Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

In Restoration, a Violent History Unearthed ; Remains in Citadel Raise Questions about Turkey's Ambitious Museum Plan

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

In Restoration, a Violent History Unearthed ; Remains in Citadel Raise Questions about Turkey's Ambitious Museum Plan

Article excerpt

A historic citadel is being made into an ambitious museum, but human remains found there have turned the project into a contested rather than galvanizing event.

Crouched on the back of a fleeing bull, a mighty lion digs his claws into the flanks of its prey, sinking his teeth into its neck for the kill. The limestone bas-relief, set into the basalt gateway arch of the Diyarbakir citadel, carries a message as clear today as it was 800 years ago, when the Artuqids, a Mesopotamian dynasty that then ruled the region, carved it into the fortress gate.

And until recently, the warning remained real. "When someone was taken in there, we knew he would not return -- not as a human being anyway," Nevzat Ozgen, a Diyarbakir resident, said in an interview this month, about the walled citadel at the heart of this ancient city in southeastern Anatolia.

A staging post for the Turkish Army's long-running fight against Kurdish rebels, Diyarbakir served as capital of the emergency rule region in Turkey's southeastern provinces throughout the 1990s and until the state of emergency was lifted in 2002.

The citadel in those years housed police and military headquarters, prosecutors, courts and a notorious prison, complete with torture chambers.

"When I first walked in here after the citadel was vacated in 2005, I was so horrified I backed out again," Zafer Han, an art historian with the Diyarbakir Museum, said during a tour of the site this month. "The cramped cells, the scribbles of the prisoners on the walls -- it was as if I could hear the screams of humans still echoing in there."

Now, sunlight streams through the prison building, revealing the Artuqid masonry exposed when the prison cells were demolished as part of an ongoing refurbishment project -- conceived to draw tourism and jobs to the region during a hopeful period when fighting eased in the early part of this century.

In an adjoining building is the former headquarters of the Gendarmerie Intelligence and Anti-terror Organization, Jitem, a paramilitary intelligence service suspected in thousands of 1990s political murders. The partitions between offices have been torn out to reveal the mangers of cavalry horses stabled here in Ottoman times.

Restoration of nearby Ottoman-era courthouses and an Ottoman armory is nearly complete, while a 4th-century Byzantine church in the citadel, last used as a weapons depot by the Turkish Army, has already been expertly restored and readied as an exhibition space.

On completion, planned for the end of this year, the restored citadel will open to the public as one of the most ambitious archaeological museums in this part of the world.

"It is a conservator's dream, a chance to showcase to the world the rich history of an 8,000-year-old living city," Nevin Soyukaya, an archaeologist and the director of the Diyarbakir Museum, said in an interview this month.

Founded in neolithic times, as a tumulus overlooking the citadel attests, and known in antiquity as Amida, Diyarbakir is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world.

Ruled at times by great empires like the Assyrians and the Byzantines, at other times by local dynasties, it stood at a crossroads of civilizations, linking Mesopotamia with the empires to the east and the north. Coveted, fought over and repeatedly changing hands, "Diyarbakir has always been able to blend the various cultures in its melting pot to create a culture all its own," Ms. Soyukaya said.

Her museum's storerooms are overflowing with priceless artifacts unearthed in archaeological digs around the region, she said. …

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