Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Turkish Minister of Culture Defends Repatriation Drive with New Age Spiritualism?

An informed CPO reader who has lived in the Islamic world found this statement attributed to  the Turkish Minister of Culture not only bizarre, but potentially offensive to Muslims:

“Artifacts, just like people, animals or plants, have souls and historical memories,” said Turkey’s culture minister, Ertugrul Gunay. “When they are repatriated to their countries, the balance of nature will be restored.”

The belief that objects are somehow sacred and that they possess "souls" would be considered idolatry in Islam. Only God can endow a creature with a soul and only living creatures are so endowed.

As a statement of official position from a secular, but nonetheless Islamic country run by an Islamicist party-- the AK-- this is deeply shocking. As a parroting of the overwrought SAFE line - perhaps not so much.

Was the Turkish Minister of Culture just playing to fringe elements within the archaeological lobby that have been supportive of Turkey's aggressive repatriation demands?  Does he really believe artifacts have "souls?"  If so, I suggest he make the same statement to a Turkish newspaper, and then see what reaction he receives.

And frankly, doesn't such talk just give ammunition to fanatic Islamic militants who have smashed antiquities in the name of stamping out idolatry? 


Cultural Property Observer said...

Arthur Houghton asked me to post this comment:

Peter, ummm....there are quite a few Turkish friends of mine in the US who do not want to be "repatriated". In fact, they are laughing up their sleeve at the poor minister, and not for religious reasons. They just think he's a bit laughable. As for plants, I have been asking my local greenhouses if they are aware that their Turkish plants have souls and want to return to Turkey. No answer yet. I think there's a Turkish hyena in a nearby zoo. Or is it a cat? Whatever, it smells a lot. Maybe we should demand that the Minister take it back. But I still have to make that phone call.

I really want to help here, as you can understand.

Warm regards,


Voz Earl said...

Of course, such "new age spiritualism" is silly--almost as silly as Mormonism, but I digress.

This sort of non-rational basis for cultural heritage policy calls to my mind a recent presentation by an archaeologist who works on Native American sites. He related the history of his role in the drafting and implementation of NAGPRA, a role which he was proud of. Originally under NAGPRA, for artifacts to be repatriated to a tribe, one had to demonstrate a connection between the material culture and the tribe. This requirement was recently dropped. Now a tribe can file suit to reclaim artifacts regardless of whether or not there is any evidence of a connection between their tribe and the culture which produced the objects.

The aforementioned archaeologist related dourly that a tribe (or tribes) is now threatening to file a NAGPRA suit to seize control of the artifacts from the site which he has spent numerous years working on, despite the fact that the site has no demonstrable connection to any currently existing tribe. The man had the uneasy look of one who was about to get hoisted on his own petard.

A common occurrence when a tribe is awarded custody of such artifacts is for them to hold a religious ceremony and rebury everything. This sad waste demonstrates the trouble with cultural heritage policy based on emotion and superstition. Although the tribes might agree with the sentiments of the Turkish minister, somehow I doubt that the 'restoration of the balance of nature' will be of much consolation to the archaeologist.

Voz Earl