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Capital of Turkey. Previously known as Angora.

Museum of Anatolian Civilizations

Hacking history I: Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara

by Ara Sarafian

Published: Saturday November 22, 2008

Ankara, Turkey - Armenians have become a common topic of discussion in Turkey for some years now and this trend has picked up since Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan came to office in March 2003. In this new climate of more openness, liberal intellectuals have led a discussion of the Armenian Taboo of Turkey.

Their discussions have led to a new awareness of Armenians and a gradual reinvention of Turkey's Armenian heritage, which was destroyed in large measure in 1915 and its aftermath. The new positive discussions have touched on such issues as Armenian history, art, architecture, music, and cuisine in different publications, exhibitions, and public discussions.

Fethiye Çetin's book Anne Annem (My Grandmother: A Memoir) has been reprinted in several editions. Osman Köker's exhibitions and publications have reached thousands. Orhan Pamuk's comments about the persecution of Kurds and Armenians are reported by the world media. All this suggests some tangible breaks with Turkey's more ominous past.

However, the more sympathetic treatment of Armenians has continued to take place alongside longstanding conservative, belligerent, and negative attitudes toward Armenians. These circles continue to slight, marginalise, and vilify Armenians as a matter of course.

Their attitudes, supported by stock arguments, are the product of decades of Turkish nationalist indoctrination and its underlying ideology. Even in the last week we have heard Turkey's Defense Minister Vecdhi Gönül applaud the "departure" of the native Armenian and Greek communities of Turkey, and Minister of Justice Mehmet Ali Sahin defend the utility of the infamous Article 301. He explicitly defended the prosecution of Temel Demirer under Article 301 because the latter had called Turkey a state that murdered its own citizens (with reference to Armenians and Kurds).

Within the academic domain, the Turkish Historical Association and the Turkish military continue to prepare and publish overtly anti-Armenian books and DVDs - invariably denigrating Armenians and denying the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Various "think tanks," such as the Ermeni Arastirmalar Merkezi (Armenian Studies Center) in Ankara remain actively anti-Armenian. Many small publishing houses still print the conventional Turkish nationalist position regarding Armenians.

Attempts to reinvent Turkish Armenians in a more positive light are still undermined by significant sectors of Turkish society, including government ministries. The relative strength of the opposing conservative circles has still not been gauged, especially given their positions of power and influence in Turkey. While one cannot expect the Turkish conservative-nationalist position to change overnight, one does expect it to take some note of new discussions and revelations.

Two weeks ago I decided to examine several museums in Turkey, all but one in historic Western Armenia, with one question in mind: "How are Armenia and Armenians represented in Turkish museums today?"

The museums I picked were the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations (Ankara), Erzurum Archaeological Museum, Van Archaeological Museum, and Kars Archaeological Museum. All four are under the control of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

Had the new debates on Armenians shaped representations of Armenians in Turkey? How did these state institutions acknowledge and contextualize Armenian history in their everyday endeavors, and what can we say about Turkey and its Armenian heritage based on these museums.

First stop: Ankara

My first stop was the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.

This museum uses the term Anatolia as coterminous with the territory of Turkey-in-Asia. Of course, Turkey is not a single landmass, but formed of several distinct geographical regions, such as the Aegean littoral, the Konya plain, the Pontic mountains on the Black Sea, the Taurus Mountains of the Mediterranean, the anti-Taurus further east, and of course the Armenian highlands.

This museum is reputed to be one of the most important museums in Turkey today. It won the European Museum of the Year Award in 1997, and many tourists, schoolchildren, and academics visit it every day.

The museum exhibition extends over two floors. It is well constructed and maintained, with excellent lighting and good human resources. Starting from the prehistoric era, the visitor is led through collections of Paleolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Early Bronze Age, Assyrian, Hittite, Phrygian, Urartian and Lydian, Greek, Roman, Seljuk, and Ottoman artifacts.

The displays at the museum include statues, pottery, jewelry, and metalwork, and various panels discuss the collections in their broader historical contexts, with references to other civilizations such as the Medes, Scythians, Egyptians, and Persians.

However, there are no artifacts, discussions, or references to Armenians in the museum.

The obvious question is, therefore, why is there no mention of Armenia as a geographical entity or Armenians as a culture and civilization? After all, there was the empire of Tigran the Great in the first century B.C.E., the Armenian Kingdom of Vasbouragan on Lake Van in the 10th-11th centuries, and the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia in the Middle Ages. Armenia was a distinct part of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, and Armenians were one of the important pillars of the Ottoman Empire. Armenians played a major role in arts, crafts, and trade throughout the ages, and they developed their own distinct identity with their own alphabet from the 5th century in this area. Armenian literature, philosophy, art, and architecture are worthy of much comment, yet they do not appear in a museum dedicated to Anatolian civilizations.

The only reference to Armenians I saw at this museum was a multilingual DVD prepared, interestingly enough, by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism called The Armenian Issue: Allegations and Facts. The other reference was a small book on Akdamar (sic, Aghtamar) Island, which made some derisory remarks about Armenians, but included more sensible discussion afterward. By way of explanation

After my visit to the museum, I raised what I had seen with two Turkish colleagues, both members of the Turkish Historical Society. They proceeded to explain that Armenians were not mentioned in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations because they did not constitute a state. Obviously, there have been Armenian states in the areas under discussion. Their explanation also seems to suggest that "states" and "civilizations" are the same thing.

I asked one of them why Armenians were not represented within discussions of these states, for example in the case of the Ottoman Empire. After all, the Ottoman Empire was a multicultural entity, probably with more Christians than Muslims at its height. Armenians were indistinguishable from Turks, I was told in response, so there was no need to say anything about Armenians.

I do not know if they were embarrassed by my questions and did not know what to say, or they really thought their explanation had merit. I doubt it was the latter, and I hope they will do something about the issue, if only to save Turkey further embarrassment.

While I was in Ankara, I also visited the Museum of Ethnography. Just as the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations did not mention Armenians, the Museum of Ethnography also did not see Armenians as an ethnicity. Indeed, the ethnography museum was composed of mainly 19th-century set scenes in period costume, such as marriage, circumcision, workshop, barbershop, and coffeehouse. It included various wares, Korans, and Islamic carvings from mosques (doors and pulpits), but it had nothing that was Christian or had a specific ethnicity (Armenian, Greek, Kurdish, Circassian, Arab, or other). Turkey's rich ethnic mosaic had been pressed into an insipid mush. According to these two museums, Armenians were neither a civilization nor an ethnicity.

I was there to observe and listen and I said no more. I hoped that my next stop, the Archeological Museum of Erzurum, would be different.

TOKİ to build Armenian monastery in military zone

19 December 2011 / TODAY'S ZAMAN, İSTANBUL

The Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ) will build an Armenian monastery, a replica of the original, in a military zone in Ankara's Etlik neighborhood as part of an agreement with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

According to a report that appeared in the Habertürk daily on Monday, TOKİ will build a hospital for the Gülhane Military Academy of Medicine (GATA) in a military zone between the Etlik and Dışkapı neighborhoods. In lieu of payment, the Ministry of Defense gave TOKİ another military area, which TOKİ is expected to use for a shopping center and houses as part of a signed agreement with the Ministry of Defense.

However, a rift emerged between the ministries as the Ministry of Culture and Tourism objected to TOKİ's planned use of that zone. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism raised its opposition in the Council of Ministers before approving the agreement, saying that the zone is of cultural importance, having once contained a number of historic buildings. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism demanded that TOKİ reconstruct the Vank Monastery, which was built in 1759 by the Armenian community and destroyed in the early 1920s.

Taking its original size and architecture into account, the Vank Monastery will be built in the area which TOKİ is expected to use in return for building the military hospital.

The monastery is seen in a painting called “Ankara” housed in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum.

Architect Mehmet Emin Çevik designed the plan for the monastery after examining the painting and other historical documents, the daily reported. Çevik stated that the monastery will be built as a replica of the original although no physical traces are left.

The Vank Monastery was the religious center for the Armenian community that lived in and around Ankara during the Ottoman era until the early 1900s.

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