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The protesters painted their bodies with Hasankeyf cave paintings (courtesy of the Hasankeyf Collective)

German police briefly detained Kurdish artist and journalist Zehra Doğan last Saturday following a protest she staged inside the Pergamon Museum.

“We were detained by the German police in Berlin for our performance with Juan Golan Elibeg, Aurélie Gerardin, Thomas Lamouroux at the Pergamon Museum in order to summon Hasankeyf. The interrogation continues,” she wrote in a tweet shortly after the action.

On Saturday, July 13, Doğan and three other artists entered the Pergamon Museum’s Mesopotamian collection where she, along with several French nationals, staged a protest against the imminent destruction of the ancient Mesopotamian city of Hasankeyf. Dogan is known for her political deployment of artwork. In July of 2017, Turkey sentenced Doğan to two years and nine months in jail after she painted the destruction of the southeastern town of Nusaybin, after skirmishes with Turkish security forces reduced most of the city to rubble.

Hasankeyf, which has confronted numerous wars, empires, and threats of other destructions throughout ages but managed to survive, is about to disappear along with its 12,000-year history thanks to a dam project being proposed by the Turkish state.

Located in the province of Batman, Hasankeyf is not currently in consideration to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site because the state under which it must apply, Turkey, has not nominated it. Nominations to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site must come from the Ministry of Culture of a sovereign state, a model which has recently come under intense criticism.

Juan Golan Elibeg, Aurélie Gerardin, Thomas Lamouroux, and Zehra Doğan protested at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin (courtesy of the Hasankeyf Collective)

In order to stop the construction of Ilisu Dam and keep the Hasankeyf and the surrounding Tigris Valley alive, Doğan together with Juan Golan Elibeg, Aurélie Gerardin, and Thomas Lamouroux, took action at the Pergamon by adorning their own bodies with Hasankeyf cave paintings, lying on the floor and distributing leaflets.

Doğan said in a statement to Hyperallergic that after the action, she was detained and has been banned by the institution for 99 years. After her arrest, Doğan added that German police confiscated her phone and deleted all of her photos. The Pergamon Museum followed up with Hyperallergic to say that the artist has not been banned for 99 years, but rather, “The artist has been relegated out of the museum just for this very day of the performance.”

The Citizen Service of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office told Hyperallergic that the “police can not disclose sensitive personal data such as police records (including records of a persons arrest) to private entities.”

Doğan says the activists chose the Pergamon Museum because, “When you enter the Pergamon you feel that you are in the Middle East, simultaneously, you will feel Pergamon in Mesopotamia because all the works are taken from there.” (courtesy of the Hasankeyf Collective)

She underlined that she and the others chose to execute the action at the museum because, “When you enter the Pergamon you feel that you are in the Middle East, simultaneously, you will feel Pergamon in Mesopotamia because all the works are taken from there.” She claims that this plunder is being aided and abetted by machinery provided by French and German companies that are constructing the dam. She went on:

These states do not care about Hasankeyf at all, which is a 12-thousand-year-old world heritage site, the birth of Mesopotamian peoples. Ilisu Dam is using machinery bought from European states using German and French-made machines that were sold to Turkey to construct the dam. That’s why we chose the Pergamon Museum. In our own history, we wanted to draw attention to the attack on this history, which is today under threat of being destroyed.

The action at the Pergamon follows up on a similar action she and the artists did at the Louvre in Paris last month.

“Because there are artifacts from Mesopotamia in the collection of the Pergamon, we feel that the silence of the institution with reference to Hasankeyf is a byproduct of plunder and profit,” Doğan said.

The Pergamon Museum’s collection includes one of the Seven Wonders of the World: a full-scale reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate constructed in about 575 BCE that was later excavated and shipped to Germany in 1930 CE and is considered one of the most iconic objects of the Mesopotamian world.

According to Turkish news outlet Ahval News, the impending construction of the dam has amounted to approximately 300 cultural objects being removed from the region. These objects can and often do end up on black markets and eventually into the collections of public and private museums.

“Doing something for Hasankeyf these days is not only the responsibility of the Mesopotamian peoples, it’s a duty of all peoples,” Doğan stressed.

Update 7/22/19 10:48am: The Pergamon Museum followed up with Hyperallergic to say that the artist has not been banned for 99 years.

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Dorian Batycka

Dorian Batycka is an independent curator, art critic, and DJ currently based Berlin. Previously, he was curator of contemporary art at Bait Muzna for Art Film (Muscat, Oman), assistant curator for the...