Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Kiledar: warred village, resettled

[Thanks to Dave S's comment on the Evretou photo blog, I will try to give each site photo blog a proper introduction; until then, I'll cross-post the introductory posts from Cultural Heritage in Conflict (or samarkeolog).]

I've just finished uploading photographs and largely descriptive notes on them to a new personal page on a resettled warred village, Kiledar: cultural heritage and community.

Based on the information I have, it [Kılıdar/Kiledar/Kileder] was 'evacuated' by the Turkish military in (1993 or) 1994; subsequently, nearby villagers were displaced by an earthquake and resettled themselves and rebuilt upon the ruins of the old village.

I don't have a research permit for Turkey, so I can't work in or on these places; I took time out for a negative heritage tour of northern Kurdistan/south-eastern Turkey.

Even having visited them on a - particularly grim - holiday, they will inform my work in Cyprus; but, I wanted to do something for them in themselves, so I'm borrowing the format I'm using for displaying negative heritage sites in Cyprus and putting them online.

(I'll put up the other warred villages' and other negative cultural heritage photos later. Kiledar's page and the others' colours may be unsympathetic or clash for a while, as I'm trying to find different suites of colours for my personal and work pages.)

In his Abnormal Interests, Duane Smith has recalled an archaeologist's statement that, 'One stone in a row does not make a wall' and queried, 'how many stones in a row do I need before I can call a collection of stones a wall? And do I need any other evidence besides a sufficiently long row of stones?'

They're important questions when the sites being inspected have been so ravaged that they're questions at all. (Aydın Örstan's blog on Snail's Tales has a post presenting the statistics underlying uncertainty in the interpretation of an ambiguous sample.)

At Clioaudio, Alun Salt wrote a post responding to Creationist theory and epistemology. Examining the theory of intelligent design, he posited that:
If I find a series of blocks on top of each other in rows, I'd conclude it was a wall. The reason I'd think it was a wall is that I've seen people build walls and I've built walls but I've never seen a natural process that can regularly create what would appear to be a Roman villa.
In warred villages, however, the sites are damaged or destroyed to the point of being unidentifiable or invisible on the surface; it is difficult or impossible to 'find a series of blocks on top of each other in rows' in order to 'conclude it was a wall' or anything else.

Frequently, all that remains above ground is a vaguely suggestive alignment or a scatter of stones; it could have been created by a 'natural process'. Victims will not be able to prove what happened, nor viewers to understand and the Turkish army will be able to disinform or deny.

In the warred villages, the challenge is not to identify a wall's deliberate construction, but its deliberate destruction. The question then becomes, 'how many stones not in a row do I need before I can call a scatter of stones a ruined wall? And do I need any other evidence besides a sufficiently wide scatter of stones?'

The search becomes one for the absence of evidence, for evidence of the destruction of the evidence of construction.

[Updated on the 30th and 31st of May and on the 1st of June 2007.]

Don Thieme commented that,
Even though you do not have a permit to excavate, it seems like you could write a very interesting study up about the implications of this sort of "abandonment" for the archaeological record.

I suppose that the fact that one might be able to infer a forced or sudden abandonment from the fact that all of the structures are affected equally by the colluviation and other natural formation processes that followed their abandonment.
I didn't try to acquire an excavation licence, but when I was trying - informally - to talk to archaeologists about the boycott of the Ilısu Dam Project - because it was one of the ethical dilemmas that inspired my research - some of them told me they couldn't talk to me if I didn't have a research permit; when I asked about one, I was told I needed to be registered with or supervised by a Turkish academic.

The situation in northern Kurdistan/south-eastern Turkey does tie in with archaeological ethics, as the local community is oppressed by the state and state-run or state-backed archaeological work or lack of it is a part of this process.

This is particularly visible in the dam projects, which may destroy evidence of past and contemporary crimes.

As Maggie Ronayne (2005: 14) observed in the report on the cultural and environmental impact of large dams in Southeast Turkey:
The reservoir areas contain a number of evacuated villages, which constitute material evidence for village destructions during the conflict in the 1990s....

Submergence of any possible evidence of such graves without independent investigation may well render the dam builders complicit in concealing any crimes committed.

It is highly unlikely that archaeologists and other forensic scientists could undertake an independent investigation to confirm or deny the existence of such evidence, given the prevailing security conditions in the region.
Ronayne (2005: 80) later noted that:
A number of mass graves were found accidentally about two years ago [2003].... İHD Batman went to investigate, made records and subsequently sent photographs of the skeletons to the prosecutor's office.

Their president was sued as a result and no investigation of how the bodies got there has taken place to date.
I don't know whether they were within or outside one of the areas to be destroyed by flooding, but there is a recent, instructive example of what happens to mass graves that the state cannot submerge beneath a dam.

In the village of Kuru/Xirabêbaba near Nisêbin/Nusaybın/Nüseybin village, villagers digging a grave ended up finding one, thought to be a Roman grave later used as a mass grave for Armenian and Assyrian genocide victims from the village of Dara/Oğuz.

Despite an agreement to a preliminary survey by the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation and the Turkish Historical Society, hoped to be followed by a forensic mass grave investigation, the site was destroyed by the Turkish military.

And the Turkish Historical Society provided them with an alibi by fabricating a false interpretation of the grave itself and by fabricating a false explanation for the 'natural' destruction of the evidence.

So, there is both a wealth and a dearth of material for research into archaeological ethics: there are many rich, grotesquely fascinating case studies; but, the things that were done were so clearly wrong that it removes nuance, limits analysis, blocks insight.

What can archaeologists learn from the case of the mass grave in Kuru? Don't be a genocide-denying nationalist. Don't willingly collaborate in the destruction of forensic evidence, the obstruction of justice.

I am interested in the 'implications of this sort of "abandonment" for the archaeological record', but its outside my area of expertise and outside the scope of my PhD, so I can't look at those implications, either.

(I know the basics, but will be reading up on the archaeological evidence for and study of abandonment and destruction.)

Actually, I don't know how much I could do with the abandoned villages in northern Kurdistan/south-eastern Turkey within my work, but I have the opportunity to visit some more old and recent sites of the destruction of community and I'm going to take it.

In Cyprus, however, the archaeologists have engaged in work with destroyed cultural heritage sites, most prominently political campaigning about the destruction of cultural heritage in the Other area, whichever that is for them.

They (and others) have published work that eschews context for conviction (in both senses of the word) and that explicitly excludes destruction of cultural heritage by nationalists within their own community.

So (amongst others), the North has (journalist) Hasan Karaokçu's (2003) the present conditions of Turkish Cypriot villages in south Cyprus and (administration) the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus's (1986) cultural heritage of northern Cyprus: its protection and preservation.

And the South has (administration) the Republic of Cyprus Press and Information Office's (1997) Flagellum Dei: the destruction of the cultural heritage in the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus and (archaeologists and historians) the Committee for the Preservation of the Cultural Heritage of Cyprus's (2000) Cyprus: a civilization plundered.

These, I can work with: I can visit the alleged sites of damage and destruction, confirm, revise or deny the allegations, present the destruction of each community's cultural heritage together from a non-nationalist, humanist persepctive and explore those archaeologists' responsibilities in work on conflict archaeology in contemporary conflict zones.

[This was originally posted on samarkeolog on 30th May 2007. I've inserted paragraph breaks to make it easy to read in a blog post.]

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