Hunger Strike of Turkish Archaeologists Averted

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by Ursula Kampmann
translated by honeycutshome

November 27, 2014 – “We’re at the end of our tether”, that is how Turkish archaeologist Binnur Çelebi has described her situation on Twitter on April 5, 2014. Unemployment and precarious work characterize her future prospects – and that of 99 % of all trained archaeologists in Turkey. Only one per cent of the well-educated archaeologists find a job. The situation for art historians is pretty much the same.

In 2009, 2,100 trained archaeologists left university, while in 2014 the number of classicists full of hope rose to 2,765. In order to fund their education they had taken on loans; paying that money back, though, can be quite difficult for them, as Sam Hardy reported. In the internet magazine “Hyperallergetic” from November 10, 2014, the Turkish speaking author tells a story that doesn’t seem to conform at all to the image of a country that makes good use of its breath-taking ruins in advertisements designed to attract tourists.

“I did not study in order to work twelve hours, without insurance, on minimum wage”, commented art historian Ibrahim Halil, and a well-known Turkish columnist referred to the increasing number of jobless archaeologists as an “army of graduates who have been condemned to unemployment by the mentality that treats art as pots and pans”. This refers to a statement of then Prime Minister Erdogan, who was rather annoyed at archaeological excavations delaying his Marmaray underwater rail tunnel. Archaeologists, too, criticize the attitude of the Turkish government that, while making restitution claims, does not provide sufficient means to monitor the archaeological sites in the country properly. Or, as Yasin Yildiz puts it: “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]?”

In an article from October 28, 2014, Hardy presented some figures. In the 1930s, almost 300 experts and officials had been employed in roughly 30 museums. In the 1990s, in contrast, fewer than 500 specialists faced the total of 300 museums. 17,683 people were employed by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2013 while the Religious Affairs Directorate had as many as 141,911, not to mention the 300,000 policemen and 700,000 soldiers which provide the security of the Turkish government.
If you take into account that the 17,683 culture and tourism workers are now responsible for nearly 13,000 registered cultural and natural heritage sites, more than 300 museums and 135 ruins like Ephesus or Pergamum, it becomes even clearer what importance the Turkish government attributes (or rather not attributes) to its cultural heritage.

After having protested publicly the group of infuriated archaeologists had reached a point where it threatened with a hunger strike. This has now been successfully averted by the Turkish government, thanks to the announcement that immediate action would be taken in order to employ approximately 524 archaeologists. Hence, a fifth of all 2014 graduates have a chance of getting a job. One wonders about the remaining four out of five. And, even more so, about the graduates of 2015.

The original articles, which are worth reading, are available here and here.

We have already commented on the curious way in which the Turkish government deals with its cultural heritage in a lengthy article on the archaeological excavations at Hierapolis.