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A population kept in denial of past genocides for a century can only live with the myth of the “buried treasure” in mind.
The Roums, and the Armenians before them, were said to have hidden their treasures here and there, preferably in “ancient sites” before dying on the road to deportations.
I can just imagine these poor souls, pursued by their killers, gathering their gold to bury it so as to come and collect it on the day of Resurrection and Final Judgment. But, just as with plot theories, the one about the Armenian and his gold keeps on growing and prospering on stupidity and ignorance.
I still recall an idyllic stay near the Black Sea, at the beginning of this century, when I was twenty years younger, in places and landscapes that I know have now been completely destroyed in order to “promote tourism”. A small “pension” lost in the mountains, an old cottage above a waterfall, a host intent on having us discover the beauties of his region, already cursing against the trafficking of wood under the excuse of insect infestations in order to raze the healthy surrounding forests. This was before the Erdoğan reign, part of eternal Turkey.
Our host had shared with us his furor against the “treasure hunters” and had taken us to a few locations riddled with holes like a gruyère cheese, where distant abandoned villages would have stood filled with Greeks (Roums) or Armenians. Not a single drop of water still flowed in their stone fountains, smashed pieces of which lay about. An odd destimonial to a poorly digested history leading to a “thirst for gold” at the foot of dried out wells.
It needs saying that in Turkey, kemalism led to a history being taught in schools that was nothing but praise to the glory of the Republican Holy Man. Everything gets mixed up as a result. The numerous frescoes in the troglodyte chapels of Cappadocia, for example, memories of a human past prior to the Ottoman period, are assimilated with the recent conflicts of the last century with Greeks and “foreign powers”. Thus, these Roums the Republic supposedly chased were said to have lived recently in the grottoes and caverns, according to some local inhabitants who spend their time scratching out the eyes on the “Greek” frescoes in order to destroy them. Savages! As everyone knows, the real Turk lived in his yurt, with the horde of grey wolves he so loves. But I’m straying again, just as I did when I thought that Jack London’s White Fang among the gold seekers was a grey wolf.
Let’s get back to our hidden treasures and look more closely at one of these legends concerning the Roman legions who are said to have camped in the area. Let’s look about the saga around Lake Dipsiz, near Gümüşhane that still has people talking to this day.
Once again we are near the Black Sea.
One of these four great legions of the Roman Empire stationed in Anatolia apparently carried the name of the great French poet: Apollinaire. As everyone knows in his most famous poem “under the Mirabeau bridge flows the Seine” and all the legions had a peculiar attraction to water. They sacrificed to it and submerged their treasures in it. All this is a bit simplified, but the aspiring “archeologist” also known as the Turkish seeker of ancient treasures likes to keep things simple, in order to justify his digs.
This then is the place where the Appolinaire Legion would have submerged its gold, and set off waves in the water. Pretty bowl, no?
Agreed, it isn’t Lake Maggiore but the geological curiosity was worth a look especially as it was embedded in a mountainous surrounding at some 2 040 meter of altitude. It has changed somewhat since the carnage…
A declaration written by the office of the local governor authorized delivrace of “a licence for the search of a treasure for the lake located within the limits of the village of Dumanlı, Gümüşhane center. After four days of searching, the lake was closed again on November 10 2019 and the zone was restored.” Nothing was found. This permit, awarded on the basis of a rumor, was approved by an authority responsible for “archeology”, to give it a more scientific apperance, and with approvals from the Trabizon regional council for the protection of cultural heritage, and the provincial directorate for envrionement and urbanization.
Emptying the lake, drying it out, digging and searching the bottom only took a few days. For zilch results. Apparently, the lake was filled with earth. 12 000 years of accumulated geological layers, four days of digging, and everything shut again. Antique Rome must have thrown its gold elsewhere. And ever since the dig, after each rain, the mud gets mixed up in the hole like a lousy soup.
A certain knowledgeable professor, Dr. Osman Bektaş, says the “bottomless lake” can never regain its former condition and adds that what was destroyed here was built over a very long geological period. Therein resides “the strength of the Turk.”
“Artificially re-creating the natural ecological structure is not possible because the pre-existing conditions in the lake were structures developped over a long geological period, not over a short time span. We see that the water in the lake is turbid, contrary to its former characteristics. The arrival of waters feeding the lake were modified by underground excavations and surface drainage. The drainage system feeding the lake was thus destroyed during the excavation and so was the natural ecological structure. The bottomless lake is now dead.”
All that is still missing is for some vague cousin of Erdoğan to obtain a permit to filter the muds, claiming they are gold-laden, unless the notoriety leads a tour operator to include the tour in his program. Then, we will see the appearance of a kebab stand, six plastic chairs and a table, a sunshade covered in ads, and three Turkish flags, with no alcohol served, of course. The hole will be well guarded.
The matter attracted some, because it illustrates similar treasure hunts carried out in mining as well as in the investments in concrete of every variety, including dams in every meaning of the term. None of this could happen without the corruption endemic at every level. Only for the digging of little holes, 1 183 permits for treasure hunts were delivered between 2008 and 2018.
We could also stop here and shut up also, but my intent was not only to make waves.
And speaking of lakes, here is one that did not deliver as promised on the July 3rd anniversary of the treasure it was supposed to bring back to the surface. I am speaking of the lake now called Hazar Gölü, formerly Goljuk, or in Armenian Ծովք Լիճ. If you prefer, this location is featured in the narratives of the Armenian genocide in 1915, on the date of July 3 under the designation of “Goljuk slaughterhouse”. Thousands of Armenians were assassinated there and written recollections say that some burned the bodies “looking for the gold they might have swallowed.” Less than forty years later, nazism would pull out teeth.
And my Kurdish friends will not resent it, if I mention that it is also written and told, in the genocide literature you find with the greatest difficulty in Turkey, that the Kurdish populations at the time were associated with the killers, the ones issuing the commands telling them to pay themselves off the prey. I allow myself to write this because, precisely, outside the Armenian community, it is from the Kurdish side that we find research and documentation. The Kurds who, following on the Armenians, the Roums and the Jews, now serve as dessert in this murderous orgy. They have fully understood this, those who now explore memory, uncovering the truth in order to learn lessons for the future.
They are in a position allowing them to understand that this Turkey is made sick by its history, its denials and its negationism. The Kurdish cause demands that we look squarely at the past, because the present is rooted in this past. The real treasures are buried there, those that might pay the price of peace.
And just as I will change dimensions, passing from the bowl to the wok, I will now widen my discourse.
All of the powerful ones, all of the dominators converge in order to erase the traces of their crimes, committed all through human history, in order to consolidate their power. The gold of the Incas became the currency of greed and led to the genocide of the native people by the Spaniards. History will choose in its telling by the powerful to concentrate on the epic of Christopher Columbus and the date of 1492. Thus, Turkey had its Mustafa Kemal, who discovered Turkey, France had its colonial troops, just as did England, Germany and many others, and each one has its statuary celebrating its contribution to “progress”.
Murders, genocides, colonizations, slavery for the ones then for the others, human history is paved with inhumanities, and yet glory has always immortalized the assassins.
For over two millenia, blood has always flowed into the bowl, like that of a slaughtered animal, in order to feed off its power. We have codified “races”, in order to create hierarchies of humans. Making a slave of the inferior being the rule, the same as making a slave out of a non-believer, voluntarily kept from conversion to Islam. I summarize here what were the “negro trade” and the “Islamist slavery” for Africa.
I won’t add anything else to the bowl, the woke is full also.
How did I get to this point at my age, commenting debates beween supremacists and the oppressed. The Kurdish cause in Turkey has something to do with it, I think, just as do the feminist and LBGTQI+ movements.
It is not surprising that all nationalisms be accompanied by negationisms. These nationalisms are proponents of “national novels”, such as the one here of Turcity, in the name of which an imagined tribe governs. History becomes a tale told to children, one in which the grey wolf triumphs over the little girl in veils.
If I am also a seeker of treasures, I will find my own gold in history. In order to buy war or peace with it, that is the question.
A final note from the author:
As I sign off on this final column, I wish to extend warm thanks to those who have read me and supported me for several years already. Yes, I’m finally settling into a well-deserved retirement. But, don’t worry, the borrowed name under which I let loose on Kedistan will remain. The pen will be held by someone else, that’s all. I’m passing the relay to one younger than I. But as I always dictated these columns for their translations, and since the translators will remain the same, Mamie Eyan will keep the same tone of voice. And who knows, perhaps have I already passed on the pen to someone else?
It has always been a pleasure.
Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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