Turkey needs to break the chains of archaeological imperialism - YUSUF KAPLAN

Turkey needs to break the chains of archaeological imperialism

My article concerning the conceptualization of archaeological imperialism stirred numerous discussions. However, it was misunderstood. As a result, I was banished by secular bigots! This is Turkey’s fate! 

I am saying that not only were Muslims exiled from Spain, but all traces of Islam were wiped out as well. 

Can you sit back and wait for the vigorous operations of Hispanics to reveal the traces of Islam through archaeological excavations? Or for Italians to do the same in Sicily? 

Yet such a murder is possible in Turkey: Eyüp district is the symbol of Istanbul’s Muslim identity and spirit. But a network that is at war with the roots of this country’s Muslim spirit is planning to carry out horrific archaeological excavations aimed at destroying Eyüp’s identity and spirit. Can such a murder that will destroy Istanbul’s Islamic spirit using U.S. funds be allowed? 


A national archaeological strategy is essential  

Is it possible, based on my writing, to conclude that I am against the science of archaeology, that I am against the artifacts in our country belonging to all religions, cultures, and civilizations other than Islam? 

 Of course not! 

 Places without churches, synagogues, and mosques are not Islamic civilization. 

 Different religions, philosophies, and cultures have only been able to peacefully coexist under the reign of Islamic civilization. 

 Every work of art that contributes to humanity is valuable and deserves to be preserved. But I will not allow my own work and traces to be wiped off the face of the earth. Nobody would. Reaching the conclusion that I called for an attack on archaeological artifacts is nothing other than a sign of paranoia. 

 Yet humankind and all cultures are signs for Muslims to be read, interpret, and draw lessons from. 

 Even mentioning these is absurd. 

 But one is left in a position to state them, because the science of archaeology in Turkey is dominated by an aggressive attitude, which I call archaeological imperialism. The archaeological imperialism in this country is following a strategy that gives prominence to non-Muslim cultures, while it is step by step working its way towards wiping out all traces of Islamic culture. 

Thus, I am trying to draw attention to a great disaster never before seen anywhere else in the world. 

I wholeheartedly congratulate our archaeologists who revealed artifacts in Turkey belonging to Islamic culture. It is certainly important that significant artifacts belonging to other cultures are revealed as well. Despite everything, what we need is an encompassing and embracing national archaeology concept and strategy rather than an exclusionist one like the archaeological imperialism mindset. 

Above all, this is a national archaeological understanding that will prevent the country’s treasures from being looted, and ensure the return of artifacts that were smuggled abroad. 

We see that important steps are being taken in this regard, however, these steps are not within a certain systematic and cultural strategy. 

Second, a national archaeology strategy needs to be developed. This matter is of utmost importance.


‘Who controls the past controls the future’ 

Didn’t George Orwell hit the nail on the head when he said, “Who controls the past controls the future”? The science of archaeology was carried out in Turkey for decades by imperialists and the mentality of local imperialists. Fortunately the situation is now changing. Artifacts belonging to our culture started to be revealed more. This is important. 

However, the archaeological imperialism mindset is still very strong. It is impossible to even imagine the skewed archaeological mindset in Turkey being dominant anywhere else in the world; for example in Spain, Italy, or Greece. 

Have you ever seen – or is it even possible to witness – the excavation and revelation of artifacts belonging to Islamic culture in Spain, in Italy, primarily in Sicily, on Mediterranean islands where Muslims left behind universal civilization artifacts, and in Balkan countries, where Muslims were exiled, massacred or are a minority community? 

On the contrary, all these countries, all Europeans razed Islamic culture to the ground! 

There is almost no trace of Andalus left in Spain! 

Is this not horrific? 

Here, however, the practice and mindset are completely the opposite, like we are in a colony country and under occupation. Though this has started to change in recent years, there is a struggle – in fact a battle – to reveal non-Islamic cultures to a greater extent!  

I ask with good reason: Why and on whose behalf? 

As I mentioned earlier, efforts to reveal Islamic artifacts from the Seljuk, Ottoman and beylik eras gained great momentum in the last three to four decades. But is it not the archaeological imperialism mindset that is turning Eyüp, which bears the mark of this country’s Muslim spirit, into an archaeological dump in order to give prominence to Byzantine and pre-Byzantine pagan culture, that is striving to destroy Eyüp’s Muslim spirit and identity? We cannot be expected to consider this as reasonable and accept this mindset! How is this possible? 

As an intellectual and writer of this country, it is my duty to draw attention to those who want to turn Turkey into a country whose future is free of Islamic culture and in which Islam is marginalized against the country’s Muslim identity by controlling its past. 

Drawing the conclusion from these statements that I am attacking archaeological artifacts is nothing other than an intentional and provocative approach aimed at covering up past mistakes. 

The children of this country have always respected other cultures. All we want and expect is respect for our efforts to draw attention to the gradual destruction of this country’s spirit, the Islamic spirit, which allowed us to write history, stand strong in the face of every adversity, and keep our heads held high.  

This is our most natural right. 


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