Accepted paper:

Tracking Treasure in the Post-Genocide Landscape: Traces of the Dead and Gold in Turkish Kurdistan


Onder Celik (Johns Hopkins University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores material remains, landscape, and historical consciousness in the region of Van, in Turkish Kurdistan. It examines popular practices and beliefs regarding the search for treasure (principally gold) that were supposedly buried by victims of the Armenian genocide.

Paper long abstract:

In recent decades, treasure hunting has emerged as an important means for the pursuit of wealth in Turkish Kurdistan, where the formal economic sector has been devastated since the 1980s by neoliberal economic reforms, and the war between the PKK and the Turkish army. Reduced possibilities of making a living have led thousands of people to search for treasures—principally, gold—that are believed to be buried by the victims of the Armenian genocide. The searches for treasure take place in the ruinous landscape of the post-genocide. In these searches, Kurdish treasure hunters mobilize diverse regimes of knowledge ranging from the interpretation of auspicious images inscribed on rocks and maps, to magic, and such technologies as metal detectors and dowsing rods. They also have recourse to occult practices such as breaking spells and negotiating with jinns. Treasure hunters thus produce competing knowledge through material landscape by their skills in locating and tracking hidden "treasures," and in communicating with local human and non-human forces. The found objects (such as copper coins or household objects) in these searches are sings from another time that the hunters interpret as "good-news" (mizgînî) that lead to the desire object—gold. Based on 15-months long fieldwork, this paper explores how the landscape and treasure related objects (maps, dowsing rods, gold etc.) are put in dialogue with magic and technical knowledge, and how these traces/remains amidst the ruins engender new potentials for "good life" and produce new understandings of a denied past in precarious times.

panel P142
Knowing Historical Traces, Eliciting Possible Futures