“We’re at the end of our tether with the employment of one percent of archaeologists. If there is not just employment in 2014, [there will be a] hunger strike,” said archaeologist Binnur Çelebi on April 5. “I do not speak rhetorically, I do what I say.” On October 27, art historian Seda Yüksel warned that their struggle would “continue until death.” But last-minute government concessions have averted such drastic measures, with the hunger strike which the Association of Culture and Art Workers (Kültür Sanat Emekçileri Derneği) had intended to begin on November 9 called off.
Şok columnist Kaan Özbek describes archaeologists in Turkey as “the most desperate soldiers of the army of graduates who have been condemned to unemployment by the mentality that treats art as pots and pans” — a reference to the term with which then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dismissed the archaeological findings that delayed one of his mega-projects, the Marmaray underwater rail tunnel. (All translations from Turkish are by the author.) The findings of the excavation, which was itself world record-breaking in size and intensity, included the oldest evidence of settlement in the city, the site of the city’s Byzantine port and the best-preserved Byzantine shipwreck in the world.
As Hyperallergic has previously reported, KSED’s museum employees, archaeologists, art historians, restorers, and visual artists are campaigning against unemployment and precarious employment. KSED President Hızır İnan observed that more than two thousand students spend “four years in the snow and rain,” only to have to compete against each other for fewer than twenty positions.
İnan explained that, “because these people cannot get a job on graduation, they begin their lives with disappointment … and by being burdened with student loans as well, they are being thrown into workless, hopeless lives.” Art historian İbrahim Halil commented, “I did not study in order to work twelve hours, without insurance, on minimum wage.” Despite this, more archaeology departments are being opened and more archaeology students are being trained, up from 2,100 in 2009 to 2,765 in 2014.
“Thousands of sites are being ignorantly destroyed”
Cultural workers’ concerns extend beyond their own economic security, to cultural resources’ physical security and social value. Murat Kavak shared a photograph of metal detectors and digging tools at an archaeological site with the comment that “looters are plundering history, 12,000 archaeologists are going about unemployed.”
Kavak also shared that “thousands of sites are being ignorantly destroyed in excavations that are being done without archaeologists’ supervision.” Ayşe İpekçi noted that Turkey had signed the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage, which requires scientific management of cultural property, and queried, “why isn’t it being observed?”
“How many archaeologists could have been employed?”
And they question the budgeting that imposes the employment crisis. Yasin Yıldız considered, “we pay millions of dollars to get back antiquities that have been smuggled abroad. Should we employ archaeologists, in order for them not to be smuggled [in the first place]?”
Incredulous at the cost of the then prime ministerial, now presidential residence, Kazım Özkan exclaimed, “on our mentioning archaeologists’ employment, you say there’s no budget but,” as Hürriyet had reported, “the White Palace’s financing is 1 billion, 370 million lira” ($602.5 million). Likewise, Nejat Kasapoğlu queried, “how many archaeologists could have been employed for one White Palace?”
Online, they are organising primarily around the hashtags #arkeologistihdamı (archaeologists’ employment), #sanattarihcilerkadrolarınınpeşinde (in pursuit of positions for art historians), and #arkeologlarvesanattarihcileraçlıkgrevinde (archaeologists and art historians are on hunger strike), though other telling ones are emerging, such as #duyunartıkbugençlerinsesini (hear these youths’ voice now). Outside the State Personnel Department on September 25, they chanted “to resistance, to resistance, we will win [direne direne kazanacağız],” which clearly echoed the slogans of the Gezi uprising.
Archaeologists’ slogans such as “to resistance, to resistance, we will win” (direne direne kazanacağız), which they chanted outside the State Personnel Department on 25th September, also echo the Gezi uprising, though their resistance predates it.
The first step
“From the perspective of archaeology, Anatolia is heaven and [archaeologists and art historians are] revolting against the hiring of less than one percent” of the available workforce, observed knowledge worker Sirvana. The government action, detailed in Aktüel Arkeoloji, includes the employment of 200 archaeologists and art historians (and 100 other workers) on the Gallipoli Site Management Project, the rescheduled employment of 62 archaeologists and 28 museum researchers and the finalization of long-discussed plans for the employment of 234 archaeologists and art historians elsewhere. Other reforms will create, and ease skilled cultural workers’ access to, further job opportunities.
Some such opportunities present themselves. Nejat Kasapoğlu implored Ömer Çelik, “Honorable Minister, ignore Syria’s and Iraq’s cultural assets, attend to our country’s archaeologists.” Kavak urged the Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums, “employ 500+ archaeologists for your operation on smugglers and we’ll protect [the sites].” The two are not mutually exclusive.
As noted following the announcement of the hunger strike, the government has committed itself to confronting the smuggling of antiquities from Syria and Iraq through Turkey, and it could draw agents for customs and investigations teams from amongst the ranks of unemployed antiquities specialists. Whether it would do so is another matter, as very serious questions continue to be raised — most recently by a pressganged Islamic State worker — about Turkey’s intentions regarding the Islamic State and the Kurds.