Skip to main content

Treasure/Fetish/Gift: hunting for ‘Armenian gold’ in post-genocide Turkish Kurdistan

Abstract

This article ethnographically attends to the widespread practice of hunting for ‘Armenian’ treasures in Eastern Turkey. It explores the double valence of shadow—as that which gives power to vision, which makes present and mediates, and as that which can overpower vision, which obscures and hides—as it manifests in treasure hunting, conceived of as a complex encounter with the Armenian history of the region. Treasures, as shadows carrying this split potential, are intimately bound up with both the Turkish nation-state project built on genocide, dispossession and denial, and with the particular position Kurds hold within this constellation. I draw on the notions of fetish and the gift to think through treasures as shadows in their double potentiality across time, as they become recognised—or not—as part of a relational matrix involving their historical makers and the present-day diggers.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Notes

  1. Law number 2863 ‘Kültür ve Tabiat Koruma Kanunu’, published on 23rd July 1983 in the Official Gazette number 18113.

  2. Piotr Głuchowski and Marcin Kowalski (2008) describe a similarly grim scene of ghoulishness unfolding after the abandonment of the Nazi extermination camp Treblinka in 1944. As soon as the SS had left, locals gathered around the site of the dismantled camp digging for gold and jewellery of those Jewish victims that had been buried in mass graves before cremation began in 1943. In 1944 Soviet and Ukrainian guards arrived with heavy machinery in the service of Stalin and bombed mass graves to remove valuables from decaying corpses. Such treasure hunting apparently continued into the 2000 s (see also Gross and Gross 2012). I thank Aurélia Kalisky and Felix Ackermann for bringing this to my attention.

  3. This was something once mentioned to me in passing; I was not able to gain more detailed information as to how this was actually done.

References

  • Ahıska, M. 2010. Occidentalism in Turkey: questions of modernity and national identity in turkish radio broadcasting. London: I.B. Tauris.

    Google Scholar 

  • Akçam, T., and Ü. Kurt. 2015. The spirit of the laws: the plunder of wealth in the Armenian Genocide. New York: Berghahn.

    Google Scholar 

  • Alford, C.F. 2015. Subjectivity and the intergenerational transmission of historical trauma: holocaust survivors and their children. Subjectivity 8(3): 261–282.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baghdjian, K.K. 1987. La confiscation, par le gouvernement turc, des biens arméniens– dits “abandonées”. Montréal: K. Baghdjian.

    Google Scholar 

  • Benjamin, W. (2007 [1969]). Illuminations, New York: Schocken Books.

  • Bevan, R. 2006. The destruction of memory: architecture at war. London: Reaktion.

    Google Scholar 

  • Biner, Z.Ö. 2010. Acts of Defacement, Memory of Loss: ghostly Effects of the “Armenian Crisis” in Mardin. Southeastern Turkey. History & Memory 22(2): 68–95.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brink-Danan, M. 2012. Jewish life in 21st-century Turkey: The other side of tolerance. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Butler, J., and A. Athanasiou. 2013. Dispossession: the performative in the political. Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Clark, J. 1993. Gold, Sex, and Pollution: male Illness and Myth at Mt. Kare, Papua New Guinea. American Ethnologist 20(4): 742–757.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dawdy, S.L. 2010. Clockpunk anthropology and the ruins of modernity. Current Anthropology 51(6): 761–793.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Der Matossian, B. 2011. The Taboo within the Taboo: the fate of ‘Armenian Capital’ at the end of the Ottoman Empire. European Journal of Turkish Studies (Online), Complete List 2011.

  • Derrida, J. 1992. Given time: I. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Derrida, J. 1994. Specters of Marx: the state of the debt, the work of mourning and the New International. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Desilvey, C. 2006. Observed decay: telling stories with mutably things. Journal of Material Culture 11(3): 318–338.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Desilvey, C., and T. Edensor. 2013. Reckoning with ruins. Progress in Human Geography 37(4): 465–485.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Edensor, T. 2005. Industrial ruins: space, aesthetics, and materiality. Oxford: Berg.

    Google Scholar 

  • Głuchowski, P., and M. Kowalski. 2008. Goldfieber in Treblinka. In Unbequeme Wahrheiten: Polen und sein Verhältnis zu den Juden, ed. B. Engelkind, and H. Hirsch. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gordillo, G. 2014. Rubble: the afterlife of destruction. Durham: Duke University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Gordon, A.F. 1997. Ghostly matters. Haunting and the sociological imagination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gregory, C.A. [2015 (1982)]. Gifts and commodities, Chicago: HAU Books.

  • Gross, J.T., and I.G. Gross. 2012. Golden harvest: events at the periphery of the holocaust. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hansen, M. B. (2007) Benjamin’s Aura. Critical Inquiry, 34336–375.

  • High, M. 2013. Polluted money, polluted wealth: emerging regimes of value in the Mongolian gold rush. American Ethnologist 40(4): 676–688.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hovannisian, R.G. (ed.). 2001. Armenian Baghesh/Bitlis and Taron/Mush. Costa Mesa: Mazda Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kévorkian, R. H. 2007. Patrimoine monumental et ‘biens nationaux’ arméniens de Turquie: bilan d’une politique d’État. Revue arménienne, 751–62.

  • Klima, A. 2002. The Funeral Casino: meditation, massacre, and exchange with the dead in Thailand. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Mauss, M. [1990 (1950)]. Die Gabe: Form und Funktion des Austauschs in archaischen Gesellschaften, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

  • Navaro-Yashin, Y. 2012. The make-believe space: affective geography in a postwar polity. Durham: Duke University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Onaran, N. 2010. Emval-i Metruke Olayı: Osmanlı’da ve Cumhuriyette Ermeni ve Rum Mallarının Türkleştirilmesi. Istanbul: Belge Yayinlari.

    Google Scholar 

  • Özyürek, E. 2006. Nostalgia for the modern: state secularism and everyday politics in Turkey. Durham: Duke University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Rahimi, S. 2016. Haunted metaphor, transmitted affect: the pantemporality of subjective experience. Subjectivity 9(1): 83–105.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stoler, A.L. (ed.). 2013. Imperial debris: on ruins and ruination. Durham: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Taussig, M. 1992. The nervous system. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Taussig, M. 1999. Defacement: public secrecy and the labor of the negative. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Taussig, M. 2004. My cocaine museum. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Taussig, M. [2010 (1980)]. The devil and commodity Fetishism in South America, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

  • To, N.M., and E. Trivelli. 2015. Affect, memory and the transmission of trauma. Subjectivity 8(4): 305–314.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Üngör, U.Ü., and M. Polatel. 2011. Confiscation and destruction: the young Turk Seizure of Armenian property. London: Continuum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Walkerdine, V., A. Olsvold, and M. Rudberg. 2013. Researching Embodiment and Intergenerational Trauma using the worlk of Davoine and Gaudilliere: history walked in the door. Subjectivity 6(3): 272–297.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Research for this article has been made possible by the European Research Council (grant number ERC2011_stG_20101124). It has benefitted from discussions on an earlier version presented in Vilnius, Lithuania, as part of the ‘Shadowing the Scene’ conference. I would further like to thank Eirini Avramopoulou, Mantas Kvedaravicius and Marc Nichanian for their helpful comments on an earlier draft. All translations, unless otherwise noted, are mine.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alice von Bieberstein.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

von Bieberstein, A. Treasure/Fetish/Gift: hunting for ‘Armenian gold’ in post-genocide Turkish Kurdistan. Subjectivity 10, 170–189 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41286-017-0026-x

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/s41286-017-0026-x

Keywords

  • Turkey
  • Armenian genocide
  • Treasures
  • Fetish
  • Gift