Do 13 Jun 2024 | 17:00–18:30

Relics of the Past in Conflict. Violence, War, and Monument Preservation in the Ottoman Realm

Book talk by Sebastian Willert (Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture – Simon Dubnow), Chair: Banu Karaca (BEYONDREST/ Forum Transregionale Studien)

Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstr. 14, 14193 Berlin

When the Mshatta façade was dismantled to be shipped to Berlin, the German archaeologist Otto Puchstein traveled through Ottoman Syria. In a letter, he described the enforcement of Ottoman rule and its impact on ancient sites. Consequently, Puchstein requested that his “fatherland […] purchases the most valuable ruins so that they can be protected from further destruction as German property.”* While the appropriation of relics of the past became an allegory for cultural superiority, disputes over the protection of cultural heritage created a distinct German-Ottoman rivalry.


Nevertheless, the outbreak of the Balkan Wars and the First World War led to national and joint efforts to preserve monuments, as the armed conflict also endangered excavation guards, excavators, and archaeological sites. In 1916, the Ottoman governor of Syria, Ahmed Cemal, established the IV Ottoman Army’s 19th Bureau. An institution later known as “German-Turkish Command for the Monument Protection,” led by the German museum director Theodor Wiegand. The unit documented (selected) antiquities and ancient sites and initiated the preservation of endangered material heritage.
The book talk delves into the overlapping or rivaling aims and agendas of German and Ottoman archaeology, military, politics, and diplomacy. It discusses the relationship between the preservation of cultural heritage, the definition of cultural property, missions to safeguard cultural assets under the name of monument protection, and political and military violence that engulfed the Ottoman realm at the beginning of the 20th century. It aims to provide insights into the intricate dynamics that shaped the preservation of cultural heritage during a period of conflicts.

* BArch, R 901/37702, fol. 66v., Otto Puchstein to Richard Schöne, Freiburg i. Br., January 11, 1903.

Sebastian Willert received his Ph.D. from the Technical University Berlin in February 2022. Between 2017 and 2020, he participated in the Ph.D. program “Ancient Object(s) and Visual Studies” (AOViS) at the Berlin Graduate School of Ancient Studies (BerGSAS) and was a Predoctoral-Fellow in the Research Cluster “Translocations. Historical Enquiries into the Displacement of Cultural Assets.” Sebastian was affiliated with Boğaziçi University’s Department of History in Istanbul and was a Ph.D.-Fellow at the Orient-Institut Istanbul. In 2022, he was a Fellow of the Leibniz Research Alliance “Value of the Past” at the Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam. Since the Fall of 2022, he has been teaching “Ancient Art in Berlin: Discovering the Collections of Museum Island” at NYU Berlin, focusing on the provenance and translocation histories of archaeological objects to Berlin’s museum collections. He is a Research Associate at Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture – Simon Dubnow in Leipzig.
His book Kulturbesitz. Konflikte um archäologische Objekte in der deutsch-osmanischen Politik 1898-1918 was published by Wallstein Verlag in May. You can find a link to the Open-Access version here.

Banu Karaca works at the intersection of political anthropology and critical theory, art, aesthetics, and cultural policy, museum and feminist memory studies.She is the author of The National Frame: Art and State Violence in Turkey and Germany (Fordham University Press, 2021), and co-editor of Women Mobilizing Memory (Columbia University Press, 2019). She has published on freedom of expression in the arts, the visualization of gendered memories of war and political violence, visual literacy, and restitution. At the Forum Transregionale Studien, she directs the research group "Beyond Restitution: Heritage, (Dis)Possession and the Politics of Knowledge (BEYONDREST)” supported by a Consolidator Grant of the European Research Council.

The event will take place in a hybrid format on site at the Forum Transregionale Studien and via Zoom. We kindly ask for registration via beyondrest(at)

The event is part of the BEYONDREST Conversation Series “Restitution and its Vantage Points: Beyond the Preservation Paradigm.” Beyond Restitution: Heritage, (Dis)Possession and the Politics of Knowledge (BEYONDREST) is an ERC-funded, five-year research project at the Forum Transregionale Studien (Project No. 101045661). More information on the project and the conversation series can he found here.

Views and opinions expressed are however those of the speaker(s) and author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Council Executive Agency. Neither the European Union, nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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