The Nahrein Network


Cultural Identification in Cilicia

Team: Tevfik Emre Şerifoğlu (Şirince Archaeological Association and Koç University); Güldem Baykal Büyüksaraç (Istanbul University), İlmon Hançer (Association for the Protection of Cultural Heritage), Anna Collar (University of Southampton), Samah AlHussien, Ulaş Bayraktar, Bediz Yılmaz Bayraktar (Maya Association of Education, Culture, Research, Charity, and Solidarity), Ayşe Aydın (Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University)

Duration: funded for 18 months from 01 January 2020 

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyLLha_aJCE&ab_channel=NahreinNetwork

Forced displacement is one of the most pressing issues in the Middle East, a region long marked by political unrest, war and violence. Many communities across the region have been forced to leave their homelands throughout the recent and more distant past. Forced migration is an extremely painful process, which alienates people from their cultural landscape and disrupts their sense of place, belonging and identity.
Displaced people must find ways of maintaining cultural ties to their places of origin, as well as relating to cultural elements in their new homes to begin to identify with a new heritage. This project engaged with these processes for contemporary migrants and the descendants of past migrants, focusing on Cilicia (modern day Adana and Mersin provinces) in southern Turkey. Cilicia has always been home to a diversity of Muslim and non-Muslim communities, and has experienced ebbs and flows in these communities. 
The team worked with two groups of research participants, to engage with their identification with cultural heritage sites in Cilicia: the Armenian and other Christian communities in Lebanon, as descendants of Christians forced to leave Cilicia in the early 20th century; and Syrian migrants of varying ethnic and religious backgrounds, including Christians, who have recently resettled in Cilicia. The project examined how these two groups perceive the cultural heritage of Cilicia, particularly the Christian and Muslim heritage landmarks of the region to which they can directly relate.

The team aims to bring together the previous and current inhabitants for a series of community-involved heritage preservation and management activities including workshops, trainings in methods of documentation and dissemination of knowledge. These included meetings with non-governmental and publishing organisations and heritage researchers:

  • The project team paid visits to Hrant Dink Foundation, an Istanbul-based NGO that carries out projects on Armenian heritage in Turkey. 

  • Meetings with historian and heritage expert Osman Köker, a collectionner and researcher based in Istanbul who runs Birzamanlar Yayıncılık, a publishing house that publishes titles related to the non-Muslim minority cultures in Turkey.

Project Outputs

  • Collaboration with the Seyhan Municipality Center for Women’s Solidarity. This centre aims to support local and immigrant women through activities providing them with basic needs for economic independence. The centre enabled the team to contact and conduct interviews in Adana and Mersin with members of immigrant communities.

  • A research tour to Kozan, located in Adana province guided by a local historian. This was a key visit due to many high value cultural heritage historic sites located there, including a religious complex, medieval castle, remains of buildings belonging to Armenian families and Islamic structures. Information regarding the modern immigrant community living in the town was also gathered during this visit and it was understood that due to socio-economic and political pressure, the majority of immigrants were forced to leave this small town for a big city (i.e. Mersin or Adana).

  • In a Zoom meeting held in August 2020, project investigators introduced the Historical Memory, Heritage, and Cultural Identification amongst Displaced Communities in Cilicia and the Northern Levant project to a wider community of archaeologists and heritage experts from Turkey and abroad, including the members of Şirince Archaeological Association. Participants discussed possible collaborations related to the project as well as helped in determining details of interview procedures and the nature of the end of project workshop. This meeting motivated several members of the association and other scholars to conduct similar projects in other parts of Turkey, which the association will be supporting if realized.

  • Mersin workshop on Cilician cultural heritage. The city of Mersin has a strong historic importance as a multicultural harbor town, which traditionally housed not only Armenians, Arabs and Greeks, but also European communities involved in international trade. The city has a very big immigrant community to this day. Project team members, members of immigrant communities who were interviewed as a part of the project from Adana, Mersin and Lebanon, together with academics and local enthusiasts attended the workshop. This enabled young members of Syrian and Iraqi (mainly Arab and Kurdish) communities to form direct, physical contact with members of communities whose ancestors (mainly Armenian and Assyrian but also Christian Arab) had to leave Cilicia and the surrounding regions during the past century. The workshop and visits to certain locations of historic importance not only allowed them to learn more about local history and sites of cultural heritage, but it also allowed them to discuss relevant issues with members of other communities and the project team, and it was decided that a long-term platform of communication is to be established through which new collaborative projects can be initiated. Visit following link to watch a short video on the Mersin workshop.

To learn more about this project, visit their website and Facebook page.