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Architectural Preservation and Documentation, Human Rights, Reminiscence and Trauma – International Research Weblog

Surveying the Church of Virgin Mary / Panagia, Hançerli Village in Niğde, Turkey, (Picture credit: courtesy of KMKD)

Throughout the previous couple of weeks of the spring time period of this most uncommon yr, I chatted with Banu Pekol, an AHDA (Alliance for Historic Dialogue and Accountability) fellow on the Columbia College Institute for the Examine of Human Rights about her work with architectural historical past and human rights, and the position of architectural preservation and documentation in working round reminiscence, trauma, and human rights advocacy. 

Welcome, Banu. Might you please introduce your self and your discipline of examine and work? What human rights challenge are you presently engaged on?

I’m Banu Pekol, and I’m an architectural historian by coaching. Greater than a decade in the past, I obtained a BA from the Courtauld Institute of Artwork in London and later a PhD from the Istanbul Technical College. I then started learning and surveying historic architectural heritage websites in Turkey, specializing in websites that belonged to tough pasts and that don’t essentially match neatly inside a reductive or glorifying nationwide historic narrative. 

Surveying the Church of Mor Barsaumo and Luqianos, Beth Manʿem, in Nusaybin-Mardin, Turkey (Picture credit: courtesy of KMKD)

Sadly, many of those cultural heritage and architectural websites are in danger. There are numerous explanation why a web site could possibly be in danger: pure disasters (earthquakes, floods, erosion, and so forth.); decay and neglect (time lapse, erosion, lack of funds, but in addition typically willful neglect). Heritage websites –given their highly effective affective, symbolic and charged natures– will also be in danger for political or nationalistic causes. They might threaten a dominant narrative or discourse, or pose a problem to any try to reconstruct a reductive, unilateral and intractable view of a nation’s previous. Sadly, that is presently true for a lot of websites in Turkey which don’t reinforce or sit squarely inside a most well-liked historic narrative of a nation or a neighborhood’s imagined discourse. There have been many examples of such at-risk websites that are “othered”, repressed, uncared for, ‘denied” and even erased and actively destroyed. That is true not solely in Turkey however all through the world, every time a monolithic view of actuality is coupled with a refusal of variety and of the “different.” It’s then that erasures and suppressions happen. 

In Turkey, these at-risk websites presently focus on any proof of a story that complicates the various non secular and cultural historical past of the nation (together with the websites and cultural heritage of Armenians, Syriacs, Greeks, Jews, Yazidis, Kurds and different communities, and so forth.). 

How do you see your work with cultural heritage preservation and documentation being linked to human rights advocacy?

Coping with the previous has a major impression on what issues within the current. My definition of historic dialogue contains the challenges and alternatives of making an area that considers the advanced social implications of previous violence, trauma and atrocities. I imagine that selling reminiscence, reality and justice regarding previous violence is crucial. We should work towards progressive and inclusive dialogue for coping with previous atrocities, and likewise for stopping any future ones from occurring.

Surveying the Church of Saint Paraskevi /Agia Paraskevi, in Mudanya-Bursa, Turkey (Picture credit: courtesy of KMKD)

Regardless of some enhancements, formal establishments of justice usually have restricted capability, and human rights violations aren’t sufficiently addressed. Many societies and marginalized teams nonetheless do not need entry to such establishments or to formal justice and accountability processes.

That is the place various human rights networks such because the Alliance for Historic Dialogue and Accountability (AHDA), at which I’m presently a fellow, can assist. Historic documentation contributes to a robust community and follow of dialogue primarily based on belief, consent and deep understanding of tradition. There’s a want for extra dialogue between academia and people working within the areas of peacebuilding and battle prevention. Leveraging formal and casual networks is an simple means to affect the rule of legislation towards human rights violations. I like to consider the probabilities that could possibly be leveraged when regional networks are tapped into to be able to foster historic dialogue and accountability. 

How essential are archives to your work ? Why? Are there any present archives in Turkey that might help your work? 

I see archival work as similar to fieldwork. Archival analysis, as fieldwork, can assist us perceive and uncover the bodily situation of the buildings, but in addition the way in which societies relate to those heritage websites, both via optimistic identification or via rejection. It’s throughout this archival fieldwork that one realizes how all of us have interaction with the previous and relate it to the current in an affective method, not solely intellectually. To present a couple of examples from my fieldwork relating to this affective relation to the previous and to the current: an deserted Rum (Turkish/Greek) chapel would stay standing, with the mukhtar (native mayor) locking its door to stop vandalism. Then again, an Armenian chapel within the neighbouring village can be razed to the bottom. In one other occasion, the mukhtar of a historic Syriac village (the place not a single Syriac descendent remained) communicated an imagined story relating to how the Syriacs had voluntarily bought their church, when the truth was that this church was unethically (however legally) reappropriated after the Syriac inhabitants have been pushed out of the village. In fact it comes as no shock that cultural heritage insurance policies and practices are inherently political.

Surveying the Genoese Fortress, Kaletepe-Marmara Island, Turkey (Picture courtesy of KMKD)

To return to your query about archives: sure, there are numerous archives which would supply extraordinarily beneficial details about these websites, akin to missionary archives (just like the Archive of the American Board of Commissioners for International Missions) or archives of 19th-century travellers. For instance the archive of the NGO known as “Analysis on Armenian Structure”, which I visited whereas I used to be a Hrant Dink Fellow in Yerevan in 2017 was very helpful. The Houshamadyan Venture can be one which deserves to be talked about and is a superb supply of data. Nonetheless, these archives exist exterior Turkey, and with out analysis grants it’s not potential for any of us to achieve these archives. The nationwide archives are selective in what they permit entry to. Non-public and educational archives aren’t as widespread as in Europe or the US. Solely within the final 20 years have such archives (such because the SALT archive or the Bogazici College archives) been acknowledged as value establishing or funding. These archives, that are typically open to the general public, have been of restricted use for our analysis, however with additional acquisitions sooner or later they might develop into of curiosity.

In my line of labor, you uncover information and archives in surprising locations. As soon as, whereas documenting a historic Greek home on an island in Turkey, we noticed an outdated framed photograph on the wall. It confirmed the shoreline of that island, together with many aged buildings akin to the principle church that have been now demolished. In one other occasion, whereas conducting analysis a few traditionally Greek neighborhood of Istanbul, I went to Athens as most of its residents had fled there. Not solely was the Athens Municipality Archive helpful, however one in all these former residents (born within the late Nineteen Twenties) had established a library in Athens. This 2-story library was his personal non-public initiative, and it contained books in a number of languages on Greeks of Turkey. It additionally housed a number of historic paperwork, which he had collected from second-hand/vintage bookshops on the journeys he made every year, even whereas in his 80s, together with his automotive from Athens to Istanbul– a 13+ hour drive!

Have you ever used the human rights archives at Columbia, and in that case are you able to inform us about your expertise? 

Because of the pandemic, our entry to library assets and to the Human Rights archives on the Middle for Human Rights Documentation and Analysis at Columbia was extra restricted than standard, however the librarians have been superb of their assist and efforts to make the supplies out there digitally. They have been additionally nice in offering private recommendation. For instance, the Libraries held a workshop on Human Rights Archives and Historic Dialogue Analysis. Additionally, our Media Design Workshop with Alex Gil was eye-opening as he works in digital humanities and spoke in regards to the benefits and downsides of utilizing the net and web sites as a automobile for historic dialogue initiatives. Typically, gaining access to CLIO was indispensable all through my fellowship.  Since I’m not related to an instructional establishment, I’m envious of associates who’ve this affiliation and this entry to superb library assets (laughs). These final 7 months have been an actual deal with in that sense, the place I browsed via a number of databases from educational journals to funding directories like CANDID every time I needed. It’s a pity NGOs are unable to entry such databases, because of funding limitations.

What are among the challenges you encounter when working with trauma and reminiscence?  

A constructing has a presence, in addition to a weight, a mass. It stands in house as a tangible proof of historical past, as a witness. By permitting the whole annihilation or important disfigurement of those buildings, a message of erasure and of devaluation to the neighborhood is distributed out. Naturally, descendants of the communities these buildings belonged to treat them as a bleeding wound, which is unimaginable to remedy. The injury these buildings endure is a mirrored image of the sufferings inflicted on the communities, and so it’s typically simpler for them to show away and transfer in the direction of a contemporary starting as a diaspora, away from this geography.

Engaged on such websites, I’ve realized that numerous previous conflicts have many unstated sides to them. For instance, older generations have refused to deliver up their youngsters with tales of the bloodbath of their households. Why elevate them with such a trauma, why not give them an equal clear slate, identical to the opposite youngsters?

Surveying the Mor Abay Monastery, Savur-Mardin, Turkey (Picture credit: courtesy of KMKD)

Nonetheless, in a battle, what issues and what should be resolved is the unstated. Even the blunt, sturdy individuals don’t speak about this “unstated”, so this work might be very difficult and might take a very long time. I even have realized by no means to imagine that what I see as the apparent is seen and/or heard by everybody else. So I work to seek out what is clear, the unstated that no person talks about. On this case, it may be a wreck of a Christian monastery in a devoutly Muslim village–or vice versa. Solely 3 aged inhabitants could know of its actual operate and previous, and the remainder could know of it as “the wreck”. On this case, the place does one begin the dialogue with the previous?

How do archives assist, complement, develop on the work of human rights activists typically? What are among the challenges you encounter when attempting to include,or construct a human rights archive in your personal work? 

Within the case of some misplaced communities, cities and villages, archives can present exceptionally beneficial info when attempting to show what was there.  That is particularly helpful when so many buildings and their furnishings are misplaced due to disrepair and abandonment. Methods of destruction towards such architectural heritage vary from willful demolition to willful neglect, encouragement of trespassing, adaptive reuse, destruction of public works, neutralization and erasures or cultural appropriation by effacing inscriptions and attribution to different cultures. From a 21st century perspective, all these are lively brokers in manipulating the previous to serve a nationalistic discourse.

Are you able to touch upon the social lifetime of human rights archives: What does the way in which a society makes use of human rights archives inform us about varied features of that society? 

Even establishing such an archive says quite a bit about societies, and sadly, we should be certain that to differentiate between nationalistic, single-sided archives and those who embrace all present documentation, leaving the evaluation to the researcher.In international locations that haven’t come to phrases with their previous, we see that entry to archives is strictly managed, as is the character of paperwork launched. Archival analysis entails authorities archives; many lack sure essential paperwork and others selectively share their archives. Archival analysis on property in Turkey has by no means been a simple course of because it naturally entails the necessity for entry to deeds. There are two circulars from 1983 and 2011, revealed by the Normal Directorate of Land Registry and Cadastre that regulate these paperwork. Briefly, they state that strictly no reply needs to be given to queries about properties of ‘misplaced’ individuals, or communities who’re no extra  (particularly Armenians). It was additionally written that each one situations of any such queries regarding data predating 1924 needs to be conveyed to the Normal Directorate. A replica of this round was additionally submitted to the Nationwide Safety Council’s Normal Secretary, the State Treasury and the Ministry of International Affairs. In 2006, the Nationwide Safety Council denied a suggestion to share all digitized deeds with archives and make them out there to researchers. Many students researching “delicate topics” (such because the Turkish state remedy of Kurds or the Armenian genocide) face challenges and it’s not stunning that almost all of them work from exterior Turkey.

Are you able to touch upon the significance and difficulties of the work carried out by human rights archivists? 

Possibly I can present one instance for what can depend as a problem. Since its inception, the NGO I characterize (the Affiliation for the Safety of Cultural Heritage KMKD) has been documenting heritage websites in Turkey which are deserted and prone to destruction. We put together detailed technical experiences about these buildings together with their historical past, architectural evaluation and outline, structural situation in addition to threat evaluation and proposals for preservation. Nonetheless, with the alarming prevalence of looting in these websites, we’re confronted with the dilemma of offering this information to the general public, in case it’s used maliciously. We’re afraid that looters will use the GPS coordinates in addition to our measured drawings to trigger irreparable injury to those already fragile websites. Thus, offering this info in a safe and moral means, whereas additionally elevating consciousness to encourage their preservation is one in all our best challenges. In the meanwhile there are too many websites, too few of us who doc and archive the information from these websites, and too many people who find themselves after a fantasy of treasure.

Additional, we should pair the information now we have with the social information from different archives that may be correlated with these websites. These would come with social historical past akin to literature, materials tradition, traditions, and so forth. 

Photographing for situation documentation and evaluation throughout a web site go to in Tur Abdin, Turkey (Picture credit: courtesy of KMKD)

The opposite problem now we have is time – particularly contemplating that almost all of Turkey lies on the East Anatolian fault line. Any day we could get up to the information that tens of the buildings now we have not but surveyed have collapsed with an earthquake.

 In conclusion would you want so as to add something?

Being a Historic Dialogue and Accountability fellow on the ISHR at Columbia is what bought me via the pandemic, up to now. It has really opened my thoughts and sustained me throughout this tough yr. I took two graduate courses from the Worldwide Battle Decision observe inside SIPA, and it was extraordinarily refreshing to be uncovered to educational experience at such a excessive caliber, 11 years after finishing my PhD. Additionally, the sensible workshops and seminars have been eye-opening in exhibiting us the alternatives in addition to practices within the discipline. One of many surprises for me was the conferences with the students at Columbia and the way beneficiant they have been with their time in addition to data. Most have been individuals whose work I’d been following and admiring for some time, and right here they have been sincerely providing recommendation and assist! One ebook I’ve edited that had been delayed because of  a long-lasting intercultural battle is now capable of be revealed via this assist.

Thanks, Banu! I want you the most effective of luck along with your work, and we hope you’ll return to the Columbia College Libraries, to  develop your work additional.

Kaoukab Chebaro, Head of International Research, Columbia College Libraries,

For additional inquiries in regards to the human rights collections on the Columbia College Libraries, and the Middle of Human rights Analysis and Documentation, please test this web page:


To contact Pamela Graham, Director, Humanities & International Research Director, Middle for Human Rights Documentation & Analysis Columbia College Libraries:



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