This paper examines the legal regulation of treasure hunting practices in Turkish Kurdistan. In recent decades, treasure hunting has emerged as an important means for the pursuit of wealth among impoverished Kurdish men. Reduced possibilities of making a living have led thousands of people to search for treasures believed to be buried by the victims of the Armenian genocide, in abandoned Armenian graveyards, among the ruins of old monasteries, in the backyards of old Armenian houses, and remote rural caves. The realm of treasure hunts, however, is a highly regulated and policed one in Turkey. This paper looks at treasure hunting permits and lawsuits of unauthorized treasure searches with two guiding legal concepts, namely res nullius (nobody’s thing) and time immemorial. It explores the seeming paradox of the denial of the genocide by the Turkish state on the one hand and the regulation of its material remnants on the other.
Önder Çelik received his PhD in Anthropology from Johns Hopkins University with a dissertation entitled “Life Underground: Hunting for Armenian Treasure in the Post-Genocide Landscape.” His work explores the material and temporal dimensions constituted by the practices of dispossessed young Kurdish men searching for valuable objects believed to be buried by the victims of the Armenian genocide. He is currently a EUME Fellow funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
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