to the state.

Solidarity and struggle

Naturally, in a state where the past is so heavily and dangerously politicised, and archaeologists’ (non-)employment is under government control, their (non-)employment can be a significant political act. The state’s cultural destruction and social repression creates its own resistance.

The 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 legal case, and the archaeologists who tried to rescue some of the millennium-old community’s cultural heritage from the AKP municipality’s bulldozers.

The parallel struggle to prevent the deliberate flooding of cultural heritage in the Munzur Valley consolidated solidarity between the Kurdish/Alevi community, the environmentalists with whom the local community occupied critical sites and blocked and broke machinery, the BDP municipality that protected the sacred Alevi site of Jara Gola Çetu (until the State Waterworks prosecuted the municipality and forced the site’s destruction), and the environmental and cultural heritage workers whose professional and legal rights and responsibilities were violated by the state in order to enable the destruction of the community property.

Alongside their allies from other struggles, this highly-networked, highly-trained, highly-experienced alliance were able to rapidly and autonomously initiate, coordinate and adapt actions; they knew how to tie down every arm of the state at once (to prevent the state establishing “facts on the ground” before the criminality of the state’s actions could be confirmed in a court of law); and they were ready to put themselves at great personal risk in order to struggle for justice.

Radicalisation through the economics of archaeology

Capturing protesters’ consciously revolutionary activity and archaeologists’ precarious “professional labourer” class status, archaeologist chappullers declare that ‘[they] are from the sans culottes‘(P) (the French Revolution’s cotton-trouser pantalon-wearing, working-class and skilled-professional radicals, rather than its silk-knee-breech culotte-wearing bourgeois moderates).

Professional feudalism

There is a huge amount of unpaid labour in archaeology in Turkey. The state promotes its agenda, and a tiny minority of securely-employed professors and directors advance their careers, through the exploitation of more insecurely-employed colleagues, and through the mass exploitation of entirely-unpaid entry-level labour (a student workforce) and harmfully-insecurely-employed skilled labour (a seasonal workforce). Beneath even the student serfs, there is an ‘army of the unemployed’.(P) And like any unpaid army, they’re a danger to the system. Thus, ‘archaeologists resist in order to break the feudal structure of the academic and excavation systems’.(P)

The Neolithic (Archaeologists’) Revolution

Before the occupation of Gezi Park, there were eight thousand archaeology students, six thousand unemployed archaeologists and hundreds of precariously-employed workers. During the uprising, two thousand archaeologists graduated; in other words, another two thousand archaeologists became unemployed (to make a minimum of eight thousand).

Graduation ceremonies became çapulcu protests: ‘everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance!'(P) ‘The people-who-do-stuff-with-pots-and-pans are resisting: resist Gezi; resist Haydarpaşa; resist Yenikapı; resist Emek; resist Sulukule.'(P) ‘The Neolithic Revolution was the first revolution but it will not be the last!'(P)

(Even the sharing of academic articles became a revolutionary act. One of the most accessible ancient references is from a Lydian inscription: ‘if anyone harms a tree, they will find themselves against an angry god [bir Lydia yazıtından: ‘her kim ağaca zarar verirse, karşısında öfkeli bir tanrı bulacaktır‘].)

There’s some suggestion that the number of unemployed archaeologists has now passed ten thousand.(P) Already, even ‘archaeologists [who are employed], who are not doing their job but tourism agency work,… have started to take a role from [since(?)] Gezi‘.(P)

If the new unemployment statistics are correct, if two thousand archaeologists who had been precariously employed outside the profession have become wholly unemployed, if archaeologists cannot even escape into dead-end McJobs, it will make the profession even more desperate and radical. (It will also indicate the worrying direction of the Turkish economy.)

Petition for archaeologists’ employment

Archaeologists’ (un)employment has been a publicly-recognised joke for more than a decade. Accordingly, there have been repeated appeals for work for archaeologists and other cultural heritage workers (such as museum workers, conservators, restoration architects, art historians).

More than 2,000 have signed the original petition (arkeologların istihdamı imza kampanyası (22. Ağustos 2012)); more than 600 have signed and delivered another petition; so far more than 750 have signed yet another petition, which was launched the day after the establishment of Occupy Gezi and which has been widely shared on social media.

Since long before the crisis, archaeologists have appealed to (and condemned) the prime minister, ministers, ministries and members of parliament; and they have lamented their fate to the public. Last year, one asked, ‘thousands of archaeologists are unemployed, 3-5 have been hired. Does the Ministry of Culture hear our wish for employment?'(P)

This year, during the occupation, another insisted, ‘archaeologists have been very unjustly treated for three years…., we want the creation of new staff'(P); ‘archaeologists are in a very difficult situation. Please, hire [some people] with the KPSS [exams]. We want a good staff'(P).

Democratic protests, professional protests

When the Ministry of Culture and Tourism publicised Minister Ömer R. Çelik’s claim that ‘we recognise very well our normal citizens’ demands for democratic rights and their right to be heard [Biz normal vatandaşlarımızın demokratik hak taleplerini, seslerini duyurma haklarını çok iyi bir şekilde ayırt ediyoruz]’, cultural heritage workers responded with professional complaints (which once more showed the deep roots of the resistance). ‘By stopping archaeologists’ employment? Please, how many times have we sent petitions to you and your people, how many times have we faxed you? We’ve studied for five years.'(P)

‘Our prime minister said, “environmental awareness is impossible with the protection of trees alone; it is [only] possible with the protection of history as well”. So you’re delivering [the demands in] the petition?'(P) ‘If 15 positions for archaeologists are opened every two years, why are hundreds of archaeologists graduating [literally, being graduated] every year?'(P) ‘When will archaeologists’ employment reach the deserved number? With the hiring of ten people every year, this does not work [literally, this work cannot go on], there are thousands of graduates.'(P)

‘We worked on digs, we entered the KPSS [civil service exams] and were in the first fifty of hundreds, but altogether 6 thousand archaeologists couldn’t find work in Anatolia.'(P) ‘[Please] do something for archaeologists’ employment, we expect it of you.'(P)

‘Which archaeologist have you protected? Look, we’re still wrestling with the plague of unemployment, have you opened a institute?'(P) ‘You didn’t lend an ear to archaeologists’, historians’, city planners’, museum workers’, architects’ and academics’ call.'(P) ‘If these historic sites are being regenerated, call unemployed archaeologists and let them earn the money for a couple of slices of bread.'(P)

Some have merely begged for unemployed archaeologists to be treated as professionals. ‘I don’t understand how an [unemployed] archaeologist cannot freely enter museums and sites. Okay, where will an archaeologist [be able to] enter free[ly]?'(P) ‘There are archaeologists who are not being employed; if we don’t employ them, at least let’s give them their esteem back and give them free entry to museums.'(P) ‘Let’s give them their rights back, how can an archaeologist be unable to enter a museum or an archaeological site?'(P)

Others have been reduced to exasperation and sarcasm: ‘as a graduated archaeologist, what a shame it is that most of us cannot do our much-loved job'(P); (based on his interfering public statements,) ‘the man [Erdoğan] is a gynaecologist and an architect and an educator and a lawyer and a sculptor; I studied for four years but couldn’t become an archaeologist'(P).

And it has continued: the AKP promotion that “young people wanted it, the prime minister did it” received the reply, ‘young archaeologists are still unemployed though'(P).

Ennui: the revolutionary power of boredom

Without jobs to consume their time and energy, without wages to fund activities to alleviate their boredom, archaeologists are left both bursting with directionless energy and inexpressibly frustrated. In my experience, there is an almost sensory deprivation and a trappedness that can be physically felt. At least a few archaeologists were drawn into the streets by the sheer will to experience something, to do something. Archaeologists who had been really bored went out then, when ‘[they] came face-to-face with the fascism of the AKP’, stayed out.(P)

The role of social media in archaeologists’ engagement, networking and organising

Archaeologists’ research is not the only thing that is first-online now; their resistance is too. Campaigning archaeologists’ ‘starting points are social media and online platforms [Çıkış noktaları sosyal medya ve sanal ortam olan]’. And it’s not only because social media is a very efficient way of directing resistance and evading repression in emergency situations.

Unemployed archaeologists lack “natural” opportunities to engage, network and organise at work. Both unemployed and precariously-employed archaeologists are unable to afford conferences and other events (and thereby “planned” activity on the fringes of those meetings). (Still, some archaeologists are using standard academic venues to consider ways to increase archaeologists’ employment, such as the exploitation of school curriculum reform to introduce archaeology teaching.(P))

Many archaeologists are too horizontal structurally and too spread out geographically to arrange anything other than local activity at tea houses. And others (such as those in Istanbul) are so concentrated that the easiest and most democratic way of initiating and participating in autonomous activism is by means of online communication. Even their direct (or as-direct-as-possible) personal petitioning is online.

And Radikal journalist Ömer Çelik’s documentation of ‘[how] young archaeologists have rebelled[; how] 6 thousand archaeologists are unemployed[;] and [how,] while studying all of them worked on excavations, they became unpaid workers and afterwards were discarded [Genç arkeologlar ayaklandı. 6 bin arkeolog işsiz ve hemen hepsi okurken çalıştıkları kazılarda ücretsiz işçi olup sonrada kenara atıldılar]’, has earned him preacher-like status amongst archaeologists; his work is almost as widely shared as the petition.

Radicalisation through the politics of archaeology

Exclusion from public debate

Archaeologists had the experience of being shut out of the mainstream media discussion of Gezi Park (and other historical questions as well) the day before the police attacked the protesters.(P) KanalD’s Youth View (Genç Bakış (@gencbakiskanald)) programme tweeted, ‘What will be done to Gezi Park? Ahmet Ümit explains. [Gezi parkina ne yapılacak? Ahmet Ümit anlatıyor.]’

Archaeologists responded, ‘we also say that underneath Istanbul lies thousands of years of history, so why isn’t archaeological history being discussed here?'(P) ‘As archaeologists, we ask you to discuss Istanbul’s archaeological aspect too… please.'(P) They got no reply.

Resistance against capitalism

One of the reasons for the cannibalistic feudal structure of archaeology is the neoliberal project of the state and elite of Turkey. So, one of the reasons archaeologists resist is ‘in order to make a meaningful and honourable stand, against power, against capital that destroys and discards in order to extract rent, archaeologists resist!'(P)

Archaeologists are resisting as a community and as organised labour.(P) And there is an immediate logic to archaeologists’ resistance to the Topçu Barracks project. One colleague wryly noted that, ‘as an archaeologist, up to now, I’ve never seen a shopping centre inside a historic site’.(P) Another suggested that, ‘being suffocated with the bullshit historical understanding and consciousness of neo-Ottomanism… archaeologists [had to] resist’.(P)

By definition, as a historical science, archaeology helps us to understand ourselves and the world, and thereby to effectively work towards a better future. Hence, archaeologists have come out ‘against government that perceives archaeology as pots and pans’.(P)

Cultural heritage workers identify themselves as çanak çömlekçiler [people who do stuff with pots and pans], and declare that ‘during the day, we work for the past; at night, we work for the future!!!'(P) ‘We must have a future!'(P) Yet, as is suggested by the long history of cultural heritage workers’ opposition to the state and other socially-dominant forces, archaeologists’ participation has deeper roots.

Naturally, the entire spectrum of political beliefs can be seen within the cultural heritage profession; but archaeological study and labour do lend themselves to certain politics; archaeological evidence and ethics do instill certain foundational principles.

Archaeology instills respect for our common humanity

Excavations of ancient sites disprove narratives of cultural purity and superiority (and even identifiability). Thus, a cultural heritage worker will publicly argue that ‘Turkey isn’t only Ottoman; as an archaeologist, I say that it is the cradle of civilisations, the threshold of voices’. Therefore, because of the country’s fundamentally and definitively shared and mixed history, ‘let the voting barrier [to minority communities’ representation] be lifted, [say] no to the barrier’.(P)

Moreover, archaeology reveals ingenuity, skill and artistry in every society; it produces knowledge of and respect for our common humanity. Hence, for some direnişçiler, ‘[if you] show respect, [if you] don’t go to an archaeological site or museum and make comments such as “mate, an infidel made this”, this is enough for us’.(P)

Archaeology undermines nationalism

In Turkey, archaeology’s most significant contribution to archaeologists’ politics may be its undermining of any and every aspect of nationalism. Obviously, I don’t deny the shameful history of colonialist/imperialist archaeologies, or the shameful past and present of nationalist/racist propaganda and provocation; but I do deny that good archaeologists can innocently produce such interpretations. Turkish nationalist archaeologists who deny the Armenian Genocide are not simply bigoted archaeologists, but actually bad archaeologists (or, realistically, capable archaeologists who maliciously conduct bad archaeology). Therefore, archaeologists resist ‘in order to get interdisciplinary, free archaeology that won’t serve racist forces or power’.(P)

As one archaeologist argued, ‘it’s not pots and pans, you bring truths to light’.(P) That is why the archaeologists of the Turkish Historical Society (Türk Tarih Kurumu (TTK)) helped to cover up the destruction of a mass grave from the Armenian Genocide (while the newspaper that reported it was shut down). The archaeologists of the (international) Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR) were willing to work with their nationalist colleagues on a scientific fact-finding excavation, but the TTK’s unprofessional conduct drove the IHJR to refuse to cooperate.

Beyond the bare facts of who killed whom, forensic archaeology forces its workers to face the brutality of conflict and the suffering of “others”. It leads people to a humanitarian approach. One construction worker appealed for people not to forget, or to cause others to forget, the Sivas Massacre (of Kurdish Alevis by Turkish Salafists on the 2nd of July 1993); then they ‘invite[d] archaeologists to [do their] duty’ in the south-east, where ‘everything is covered up very quickly'(P), including the shallow graves of victims of nationalist conflict.

Hence, archaeologists resist ‘in order to destroy traditional racist, ideological, segregationist/exclusionary oppositions in archaeology’.(P)

Archaeology exposes the cultural harm of destructive development

It has been wistfully observed that south-eastern Turkey (northern Kurdistan) ‘doesn’t need archaeologists, it needs divers; the courtesan Republic of Turkey is leaving [putting] all of its history underwater’.(P) Whether archaeologists are allowed or prohibited to conduct rescue excavations ahead of development works, they are confronted with the scale of the loss to society, and they are confronted with the victimisation of minority communities. Indeed, they are burdened with minimising the harm, and they are burdened with the knowledge that they may be complicit in that harm, so they develop bonds of solidarity with vulnerable groups.

Since the state controls archaeological work and prevents politically-inconvenient activity, archaeologists’ professional concerns are reinforced by their economic needs; their livelihoods are dependent upon the availability of politically-acceptable work. Thus, archaeologists also ‘resist for history’ because professional archaeologists are economically punished; ‘if historic sites are being destroyed and left underwater, archaeologists aren’t needed’.(P)

One archaeologist knowingly queried, ‘within the boundaries of the Greater Municipality of Istanbul, where there are hundreds of ancient sites and monuments, how many archaeologists are working? Organise and resist for a Profession Law.'(P)

Archaeology’s enemies clearly recognise its power. When archaeologists are allowed to excavate some sites before they are flooded in hydroelectric dam projects (or dug through or concreted over during other development works), they are not allowed to excavate conflict archaeology. Furthermore, it is a crime for a state employee to criticise a state project, and in Turkey nearly all employed archaeologists are state archaeologists, so archaeologists are practically prohibited from expressing professional concerns.

Professional ethics, political responsibility

The Istanbul Branch of the Archaeologists’ Union (Arkeologlar Derneği İstanbul Şubesi), which is a member of Taksim Solidarity (1), has explained its professional reasons for political resistance:

  • the protection of all urban-rural living spaces, and the defence of the existence and continuity of the public sphere;
  • our professional and scientific position requires us to be responsible for the protection of natural and cultural heritage
  • we dismiss the construction of the aforementioned ‘Topçu Barracks’ in Gezi Park for its imitation’s being misleading in the future, and we do not defend the inaccurate reconstruction of a historic site; [and,]
  • in addition, we want to emphasise one more time that one of the components in the course of the design of projects inside the city is the necessity of archaeologists’ having a say.
  • Kentsel-kırsal tüm yaşam alanlarının korunması, kamusal alanın varlığının ve devamlılığın savunulması,
  • Meslek/bilim alanımız gereği doğal ve kültürel varlıklarının korunmasını bir görev olarak benimsememiz,
  • Gezi Parkı’nda “Topçu Kışlası” olarak anılan yapının taklidinin inşa edilmesinin bir anlamda geleceği aldatmak olduğunu düşünmemiz, eski bir yapıyı taklit etmenin koruma olmadığını savunmamız,
  • Ayrıca kent içindeki projelerin tasarım sürecinde arkeologların söz sahibi bileşenlerden biri olması gerektiğini bir kez daha vurgulama isteğimiz.

Archaeological elements in the Occupy Gezi Manifesto

Many of the demands in the Occupy Gezi Manifesto concern archaeology or archaeological work. That reveals the significant role of cultural heritage and cultural heritage workers in the struggle.

Specifically regarding cultural heritage sites and their treatment:

  • Taksim Project must be cancelled.
  • Taksim is a symbol: Taksim must be open to all peaceful congregations and demonstrations. [The Archaeologists’ Union was one of the organisations banned from a May Day commemoration at Taksim Square; nevertheless, ‘colleagues, whether employed or unemployed [çalışan ya da işsiz tüm meslektaşları]’, marched for their rights; and police trapped and attacked them with tear-gas and water-cannons in Beşiktaş.]
  • All bans on the congregations, rallies, parades and demonstrations must be lifted; the right to congregate and demonstrate must be fairly implemented.
  • Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM) must not be demolished.
  • Gezi Park, Taşkışla, İnönü Stadium, Dolmabahçe Palace and Maçka Park must be preserved as public spaces.
  • Natural history museums, botanical gardens, art galleries must be prioritized over shopping malls.
  • Anatolia’s cultural heritage must be protected.

Regarding the protection, treatment and development of archaeological sites:

  • Democracy must not be practiced only at election times: A democratic process based on community participation must be adopted. [So, sites valued by the community, such as Gezi Park or Gola Çetu, must be protected.]
  • Environmental… rights must be protected by the law.
  • Local referendums must be held in the regions in question for building… dams.
  • Environmental Impact Assessment reports for future dam projects must be prepared by independent scientific institutions, not by companies certified by the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization.

Directly concerning the development and conduct of the profession:

  • Basic sciences must be supported.
  • Science, universities and the arts must be liberated.
  • Education at all levels must promote scientific and up-to-date content.
  • Active participation of professional associations must be ensured in the processes involving the legal arrangements in their respective fields. [Previously, courts gave ‘a 2-5-year prison sentence to those who damaged cultural property and built buildings on archaeological sites [literally, site places] [kültür varlıklarına zarar veren ve sit alanlarına inşaat yapanlara 2-5 yıl hapis cezası]’. Last year, supposedly in order to prevent miscarriages of justice (through the conviction of people who unknowingly damaged or built over archaeological remains), but instead of clarifying the law (through an amendment), the government simply ‘abolished prison sentences for building buildings on archaeological sites! [Sit alanına inşaat yapana hapis cezası iptal edildi!]’]
  • Exploitation of labor must be stopped: permanent measures must be taken to protect workers’ rights and freedoms such as occupational health and safety, and flexible working hours.
  • Income inequality must be remedied.
  • The wage ceiling must not be more than 10 times the minimum wage.

If the Occupy Gezi Manifesto were implemented, it would be a revelation for Turkish archaeology as well as for Turkish society.

Archaeologists at Gezi Park

Archaeologists were at Gezi Park from the very beginning. They were amongst those who blocked the bulldozers on the night of the 27th and called for resistance on the 28th.(P) As I mentioned, the first protester hospitalised was an archaeology student; on the 30th of May, Hazar Berk Büyüktunca‘s head and body were ‘beaten [so] severely [ağır şekilde darp ett[i]]’ that he needed surgery on his ear and his ruptured testicles.

The archaeological occupation layer

An archaeologist contributed a teach-in to the sit-in at Gezi Park (P), for those who could attend; their would-be audience had to apologise that the police had ‘attacked unconcerned citizens who walked, and closed the metro to Taksim'(P). Students asked their ‘beloved archaeologist friends’ whether there were archaeological remains within Gezi Park as the state and its developer cronies had ‘exceeded their limits’.(P)

The archaeologists’ contingent stayed at Occupy Gezi and grew as a professional community. Even some people who generally identified themselves otherwise, for instance as feminists, announced that their circle would be at Gezi Park ‘as archaeologists, conservators and art historians’.(P)

There appear to have been at least two (associated) camps of diggers in Gezi Park alone. They called for ‘muddy-handed, shabby friends of the soil’ to join the resistance.(P) Their resistance network was a professional network, with professional concerns, but naturally with other (still archaeologically-informed) concerns too – ‘us being archaeologists, we don’t only give value to the remains of past cultures’.(P)

Radicalisation through the experience of resistance

Archaeologists have also been radicalised through their experience of resistance (or by their mere knowledge of it). And they have been very specifically targeted for suppression: for example, right at the start of the revolution, ‘the Archaeologists’ Association’s website was hacked’.(P)

Hazar Berk Büyüktunca

Highlighting the behaviour of securely-employed archaeologists, chappullers have observed that, ‘on the day of the symposium when probably 80% of the country’s [employed] archaeologists prostrated themselves before the ministry, police [put] an archaeology student [Büyüktunca] in surgery.'(P)

Medeni Yıldırım

On the 28th of June, there was a protest against the construction of a gendarmerie “castle-keep (kalekol)” in the village of Kayacık (or Hezan, in Lice district, Diyarbakır province); it is one of 114 new, combined gendarmerie station-detention centre-interrogation centre(-torture chamber) installations in the south-east. Medeni Yıldırım joined the protest and was shot dead (while nine others were injured). The government dismissed the protest by Kurds as a provocation and distraction by terrorists and drug smugglers.

It was an outrage. It redoubled the anger and determination of protests across the country (though obviously it was most painful to Kurds). Archaeologists took it personally: ‘I’ve just seen. The LYS [university entrance exam] points of Medeni, who was shot in Lice, have been released. He wanted [to do] archaeology and he could have gone [to university]. I couldn’t swallow it. [I couldn’t take it in.]'(P)

They mocked the government’s propaganda: ‘Medeni, who was killed in Lice, scored 385 points in the LYS exams, [and] his dream was to be an archaeologist. So he was a strange drug smuggler.'(P) (Turkey uses the Higher Education Examination-Undergraduate Placement Examination (Yükseköğretime Geçis Sınavı-Lisans Yerleştirme Sınavı (YGS-LYS)) to help to choose 450,000 university students from 1,600,000 school applicants. The minimum passing score is 180 out of 500; the average score is about 245.)

They made dark observations about the future of which he was deprived, and wished for him to have lived to have had the opportunity to experience the misfortune of being an archaeologist: ‘My child… Our child! You were going to become an archaeologist and remain unemployed, [but] let you have remained so, let you have lived. If [only] you had not been shot in the back!'(P)

And they dreamed of a meaningful memorial: ‘for Medeni, who wanted to be an archaeologist but was slaughtered by the state,… [let it be] not a castle-keep but a library’.(P) ‘Such a young child… His dream was to be an archaeologist. Ah, Medeni, let your brothers and sisters read in your place; to those who say let them be broken and enchained, [let it be] not a castle-keep but a library.'(P)

İ. Metin Akyurt and Bahattin Devam

Remarkably, it would not even be the first library to memorialise archaeologists who have been killed in the (crudely-defined) Turkish-Kurdish conflict. The library of the Archaeology Department of Hacettepe University is the İ. Metin Akyurt and Bahattin Devam Memorial Library (İ. Metin Akyurt-Bahattin Devam Anı Kütüphanesi), which commemorates graduate students Akyurt and Devam, who were specifically targeted and killed with a car bomb in Girnavaz on the 25th of September, 1991.

Archaeologists in the squares, archaeologists in the streets, archaeologists on the barricades

Some archaeologists have been unsatisfied with their profession’s efforts: ‘How much longer will archaeologists’ unresponsiveness to the resistance last?'(P) But many archaeologist chappullers have engaged in a range of acts of resistance.

Knowledge work

As knowledge workers, part of cultural heritage professionals’ resistance has been conducted through the documentation of of these historic events (and their archaeological traces).

ArkeoGezi have stated that, ‘because of the silence and obfuscation of the partisan media, we are trying to provide information by sharing developments through our completely amateur journal. [Yandaş medyanın sus pus oluşu nedeniyle tamamen amatör olan dergimiz aracılığı ile gelişmeleri paylaşarak bilgilendirme yapmaya çalışıyoruz.]’ When NTV History (NTV Tarih) tried to explore ‘history which is written while being lived [yaşarken yazılan tarih]’, its owner Doğuş Publishing blocked the Gezi Park special issue and shut down the magazine.

Çanak çömlekçilik (doing stuff with pots and pans)

Satisfyingly, the outraged banging of pots and pans (also known as tencere tava) is an established practice.(2) Thus, çanak çömlekçi archaeologists were in the squares night after night, where they played ‘pots and pans’ in order to resist.(P) (Adding yet another source of confusion, çanak çömlekçilik can also mean the profession of pottery.)

Revenge

Even in the streets and on the barricades, some cultural heritage workers explicitly organised as cultural heritage workers in order to resist the state’s oppression: ‘it is time for all of our architect, art historian, city planner, archaeologist colleagues to stake a claim to Istanbul’.(P)

‘Archaeologists’ explicitly stated that they were ‘in the squares for revenge for Zeugma and Allianoi’, which were flooded in order to build hydroelectric dams.(P) They declared and demanded ‘resistance to the very end in revenge for the archaeological sites that have been left underwater. Gezi has become a matter of our honour.'(P) Days passed and they continued to resist: ‘our purpose is certain. It isn’t vandalism. My only wish is to do my own job. You didn’t give [me] that opportunity!'(P)

Footnotes

1: The Istanbul Branch of the Archaeologists’ Union has also declared its support for the Taksim Manifesto for the Culture of Public Space (via the Nature Association (@DogaDernegi)).

2: Especially as it has been combined with other performances, such as the flashing of lights, it seems to have some similarity to “rough music” (an English ritual ‘expression of hostility‘ and/or humiliation of violators of community standards). The frantic flashing of lights is separate from the momentary switching off of lights to protest against secret “deep state” activity, ‘one minute’s darkness for eternal enlightenment [sürekli aydınlık için bir dakika karanlık]’, which a previous Turkish Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, bizarrely dismissed as the ‘gobble gobble dance [gulu gulu dansı]’.

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  1. […] I’ve written a readable summary of my recent work on illegal development on cultural heritage sites (and/or illegal non-employment of cultural heritage workers) in Turkey, which contributed to archaeological resistance during Occupy Gezi. The International State Crime Initiative posted it on their blog; this is a pre-print. When state repression provoked radically democratic resistance, archaeologists were on the front line as victims of government policy 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 Hazar Berk Büyüktunca; and both unions and autonomously-organised platforms went to the occupations and squares to resist as a professional responsibility. […]

  2. […] in Turkey are practically prohibited from making any professional criticism, because it’s illegal for state employees to criticise state projects (and most archaeologists are state […]

  3. […] 6,000 (altı bin) qualified, experienced, unemployed archaeologists in Turkey; then, there were 8,000; now, there are 10,000 (on bin). Yet the qualified and experienced professionals have been left […]

  4. […] are resisting culture-and-environment-devouring capitalist, neoliberal, Islamist, neo-Ottoman […]

  5. […] I blogged about Occupy Gezi: Archaeologists at Gezi Park, Archaeologists on the Barricades, the Turkish state was persecuting (social) media users, so I translated and shared their material […]

  6. […] months ago today, Turkish state forces shot would-be archaeology student Medeni Yıldırım dead, during a protest against the construction of a gendarmerie “castle-keep (kalekol)” for […]

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