Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by tartanhill, Feb 26, 2021.
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Thank you Nomos AG for the excellent article on the MOU with Turkey!
We are canceling our ANS membership & all future ANS support in protest for its official support of the State Dept MOU restrictions on Americans collecting ancient coins. Is the ANS also collaborating with Homeland Security officials (as "experts") in order for government agents to seize coins?
The US Memorandum of Understanding with Turkey on Cultural Heritage – a Question of Conscience
During the last hours of the previous administration in the United States, the US State Department found time to agree to a Memorandum of Understanding ( = MOU) to protect the cultural heritage of Turkey. There have already been a number of these MOUs in the past (with Cyprus, Greece, Italy, et al.), pushed through in a most bipartisan way by the State Department, with its allied scholars. These began in the last days of the Clinton administration and continued on through those of Bush, Obama and Trump. Originally conceived to achieve the laudable end of saving the truly important elements of a nation's heritage from illegal transfer, looting and dispersal beyond its borders, these MOUs have grown to include virtually everything made by human hands in the past found or owned within the present-day borders of that country, no matter how inconsequential. As far as I know ordinary bricks and roof tiles are not included among the treasures that need to be safeguarded, but I may well be wrong since vast numbers of equally common objects, like coins for example, and rope, are on the lists of protected items. When finally published we can be sure that the list of included items in the Turkish MOU will be equally extensive and all-inclusive, but in a moral sense this Turkish MOU shows a level of out-and-out Realpolitik hypocrisy that is quite astonishing. In fact, when one considers that the MOU with Cyprus, first enacted in 2002, was in part designed to counteract the depredations of Cypriot heritage caused by the Turkish occupation of the northern part of the island, depredations that occurred in areas fully under the control of the Turkish army, a MOU with Turkey is actually both paradoxical and bizarre.
Modern Turkey - ancient Anatolia - is understandably called "Turkey" because the Turkish people live there. But the Turks or, rather, the Turkic peoples, only began to move out of Central Asia to settle in large numbers, and take over, what is now Turkey during the 11th century, especially thanks to the emperor Romanus IV's disastrous defeat at their hands at Manzikert in 1071. But at that time there were basically two major population groups that had long been the inhabitants of Anatolia, the Greeks and the Armenians. Greeks are known to have been settled in Anatolia since at least the early second millennium BC - by the 5th century BC the western and northern coasts were covered in Greek cities; with the conquests of Alexander in the 4th century BC and the rise of the Hellenistic monarchies, the Anatolian peninsula and its population became ever more Hellenised and Greek speaking. In the 5th century AD there were still isolated groups using other languages, but they soon died out. For example, the emperor Zeno (476-491) was from Isauria and must have still spoken Isaurian, an Anatolian language derived from Luwian; his original name was Tarasikodissa. As for the Armenians, they seem to have been in eastern Anatolia since well before the third millennium BC - genetically they can be traced back to the Neolithic; by c. 1200 BC, the time of the "Late Bronze Age collapse", they had stabilised into and have remained the distinct people they are today. In other words, when the first Turks arrived in 'Turkey' Greeks had already been living there for 2500 years, while Armenians had been a presence there for more than 4000.
The Turkish advance, culminating in the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, meant that a powerful state controlled all of Anatolia, and beyond, for the first time since the earlier Byzantine period. This was no bad thing: safety and peace allowed Christian communities to prosper (even with special taxes) and the Ottoman Sultans often had Armenian, Greek and Serbian high officials. Things changed after the Empire began to decline in the late 17th century, especially with the beginning of the ultimately successful Greek War of Independence in March 1821. While the war itself basically took place only in the Peloponnesos, Central Greece and in the Aegean, not in Anatolia, the Ottomans never-the-less took ferocious reprisals against the Greeks living there: most infamous was the hanging of the Patriarch Gregory V from the central gate of the Patriarchate in Constantinople on Easter Sunday (he is now revered as an Orthodox Saint and Ethnomartyr). Executions, massacres and other reprisals continued throughout the summer of 1821. They involved thousands upon thousands of basically completely innocent people. After a while things stabilised but with the rise of nationalism among subject peoples, and the Ottoman defeats in the Balkans, in the Caucasus and elsewhere, tensions continued to rise. A 'high point' came with the Armenian or Hamidian Massacres of 1894-1896 (named after the notorious Sultan Abdul Hamid II, 1876-1909, who fomented them) : up to 300,000 Armenians were killed and far more were dispossessed (one of the Armenian families forced to flee the Ottoman Empire at this time was that of Calouste Gulbenkian); large numbers of Assyrian Christians (the Diyarbakir Massacre of 1895) and Greeks were also killed. But this was just a beginning. What is now rightly known as the Armenian Genocide began in 1915 and resulted in a minimum of 750,000 deaths; there was then the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922, in which the Kingdom of Greece, encouraged by the British Prime Minister Lloyd George, sought to re-establish Greek rule over much of western Anatolia as part of what was known as the Megali Idea. This irredentist dream ended in total disaster and resulted in the virtually complete destruction of the Greeks of Asia Minor. The population exchange of 1923, in which most remaining Moslems in Greece were forced to move to Turkey and most remaining Christians in Turkey (other than those in Istanbul) were deported to Greece, further drastically reduced the numbers of Armenians and Greeks in Turkey. Anti-Greek laws passed in 1932 and 1942 made the lives of the remaining Greeks in Turkey ever more difficult; finally, the 1955 pogrom in Istanbul, organised and supported by elements of the Turkish government, led to a further exodus of Greeks from Turkey. But this, alas, wasn't the end: in 1964-1965 the vast majority of the remaining Greek residents of Istanbul were expelled and their property expropriated. Apparently, when deported they were allowed to take no more than 20 kg of their belongs and no more than US$22 in cash. Nowadays there are about 50,000 Armenians still living in Turkey (down from at least 2 million in 1914; that is only about a third as many as those now living in California); as for the Greeks, only about 2000 of them, mostly elderly, still remain there (down from at least 1.8 million in 1914; this should be compared to the 150,000 Greek-Americans now living in California).
Why have I written this long excursus? The reason is that the MOU with the Turkish Government, so proudly supported by the US State Department and by a number of American scholars, archaeologists and Fellows of the ANS, clearly grants the heritage of the Armenians who had lived in the area of present-day Turkey for some 5000 years, and that of the Greeks who had lived there for 3500 years, to the Turkish Government. Yet the present Turkish Government is the successor of a long line of governments that, for some 200 years, culminating in the horrors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the events of 1955 and 1964, has killed, executed, tortured, raped, dispossessed and expelled virtually all the Armenians, Greeks, Assyrian Christians and others, who were the original inhabitants of Anatolia. Nowadays, countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States - just mentioning the Anglophone ones - are coming to terms with their own crimes against their original inhabitants (Aboriginals, Amerindians and Maori): apologising, atoning and providing reparations. As for the Holocaust of the Jews, reparations and study still go on, with the surviving heirs of the murdered recovering some of their or their family's stolen property. But for the US State Department and those American scholars, instead of trying to restore the property of the killed, executed, tortured, raped, dispossessed and expelled Armenians and Greeks to their heirs, they are now giving it to the government that is the direct heir of the ones that ordered, directed, urged, fomented and encouraged the killing, the executions, the torturing, the raping, the dispossessing and the expulsions. In 2019, an extraordinarily bipartisan resolution commemorating the genocide of the Armenians and other communities in Turkey was passed unanimously by the US Senate and by a vote of 405-11 in the House of Representatives. It was fiercely opposed by the US State Department, the Trump administration, and by American archaeologists working in Turkey; as for the feelings and rights of the 1.4 million Armenian-Americans and those of the 2.5 million Greek-Americans, the US State Department and the supporting archaeologists completely ignored them.
Why do you think this has happened? For the US State Department the answer is simple, foreign affairs are key: keeping good relations with governments that are important to the US is the major priority. Unless human rights violations are outstandingly blatant, and shown all over the world on CNN, they do not count, especially if there are close military ties. In fact, the two remaining US bases in Turkey, Incirlik Air Base near Adana and the Izmir Air Base, are now officially NATO bases due to the Turkish government's anger over the US reaction to the invasion of Cyprus in 1974. So to avoid being expelled completely, which would very much upset both the Pentagon and the US government, diplomatic blind eyes are de rigueur. Keeping "friendly states" happy was, in the past, done by using millions of dollars in foreign aid, most of which was used in projects that ostensibly benefited those states and their people. Of course, some of that aid - often a surprisingly large amount - ended up "off shore", thus causing serious questions and embarrassing answers, which were brought out in Congress and in the press. So MOUs on cultural heritage are a much better way of being nice to those countries the US wants to be nice to: they show great respect to that country's heritage; they imply that it is the actions of American collectors, dealers, museums and scholars that are a leading cause of the damage to that heritage (i.e., without their demand, illegal digging, illegal export, etc. would become so unprofitable that their practitioners would return to their previous occupations); and that, aside from the salaries of an increasing number of cultural heritage bureaucrats, consultants and the like, it costs the government almost nothing (especially as compared to foreign aid). Obviously, the costs to American collectors, dealers, museums and scholars are of no interest.
As for the archaeologists and other scholars supporting the MOU with the Turkish government, the reasons are more complex. Most archaeologists working in foreign countries do it out of a real passion for the past, and for what often grows to be a real love for the country where they are working, and for its people. Foreign archaeologists, cooperating with their local colleagues, have often succeeded in obtaining benefits for the local population around their site. Such as the building of a local museum to act as a tourist attraction, which not only brings in income to the local people, it also provides employment for locally based archaeologists and some other local staff. In the past, significant finds would be brought to a major museum in a city far away. So you can understand the anger archaeologists feel toward the treasure hunters who damage those sites. The police might just want to arrest those looters, the archaeologists would be happier if they shot them! This is quite a good reason for an American scholar working in Turkey to support the MOU with Turkey. Unfortunately, it is certainly not the only one.
Another reason why some American archaeologists working in Turkey, or studying the antiquities of Turkey in Turkish museums, ostentatiously and publicly supported the MOU comes from blatant self-interest. A passionate letter publicly sent to the US State Department in support of the MOU will certainly be made known to Turkish officials; they, in turn, will surely be favourably disposed to grant permits for those scholars to excavate and do research in Turkey. In fact, you will never, ever, discover any archaeologist working in a foreign country saying or writing anything of which the government of that country might disapprove, no matter how true. Why? Because writing or saying such things are the easiest and fastest ways for a foreign archaeologist or scholar to not only find her- or himself deported on the next flight out of that country, but also banned from doing any research or study there. Think not? How many archaeologists working in Greece protested about the 1967 coup by the colonels, or any of their subsequent acts? How many working in Iraq said anything about the actions of the Ba'ath government during the time when they excavated and studied there?
At the present time there has been an explosion of outrage at the injustices of the past, leading to the toppling of statues and the changing of the names of schools and other institutions, because those statues and names apparently commemorate people whose views or opinions are now thought to be politically incorrect. For example, in America George Washington (1732-1799) and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), whose actions and writings helped the spread of democracy all around the world, have been damned because both owned slaves. Yet anyone studying their lives and actions must realise that they both ultimately came to the conclusion that slavery was incompatible with a democratic republic, and was morally untenable. They have been condemned for being men of the 18th century (Jefferson lived on through the 1st quarter of the 19th), with the beliefs and thoughts of their time, no matter how advanced, rather than being "woke" progressives of today. But if that judgement is deemed acceptable today, how can the US State Department ignore/condone the past actions of the Ottoman and Turkish governments, which were already universally condemned when they occurred?
Before ending one thing should be emphasised: if the Turkish government, any Turkish government, would accept and admit to the crimes of the past, and make an effort to atone for them, - like the actions of successive German governments after World War II - there would be no need for this essay. The massive demonstration by over 100,000 Turkish people, of all walks of life, who marched in protest at the funeral of the assassinated Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul in 2007 shows clearly shows how decent and human the Turkish population is. The consistent refusal of successive Turkish governments to address these problems shames the Turkish people. They deserve better.
A Note on Sources: All the statements of fact made in this short essay can be found attested in a wide variety of written sources: books, articles and online resources. The figures given here are conservative, estimates on the deaths and expulsions vary, often considerably. I have tried to ensure that the more lurid and outrageous claims, which are found in some works, have been ignored. Anyone wanting to check the comments made here will find more than enough, unbiased information (you soon will get to recognise the biases) on the internet: that includes cross referencing and citations from printed sources.
Dr. Alan S. Walker
The time to simply "send in your comments" on this or that "MOU" is just not effective or being taking seriously by the CPAC board, State Dept or any of our government officials.
On the history lesson given, the Greeks never enjoyed the Turkish occupation of 400 years. Of course there are always traitors who cooperated with the Sultan like Caratheodory Pasha whose collection was sold like being of an important person. On the 1922-23 defeat of the Greek army, let no one forget that the Greek army would have reached Ankara had it not been for the Germans and Russians who supported by all means the Turkish army. The republic Monument in the taksim Square features the statues of Mikhail Frunze and Kliment Voroshilov just behind the one of attaturk.
Glad to see someone knows the history. The Russians probably dreamed of Turkey becoming communist, they heavily supported them. Also let's not forget how the Italians and French started to sell weapons and ammunition's to the Turks, a big political game.
To be sure, the Turkish government committed horrendous crimes against various minorities within the country's borders. To this day, there is the ongoing struggle between the Kurds, who are seeking to create an autonomous, independent country, and the Turkish government, which is intent on Turkish hegemony not only with the country's borders, but also beyond, very much in the image of the old Ottoman Empire, albeit at a much reduced scale.
I do not want to stray into the politics of international relations, except to say that it is often messy, frequently immoral if not of questionable ethics, sometimes smacking of expediency and with a smell of hypocrisy that outrages people who believe in justice, human rights and democratic values.
Given the complex relationship between Turkey and the archeological community I can see how professional archeologists can be caught between a rock and a hard place when dealing with an authoritarian government, a government that has, in the past sacrificed the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman ruins near the Kurdish town of Hasankey, with the construction of the nearby Ilısu Dam in 2018.
The MOU does have politics behind it, but the fundamental right for a country to protect its cultural heritage, no matter how unreasonable it is in its reach or scope, rests within the sovereign domain of that country. That the US entered into such a MOU is no surprise to me, given Turkey's pivotal role in the region. This is a sad but true theme that has run through the course of human history, which, as collectors and students of history we know all too well.
This is an excellent idea and should be considered by the ACCG Guild lobbying party as a viable tactic. If hundreds of U.S. collectors inundated Homeland Security custom agents with thousands of worthless, unidentifiable, illegible, mass produced ancient coins, that agents could not identify (actually agents can't identify any ancient coin), nor could their so-called collaborating "experts" they use, perhaps agents might start complaining to the State Dept? US Customs agents "official" complaints that MOU's against American collectors are frivolous, nonsense and interfering with their real job of drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering & terrorist activity, etc. etc. might be taken more seriously than our complaints to CPAC board members.
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