Tuesday, 6 July 2021

A US Take on Turkey's Fight Against Cultural Looting


Why does it seem that some Americans find it so hard to get their heads round some very simple concepts and not lose themselves trying to argue about what they don't understand? Simon Maghakyan describes himself as "a researcher of heritage crime and preservation politics with family roots in the Ottoman Empire's erased Armenian and Assyrian communities" and is currently a "Tufts University visiting scholar and Unversity of Colorado Denver lecturer and expresses some views on "Turkey's Fight Against Cultural Looting Should Start at Home" (Newsweek 5th July 2021). He reckons that "cultural import restrictions can be a double-edged sword". Only if you are based in America trying to tell the rest of the world how to behave. In 1970, UNESCO, an organization to which the US never really accepted and currently does not belong, disseminated a "Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property". My guess is - unless you are US MAGA devotee, most of us see that this is not about exporting mosques, churches and villages. Other types of heritage are covered by other conventions. What Americans don't seem to want to recognise is that this convention is actually all about individual states parties being free to self-determine what comprises their own cultural heritage that they want to preserve, and other nations agree to respect that, without any conditions. That is the function of that Convention. It exists to prevent cultural property imperialism. And what do the US do with it when they finally agree to get around to acknowledging that (as the largest and most voracious of all the antiquities markets of the world) it affects them too? They produce the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA) which does precisely that:
"we consider that all men are created equal, but we aint going to respect any of that guff, except article 9 (if you ask us nicely first) and then only if YOU prove to US that you're doing it right - we will decide for you if you're doing enough and if we decide by committee that you are we'll stop allowing smuggled stuff to pass freely through our borders"
That's not verbatim, but expresses the intent of the Act. It's what I labelled earlier in this blog the "Witschonke Principle" after an early exponent of this twisted view of international collaboration in the modern world. So the hapless Dr Maghakyan, drawing support from such attitudes, blunders on:
The recent  U.S. government publication of restricted cultural property imports originating in Turkey, at the latter's request, has caused mixed reactions, including outrage. While illicit trafficking in antiquities is a grave problem, some specialists fear that Turkey might use the new agreement to further marginalize displaced Indigenous communities by reducing whatever little autonomy they have left over their vanishing heritage. [...] I am unconvinced that Turkey has pursued the U.S.' import ban in good faith. Because if it genuinely cared for its vast cultural patrimony, Turkey would start this protection at home.
Just like the United States does, eh? The article has 1326 words, but nearly 400 of them refer to metal detecting. How odd that in the US we see the measures in the UK (white-skinned people) allowing metal detecting on archaeological sites as something praiseworthy and worthy of emulation elsewhere, yet the very same procedure in Turkey (brown-skinned people) is here attacked and placing the country below a certain civilizational level that dictates that the US need not bother helping t prevent looting and smuggling. 

Another 254 words refer to Armenia and Azerbaijan, two countries that are not Turkey.

Also I think the writer has a problem with reading. He suggests that "conspicuously missing from the import list are the heavily-looted coins of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, dated from the 11th to 14th centuries". Really?
The Agreement between the United States and Turkey includes, but is not limited to, the categories of objects described in the Designated List set forth below. [...] 9. Coins [...] d. Medieval and Islamic coins— Medieval and Islamic coins, in gold, silver, bronze, and copper coins from approximately A.D. 1077–1770, that circulated primarily in Turkey.
The comments under the article at the time of writing consist entirely of Armenian/Azerbaijani/Turkish mudslinging. The author is labelled there: "a professional activist working for an anti-Turkish hate group". On the one hand, while it is a shame that here we have another obvious case of an attempt to force a modern political argument onto the issue of preservation, it is confirmation enough of the role of cultural heritage in modern social life and thus showing the importance of the issues that UNESCO 1970 raises.

it is a shame that the author could not have addressed the issue of the numbers of antiquities from this region that US dealers are offering at this moment that entered the US before the resolution was taken to pay more attention at the borders.

[And by the way, Dr Maghakyan, when will the US have any formal restrictions on objects looted in Azerbaijan and Armenia under this CCPIA?]


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