British Museum: Ankara’s Poodle

Avedis Kevorkian, Philadelphia, 23 April 2013

Please bear with me as I try to make sense of things that have been troubling what passes for my mind.  Being the believer in conspiracies that I am, I seem to think there is a link but where on the large circle of items do I begin?

First.  There is the news that the British Museum is at it again.  The troublesome khatchkar that the late Catholicos Vazken gave to the Museum is back down in the basement somewhere.  The first time, it was at the request (probably demand, actually, by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office which conveyed the message) of the Turkish Ambassador of the day.  When it was pointed out that the Museum accepted the khatchkar with the signed agreement that it would be “displayed or returned” (and “the British Museum never returns anything”) the khatchkar was again put on display.  It is back in the basement, no doubt at the request of the current Turkish Ambassador (though that is denied in a letter to me).  Conceding that it is violating its own agreement, I have been told that the British Museum is “seeking new opportunities to place it on public display.” 

Avedis Kevorkian, Philadelphia, 23 April 2013

Please bear with me as I try to make sense of things that have been troubling what passes for my mind.  Being the believer in conspiracies that I am, I seem to think there is a link but where on the large circle of items do I begin?

First.  There is the news that the British Museum is at it again.  The troublesome khatchkar that the late Catholicos Vazken gave to the Museum is back down in the basement somewhere.  The first time, it was at the request (probably demand, actually, by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office which conveyed the message) of the Turkish Ambassador of the day.  When it was pointed out that the Museum accepted the khatchkar with the signed agreement that it would be “displayed or returned” (and “the British Museum never returns anything”) the khatchkar was again put on display.  It is back in the basement, no doubt at the request of the current Turkish Ambassador (though that is denied in a letter to me).  Conceding that it is violating its own agreement, I have been told that the British Museum is “seeking new opportunities to place it on public display.” 

Second.  The British Museum is re-arranging its displays in “Room 54” and the room will be (or is) labelled “Ancient Turkey.”  [You, back there, stop laughing!]  When it was pointed out that there ain’t not no such animal as “ancient” Turkey, the reply was that the visitor who may not have a good grasp of English (“would not be immediately apparent to non-English speakers”) may have a hard time finding some of the artifacts and treasures of the civilizations and cultures that have existed on the Anatolian plateau unless directed to “Ancient Turkey.”  Thus, however, that visitor whose grasp of English may not be too strong will somehow know that if he wants to see the Museum’s collection of the treasures of the Armenians, Assyrians, Carians, Cilicians, Cimmarians, Colchians, Commagene, Georgians, Greeks, Hattians, Hittites, Hurrians, Iberians, Kurds, Luwians, Lydians, Mitahni, Persians, Phrygians, Romans, Scythians, Seljik Turks, Urartians, he will amazingly go to “Ancient Turkey”!

When asked if that same visitor with poor awareness of the English language will go to “Mexico” (or “Ancient Mexico”) to see the Aztec treasures, or to “Peru” (or “Ancient Peru”) to see the Inca treasures, or “Honduras” (or “Ancient Honduras”) to see the Mayan treasures, answers there have come none.  When asked whether the Museum will put “Byzantium” into “Ancient Turkey,” answer there has come none.

Third.  Turkey is already making grand plans to mark the Centenary of its founding.  Among the plans will be the opening, in 2023,  of the “World’s Largest Museum”!  Other than self-satisfaction (or, should it be “self-delusion”?), why does Turkey need the World’s Largest Museum?  Because, it will use the occasion to “mark its 10,000 years of culture.”  [I told you, back there, stop laughing!]  That’s right.  Turkey, with its scant 800 years,  will assign itself the inheritor of all those who lived on the Anatolian plateau.  In truth, Turkey is possibly the only country in the world whose tourist attractions and historic areas were created by others. Thus, that which is proclaimed as “Turkish” has nothing to do with Turkey.   Already, the names of several regional museums have been changed to reflect the “oneness” of Turkey’s “past.”

As a passing note, I have suggested to the British Museum that someone consult the “Macmillan Dictionary of Art” and read the 37 pages devoted to Armenian Art and the seven pages devoted to Turkish Art and ask if the Museum can justify subsuming Armenia into “Ancient Turkey.”  Answer there has come none.

Fourth.  Turkey has demanded that the British Museum return some Roman (note “Roman”) artifacts allegedly removed illegally from Turkey.

But, to get back to my quandary.

Since Armenia has a recorded 3000 years history––which, by British Museum standards must mean that it is “Ancient Ancient Armenia”––it has been suggested that it could easily solve the problem of the bothersome khatchkar by setting up a room or an area labeled “Ancient Armenia” and install its famous head of Diana, for instance, as pride of place and the khatchkar at the entrance.  I have also suggested that it should risk the ire of the Turkish Ambassador.

Thus, you see my problem.  How do I say what is going around in what passes for my mind?  How do I find where on the circle of thoughts to start the link?  And, if I am confused, how do I ask others to get involved?
And, then it came to me, and I thank you all for your patience.

It occurred to me when I got to this point that these actions by the British Museum are its solution to the problem created by the demand of Turkey for the return of those Roman artifacts:  “Let us appease the Turks.”  How?  Revamp the British Museum’s collection to meld with Turkey’s claim of 10,000 years heritage, so that the Turks can place a plaque at the entrance to the World’s Largest Museum that reads: “For more Turkish treasures, please visit our branch in London.”

 

4 comments
  1. Turkey’s 10,000-year-old “history”

    JT

    In my book "Clash of Histories in the South Caucasus" (Bennett and Bloom, 2012), I have referred to the Grade 6 history books of Turkish schools, where the following paragraph could be seen.
     
    "Turks from Central Asia migrated to various parts of the world, and helped the natives who still lived in the Palaeolithic Age into the Neolithic Age [9,5000 BC]. They learned from the Turks how to cultivate the earth, and how to work metals. In these new countries, the Turks made further advances, building big cities and founding strong states. Important centres of civilization were thus created in Mesopotamia, in Anatolia, in Syria and around the Aegean Sea." 

    The paragraph is form "Milli Tarih I, Turkish Secondary School History Textbook, Grade 6. (Ankara: 1991), page 25."

     

  2. Launch a letter-writing campaign to the British Museum

    Avedis Kevorkian could not have been clearer.

    There are at least a dozen VERY STRONG arguments in his article.  I would suggest, that Keghart organize and launch a global letter writing campaign to the British Museum with content along all of those themes.

    Why should Avedis do this alone?  Either we agree with him or we don't.  If we agree with  him, then we should do something about it.

    Armenians in London should be outraged and should organize sit-ins on the steps of the "venerable institution" distributing copies of Avedis' article.

    Paregamoren

    Viken L. Attarian

  3. British Museum

    Recently, while reading a copy of a letter sent by a Turkish-American organization to the White House, I could not believe the utter nonsense of some of the statements and I commented at the author’s audacity–for I was sure that the person who signed it did not create the ridiculous document.

    And, then it hit me. I was looking for a theme for this comment.  “De l’audace, et encore de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace,” from a speech by the French Revolutionary Danton, suddenly came to me.  Although “l’audace” is generally translated as “boldness” (both words would apply), I prefer “audacity” to “boldness.”

    I refer to that magnificent quote that Rouben Galichian has discovered. The almost casual way that the Turks distort history, and then force others to run to catch up–and expend many, many sentences to refute a one-sentence lie and many, many paragraphs to challenge a one-paragraph falsehood. 

    But, I am not concerned with that quote, other than to thank Roupen.

    I want to get back to Turkey’s plan for the opening of the world’s largest museum as one of the hallmark events for its centenary in 2013. It will take up 2.5 hectares. That is about 13 football fields!  And it will be called “The Museum of Civilization,” because, as I indicated, Turkey is going to adopt for itself all the cultures, civilizations and peoples that have inhabited the Anatolian Plateau over the past 10,000 years and, thus, claim to be the “Mother of all Nations,” as the afore-mentioned quote seems to indicate. No, being a Muslim country where women are second-class citizens, make that the “Father of all Nations.”

    And, it would seem, to have the co-operation–or confirmation–of the British Museum, which is why I am writing.

    What the British Museum is doing is a monumental insult to the Armenians in its re-titling of Room 54 as “Ancient Turkey.”

    Consider: Yesterday, Turkey tried to kill all the Armenians and destroy their heritage and, today, the British Museum is rewarding the Turks (whatever else it might be, it is a “reward”) by including in and under “Ancient Turkey” some of that Armenian heritage, thus leading the visitor to believe that the Armenians are the newcomers (as some Turks already try to argue), and that whatever skills and talents the Armenians may have (had) is by and from the largesse of the Turks.

    This is made so obvious by the British Museum’s problem with the khatchkar given to it by His Holiness, the late Catholicos Vazken with the understanding that it would be displayed or returned.  Accepting what the British Museum is doing to Room 54, the fact that it does not exhibit the khatchkar there speaks volumes: “Turkey is a Muslim country and the khatchkar is a Christian Cross.  We can’t insult the Turks by displaying it there.”

    If anyone out there has any influence with His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II, perhaps he can get His Holiness to formally request the return of the khatchkar. Now, that would make headlines. It would serve the British Museum right to be so embarrassed,

    Until then, perhaps British Armenians should follow Viken’s advice. The British Armenians make their presence felt on April 24. This insult should be taken almost as important.

    1. British Museum Ankara’s Poodle

      One of my favourite rooms at the British Museum, with artefact from Ancient Armenia, is being subverted. It is not the first time Turkey has influenced a cultural venue to manipulate the facts. There is an online petition to the British Museum where you can sign, if interested. We need all the signatures we can get:  Petition

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