La nouvelle politique en archéologie du Ministère turc de la Culture et du Tourisme

“A tendency to use power over excavators” –
Archaeology in Turkey

Interview with Dr Edhem Eldem

Dr Edhem Eldem is a renowned Turkish historian who teaches at the Department of History at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. His research focus lies on the late Ottoman social and economic history, intellectual biographies and the history of archaeology. A few weeks ago he published an article in the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the present situation for archaeologists in Turkey. We asked Dr Edhem Eldem some further questions on this topic.


Dr Edhem Eldem, Department of History, Boğaziçi University, Istanbul

“A tendency to use power over excavators as a means of retaliation”

L.I.S.A.: Dr. Eldem, a few weeks ago you have published an article in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The topic: politicians – in this case in Turkey – misuse treasures of antiquity for their own benefit, with serious consequences for the academic discipline Archaeology and for archaeologists. You refer especially to foreign, non-turkish campaigns. What kind of consequences do you mean? What is the real problem?


Dr. Eldem: Behind my desire to write this article were two ‘burning’ issues concerning archaeology and politics in Turkey. First, a marked tendency of the government to take away excavation permits from foreign teams or, at least, to threaten to do so; second, a systematic refusal, again by the government, to lend objects to museums holding, or said to be holding, objects that had been illegally taken from the Turkish territory. At first glance, these two issues do not need to be necessarily taken as a form of abuse on behalf of the government. After all, ever since Ottoman times, the government has been legally granted the authority to deliver permits to excavators, foreign and domestic alike; in that sense, it is within the government’s power and duties to see to it that these permits are delivered properly and that their legal and scientific requirements are properly met. Moreover, it is also true that there is an impressive number of objects and artifacts that have been removed from Ottoman, and then Turkish, soil as a result of clandestine digs and outright smuggling. From this perspective, too, it falls within the prerogatives and duties of the government to do its best to prevent such occurrences in the future and to obtain restitution for those objects that have been traced to private and public collections abroad.