Prof. Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian, Los Angeles, 12 January 2022
A highly educated friend of mine, who heads the multicultural department of a university, wanted me to view a TV series about an archeological find in Turkey. The Netflix series (“THE GIFT”) was filmed in Turkey around and at Göbekli Tepe. When I found out that my friend was unaware that these discoveries are located on the Armenian Plateau or on the Armenian Highlands (of Western Armenia), I wrote to her and mentioned an article I had read in a book titled Anatolia: Cauldron of Cultures.c.1995, one of Time Life Books edited by Roberta Conlan. I further elaborated that along the Euphrates River on the Armenian Highlands, there are a half-a- dozen archeological excavation sites. One of the sites is called Nevali Cori. It is supposed to be the temple of the first-organized religion of the world. For political reasons, the book fails to mention that these sites are located in Western Armenia (Armenian Highlands), the historical homeland of the Armenians.
Incidentally, only once “Armenia” is mentioned parenthetically (p. 159 of “Anatolia: Cauldron of Cultures”): “In the far east, amid the mountain ranges of Armenia, towers Mount Ararat, reputed resting place of Noah’s Ark after the Flood”. That is all that is mentioned of Armenia or Armenians in a book on different cultures which have inhabited Anatolia and the Armenian Highlands (in present-day Turkey) for the millennia.
Not only Turks but Western writers also tend to exclude any mention of Armenian presence in their ancestral homeland lest they provoke the ire of the Turkish government, which would chastise or boycott those who acknowledge the indigenous Armenians of present-day Turkey. I will demonstrate how Turkey is hijacking all that ancient glory of the proto-Armenian people as being “Turkish Heritage” and offer suggestions as to what Armenians can do about ascertaining and reclaiming their stolen heritage. The contention that the educated world knows about this intellectual piracy by Turkey is questionable. Turkey spends millions of dollars on its “Turkification” policy while Armenia’s head is in the sand.
Even after a quick perusal of printed literature, the Internet, and the media, you’d find that Turkey has decided to call all of these outstanding discoveries to be of the “Turkish Heritage” –article after article! To promote its false history, Turkey established in 2000 The Turkish Cultural Foundation to promote and preserve Turkish culture and heritage worldwide and has offices in Boston, Istanbul, Sonoma, and Washington, D.C. It mainly serves as propaganda machine with multiple goals to solidify Turks’ legitimacy as sole natives of Anatolia and deny Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian existence on their land.
Here is an example of an article which claims the archeological discoveries of ancient Armenian sites to be “Turkish Heritage”: “Turkish Heritage Site ‘Catalhoyuk’ Tells 9000-Year-Old Story”. This is the tip of the iceberg of the proliferation of persuasive communication to advance the Turkification policy of Ankara. Since Mustafa Kamal’s campaign of “Turkey for the Turks,” the government has decided to erase any trace of the indigenous life that existed on the Armenian Highlands.
This is a highway robbery of the ancient heritage of the indigenous Armenians. The Turks conquered a small section of Western Anatolia in the 11th century A.D., while these archeological sites date millennia B.C. They are the Armenian nation’s precious cultural heritage. For the Ottoman Empire, occupation of a conquered country meant total possession of the land’s above and underground resources. For centuries, the Ottoman officials would not allow archeologists to excavate any site lest the finds relate to indigenous people.
The excavations in present-day Turkey seem to be focused on two major periods: Starting from the Neolithic (Stone Age) period to the Urartian Kingdom era. Both of these periods have produced exciting discoveries about proto-Armenian ancestors’ past, how they lived as nomads and transhumance, how they moved from nomadic to settled life, whether they followed a religion or not, and other exciting information about their life and urban dwellings.
Along the middle of the Euphrates River on the Armenian Highlands there are a number of important excavation sites. Following the course of the river, from north to south, Hallan Cemi, Chayonue, Nevali Cori, Tille Hoyuk, Nemrud Dagh, and Samsat Hoyuk, to cite a few, are located one after another. Across the southeastern Turkey, a network of dams and irrigation canals were being built in the 1990s along the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers as part of a government project to advance agriculture in this region. Due to the wanton construction of the Ataturk Reservoir on the Euphrates River, for example, hundreds of the unexcavated or partially explored sites were given the watery grave to the dismay of international archeologists and historians.
In southeastern part of the Armenian Highlands (present-day Turkey), there are some important sites as well, such as Ashikli Hoyuk, Gobakly Tepe (Portasar in Armenian), and Chatal Hoyuk (forked mound), which has drawn the international community’s attention because of the unique housing design that had no streets or foot paths. The houses in Chatal Hoyuk were built right up against one another like town houses and the people who lived in them traveled over the town’s rooftops and entered their homes through holes in the roofs by climbing down a ladder. Communal ovens were built on the rooftops (for khorovadz!) and archeologists assume that group activities were taken place there as well.
In the Portasar (Mountain Naval in Armenian and Gobakly Tepe in Turkish), archeologists have determined that ancient people did not live at the site. They would come from the surrounding areas for collective worship, rituals or feasts. Perhaps it is because at that time the people were not totally nomadic, but transhumance. Unlike herders who had permanent homes, typically in valleys, transhumances are semi-nomadic pastoralist or nomadic, a seasonal movement of livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures. In the mountain regions, it implies movement between higher pastures in summer and lower valleys in winter.
The Gobakly Tepe so-called temple, a pre-pottery Neolithic A period (9500 B.C.-8500 B.C.) complex of Portasar (in Armenian) is excavated by the German archeologist Dr. Klaus Schmidt. The site is claimed to be about 12,000 years old, which is (5,500 years older than the first cities of Mesopotamia and 7,000 years older than the Stonehenge in England. During a span of 25 years, Schmidt unearthed giant stone monoliths, covered in intricate carvings of mostly animals, some weighing as much as 20 tons. What a challenge for Stone Age people to carry the two kilometer away from the quarry and to carve them with stone tools, and then have them erected as imposing tee-shaped pillars. It is a feat of engineering that boggle the mind.
Of the 20 enclosures, only eight have been excavated. Although the size of the complex is smaller than that of the Stonehenge, scientists consider it a crucial find for the people who built these structures did not have the knowledge of making pottery and did not engage in farming, metallurgy or writing. Nevertheless, we cannot deny them the attributes of immense planning and cooperation in building such monumental history-changing structures. Now, the left brain question: will we ever find out the secrets of Portasar? Only when we get another Dr. Schmidt to continue with the excavations of this Armenian “Sphinx”!
Also important Urartian archeological work is being done at Toprak Kale near Lake Van. All these findings attest to the fact that the birthplace of civilization is the Armenian Highlands. We cannot afford to stand by and let Turkey steal Armenia’s ancient heritage when in the 21st century the pen may prove to be sharper than the sword.
Let us not forget that there are also many archeological sites in Eastern Armenia (Republic of Armenia) which ignite our imagination humankind for their unique finds, such as the oldest leather shoe (5,500 years old), an old skirt (5,900 years old), the oldest wine-producing facility (6,000 years old), and the skeleton of an Amazon warrior woman (3,000 years old), to mention just a few exciting finds.
In the Republic of Armenia, there is ample evidence of Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and Bronze Age cultures in lands historically and presently inhabited by Armenian people, dating to about 4,000 B.C. Archaeological surveys in 2010 and in 2011 at the Areni-1 cave complex have resulted in the discovery of the world’s earliest known leather shoe, skirt, and wine-making facility mentioned above. However, the lion’s share of the Armenian ancient heritage lies in Western Armenia in the present-day Turkey.
Turkey must be held guilty of “cultural appropriation,” which refers to the use of objects or elements of a non-dominant culture in a way that does not respect their original meaning, give credit to their source, or to destroy them contributes to oppression. Cultural appropriating is, therefore, a cultural heritage crime. And so, the international community must enact laws for giving the credit to the rightful owners of the cultural heritage found in the land of the indigenous people, such as the people of the Armenians Highlands.
Picture: The most important archeological site in present-day Turkey is Gobakly Tepe (Portasar in Armenian) near Urfa and the second important one is Chatal Hoyuk near Konya. Unlike the people of Chatal Hoyuk who lived in a beehive type of mud housing structures, the people of Gobakly Tepe lived in settlements around their temple-like center and probably were still hunter-gatherers. This indicates that the need for religion or rituals started long before humankind became farmers out of fear of the elements in their environment.