A Survey on Local History of Ottoman Archaeology: Administrators, Archaeologists and Findings in Urfaİsmail Asoğlu
Having many marks of numerous civilizations due to its link with Anatolia and Mesopotamia, Urfa became a popular destination for many art historians and archaeologists in the second half of the 19th century. Western figures such as philologist Edward Sachau, German museologist and art historian Friedrich Sarre, Gertrude Bell, and archaeologist Max von Oppenheim were among the visitors to Urfa in that period. Osman Hamdi also photographed a historical castle and its surroundings during his East tour. However, historical sites and findings were not cared for by administrators. Castle rocks were recurrently sold to support public buildings. Three rock tombs, considered to be belonging to King Abgar, attracted much attention across the world in 1891. But, they were not protected and some of the findings were stolen. Christians’ efforts to possess ancient Gregorius Peristera and surrounding graveyards and Muslims’ restorations on historical Ömeriye Mosque stem mostly from religious perspective. In this study, it is aimed to examine Ottoman administrators’ attitudes towards historical sites and findings and reveal archaeologists’ acts in local Urfa. To do so, the study refers to Ottoman official records kept in the Presidency’s Archive, travel accounts and diaries of archaeologists.
Osmanlı Arkeolojisinin Yerel Tarihi Üzerine Bir Gözlem: Urfa’da İdareciler, Arkeologlar ve Bulgularİsmail Asoğlu
Anadolu ve Mezopotamya ile bağlantısı sayesinde pek çok medeniyetin geride bıraktığı izleri taşıyan Urfa, 19. yüzyılın ikinci yarısında çok sayıda sanat tarihçisi ve arkeoloğun uğrak yeri olmuştur. Filolog Edward Sachau, Alman müzecisi ve sanat tarihçisi Friedrich Sarre, Getrude Bell, arkeolog Max von Oppenheim gibi batılı uzmanlar şehri ziyaret edenler arasındadır. Osman Hamdi Bey de Doğu turu esnasında tarihî kale ve çevresini fotoğraflamıştır. Ancak idareciler nazarında tarihî yapı ve bulgulara pek değer atfedilmemiş, kale taşları kamu yapılarını desteklemek üzere satışa çıkarılmıştır. 1891’de ise dünyanın dikkatini çeken ve Kral Abgar’a ait olduğu düşünülen üç kaya mezarı korunamamış ve buluntuların bir kısmı çalınmıştır. Hristiyanların tarihî Hıdır İlyas Manastırı ve çevresindeki mezarları sahiplenme çabası, Müslümanların tarihî Ömeriye Câmii üzerindeki tadilatları ise tamamen dinî bir bakış açısının eseri olmuştur. Bu çalışmada, Osmanlı idarecilerinin tarihî yapı ve bulgular karşısındaki tutumları ile arkeologların Urfa yerelindeki faaliyetlerinin ortaya çıkarılması hedeflenmiştir. Çalışma sırasında Cumhurbaşkanlığı Devlet Arşivlerinde bulunan resmi kayıtlardan, gezi yazılarından ve arkeolog günlüklerinden istifade edilmiştir.
Urfa was a significant trade and education centre that enabled the exchange of commercial products and ideas between Western and Eastern worlds. The town was one of the main destinations for many famous archaeologists and travellers in their Middle East tours in the 19th century. Helmut Von Moltke, visiting Urfa in 1839, got pretty impressed by the city’s picturesque scenes. Traveller and archaeologist Austen Henry Layard, also British Ambassador between 1877 and 1880, did not miss visiting Urfa while he was on the way back from Jerusalem in 1840. However, for its citizens and rulers, the city wasn’t as important as the foreigners thought. Historical sites and archaeological findings were not respected if no official warning was made. The stones of Historical Urfa Castle were set to the sale many times to be used in public buildings. Despite all warnings by Sublime Porte, incessant destruction of the castle couldn’t be stopped till the Empire fell.
The antiques in the city weren’t discovered during planned archaeological excavations but in construction projects. It was hard to transport those findings to State Museum, namely Muze-i Humayun. When an antique was wound in the late 19th century, it was first photographed and sent to Istanbul for approval. When they were found inconvenient for transportation, authorities used to get them preserved in their original places. For instance, three rock tombs discovered in an Armenian house in 1891 was preserved in their site. However, the site was ruined, and some of the findings were stolen. One of these tombs, sponsored by the municipality, was thought to be belonging to King Abgar who lived in Jesus’ time. At the head of King’s tomb, there was a Jesus figure illustrated with mosaic. That discovery was published in an Armenian newspaper called Aravelek in Istanbul. They reported that this discovery attracted much attention across the World.
First researches on the city were conducted by philologists, art historians and archaeologists after 1880. Osman Hamdi, the curator of the State Museum, visited Urfa during his tour to Baghdad. In Urfa, he telegrammed to his father on 13th July 1869, requesting him to post his books and notes. He visited Urfa during his second East tour, too. In 1883, he informed Sublime Porte about his discovery on Mount Nimrud, which attracted much press attention. Osman Hamdi went to Urfa after meeting two German researchers Carl Humman and Otto Puchstein. In late June, he re-visited Urfa and reported how warm he was welcomed. He admired city walls, photographed the castle and its surroundings, and walked in bazaars. In the early 1880s, the philologist Edward Sachau visited Balikligol (Pool of Abraham) and surrounding epitaphs. One of the early findings was an Acheuleen type hand axe discovered by archaeologist Joseph Étienne Gautier in 1884.
After the Baghdad Railway was built in the early 20th century, the region became more significant with its geography and topography. Hence, the number of German researchers increased. Friedrich Delitzsch, a member of Berlin University and the curator of museums, was interested in Urfa in 1902. German art historian Friedrich Sarre (1865-1945) and archaeologist, art historian, and Christian and Byzantine arts expert Ernst Herzfeld carried out researches in the region. They published all their studies in a book titled Archaeologische Reise im Euphrat und Tigrisgebiet, Berlin 1911-1920 before World War I. Thomas Edward Lawrence also researched Urfa and its surroundings. Gertrude Bell carried out some archaeological and prehistoric research in his Middle East tours. For her, Urfa and its surroundings were quite remarkable. Coming to Urfa on 17th May 1911, Bell began wandering around the city to see Balikligol. She met the Mufti after visiting Ulu and Hasan Pasha Mosques and photographed the Castle. She described the mosque and cypresses at Balikligol as the most beautiful places in Turkey. Max von Oppenheim was another notable German traveller who visited Urfa many times. During his research tour in 1911, provincial administrations of the region were asked to respect him and allow him to take photos. However, local administrators were annoyed at Western researchers. The Aleppo governor Huseyin Kazim was worried about their activities in the region as he thought that their real aim was completely political. Yet, German researchers continued their activities in the region till World War I. In 1913, Rudolf Berliner, a German archaeologist, and Dr Emil Gratzl, the chief librarian of Munich Library and orient expert, were both interested in Urfa.
There were many holy historical structures for Muslims and Christians in Urfa. Having numerous relics from Roman, Byzantine, and Arabic civilizations, Urfa had a very significant place in the history of sanctuaries. In the late 19th century, historical structures gained more importance for Muslim and Christian settlers. Sanctuaries contributed to maintaining faith and religious activities. They were sometimes underestimated, but ancient artefacts and the culture they belonged were significant to understanding their value in determining the city’s various identities. Thereby, Muslims protected and restored historical structures. This was part of the provincial practices of Abdulhamid II’s policies. For instance, the need to restore Omeru’l-Faruk mosque in Kazgancı neighbourhood was completely related to articulating Islamic heritage in the city. Moreover, sectarian conflicts between Armenians and Assyrians drew attention, too. Particularly, claims on Gregorius Peristera monastery and surrounding graveyards turned into a lawsuit to be heard by the Kadi. Owning the historical sanctuaries meant demonstrating the culture, belonging, identity and a long-time existence. The main purpose of both Armenians and Assyrians was to officially prove their claims on the monastery and graveyards at Ottoman courts. This would also confirm the sect’s longtime existence in the town. Indeed, for Muslims and Christians, this process stemmed mainly from changes in the Empire, caused by Nationalism.