SoPHIA interviews the SARAT project, Europa Nostra Award winner 2020 in the category Education, Training and Awareness-Raising

“SARAT” stands for “Safeguarding Archaeological Assets of Turkey”, a project whose goal was to increase knowledge, capacity, and awareness about protecting Turkey´s archaeological assets. SARAT engaged in many different education and research-related activities in line with this goal. It was overseen by the British Institute at Ankara, in partnership with Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations and the International Council of Museums in the UK and funded by the British Council´s Cultural Protection Fund. 

Could you please introduce yourselves and your relation to the SARAT project, and to cultural heritage (CH) in general? 

Dr. Gül Pulhan (GP): As a background, I am a historian turned archaeologist mainly working in Near Eastern archaeology, and since my undergraduate days I have been actively involved in field research and excavations. In that sense, I am a practicing archaeologist. My relationship with CH as a discipline started in 2003, particularly with the war in Iraq, and the destruction of archaeological heritage there, which made me an active participant at issues around CH. Immediately after that, in 2004 I joined Koç University in Istanbul. We started the first master´s academic programme in CH management in Turkey in 2004 and later on an undergraduate, and then a PhD programme added. Koç University was a pioneer, bringing museum studies and CH in Turkey in an academic way. These are my personal and academic involvements with CH. Regarding SARAT, Işılay, myself and Dr. Lutgarde Vandeput, who is the director of the British Institute at Ankara, created the project. There was probably 6 months of thinking and preparation period, in creating and building the project. Once it was accepted and got the grant, I became the coordinator. 

Dr. Işılay Gürsu (IG) I have a PhD in CH management from the IMT School for Advanced Studies in Italy. Before that I studied Tourism Administration at Bogazici University. My background was more on management and administration. Most of my friends ended up in corporate jobs, I wanted something different, but it was difficult to evolve from tourism administration. I now think that it was a good path. Now, I can combine it in real life and talk about myself as a person combining practice with academic research. When I joined the SARAT project, I was already working at the British Institute at Ankara. Basically, we were a small team, so everybody was doing pretty much everything. 

What was the necessity for such a project? are there any specific, poor examples for instance, that forced you develop the SARAT project?

GP: I want to start with the later part of the question. What created the SARAT project was, rather than the bad practices, the gaps that we saw and the gaps that we had noticed in the heritage field in Turkey. It was rather than fixing something wrong, we saw that in some areas nothing had been done, so we thought we could contribute in those areas. And here I want to give a bit of background info. We mainly planned and built the ideas that went into the SARAT project in 2016. And that year, especially the year before, Turkey had suffered a lot from conflict and terror related incidents. Likewise, a lot was happening in the Middle Eastern countries, especially in Iraq and Syria, of course Yemen, Egypt etc., where museum plundering, intentional destruction of heritage sites, conflict related damage, all of it was destroying heritage. So, the situation affected me personally because in those years I was conducting a salvage archaeology project in Batman (South East Turkey). I felt that both museums and archaeological sites were actually very vulnerable to these kinds of threats in Turkey. In Istanbul, in Gaziantep, in Antakya, everywhere in those years, bombs were exploding, and people died. So, this was the background. And the fund that we applied, the Cultural Protection Fund, especially emphasized this conflict-related threat on CH. By asking around in Turkey, talking to various museum directors, to people officially working in the heritage field, we realized that a special preparation or a special emphasis on risk preparedness, disaster management or first aid to for CH, was not available in Turkey. And, as I was following the news in the world, this new field was developing, because after every attack to a museum, or after every archaeological site was exploded or looted, the CH world was cursing, crying and getting angry. But the damage was done and there was no reversing. So as a response to this, certain institutions in the world, like ICCROM, UNESCO or the Smithsonian Institution in the US, started to develop trainings to prepare people directly involved in heritage, for risk preparedness due to conflict related threats and also natural disasters. This is another thing the world is experiencing, earthquakes. Turkey is more familiar with this because this country goes through terrible earthquakes. Some preparations and trainings existed in certain museums, but an overall approach to disaster preparedness for heritage did not. And we thought we could contribute to this area in Turkey. 

Just a small example about the bad practice part, the reason behind the workshops we conducted with journalists to increase the quality of archaeology reporting, or writing more ethically about archaeology and heritage, was the frequent news using various speculative figures on the value of archaeological objects, as if a piece of ceramic cup or a small roman period figurine would make millions of dollars. There was this kind of a misconception constantly repeated and pushed. So, this is one of the reasons that made us think about journalists and tell them from an archaeology and heritage point of view what is wrong and what is hurting. While they were trying to make people aware of certain things, what they were doing was a counterproductive practice. I could cite other examples.

IG: Project funders priorities always shape the projects, right? So, you need to kind of orient your project towards those needs. But what I think was quite lucky about SARAT is that the project was long enough, as it was the grant big, so that we did not only addressed the need coming from the funder, but also all the other questions that we have been accumulating in our minds on how to bring CH to a better place in Turkey. We were able to put all those issues into the application. They all came together very nicely, and supported each other. When we are talking about the SARAT project, in fact we are talking about 4 -5 different components. But all these different parts generated the whole and contributed to the impact of each activity and target and to the overall effect. 

Disaster risk management has become more popular especially after the pandemic. We not only hear about these terrorist attacks, but also the climate change, or the crisis. Now that the project is over, there are trainings that continue, but I realize that there were more than just trainings… 

GP: The 3 years project was completed at the end of March 2020. We were able to deliver, proudly, everything that we promised. Concerning the online course “Safeguarding and Rescuing Archaeological Assets”, it is a 20-episode online certificate programme accredited by Koç University. At the core of it is the disaster risk management approach to CH. At the beginning of the course, we focused on the archaeological heritage in general: the organizations, the threats, why archaeological assets are important for our lives, why do we worry about them so much, why do we need to keep and protect them, conventions, laws, etc. The course became very popular beyond our expectations, that’s why although the project has been completed, ANAMED (Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations) of Koç University, partner of the project, wanted to carry on with it.

IG: The first activity that the SARAT project undertook was a public opinion poll on the perception of archaeology in Turkey. We wanted to understand what contemporary Turkish society thinks about archaeology and archaeological assets. The main reason for this work was to establish a baseline, so that we could build the project activities more meaningfully, but moreover other heritage practitioners in Turkey could use the outcome as a kind of guideline. People easily stated that ‘‘the Turkish public doesn’t value archaeological assets that much’’, and we wanted to see whether this kind of generalizations were really true. So, that was the first part of the activity. The second part was a series of workshops called “Archaeology in Local Contexts’’. These happened in 6 different cities all around Turkey, some pretty unconventional such as Kırklareli or Burdur. But we also went to cities like Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa that are famous for their CH. We wanted to spread the public opinion results, but at the same time to have an understanding about those cities. We learned a lot from meeting people who already had a connection with the heritage sector or could potentially have it. We brought the heritage sector leaders and together we had day-long discussions about the results of the public opinion, different examples from around the world, how to make archaeology and archaeological assets social and economic resources for local communities, and how these can be employed in their own settings. Some parts were interactive. This was the second big activity of the project. 

We were always asked our participants in the workshops to fill out questionnaires, in order to understand the kind of impact of the workshop itself. And we did a very sophisticated evaluation at the end. If we were to create another project, we know better now what the areas would be to look at, because people with whom we were in contact gave us that direction.

GP: Overall, every component of the project was received very positively by the people and we couldn’t have continued otherwise. The related university departments in the cities, associations working in CH, etc., they responded very positively, joined the activities and discussed the issues.

Just to add to our conversation at the beginning. The course targeted professionals in the heritage sector and professionals-to-be, meaning graduate students. And by professionals, I mean people who are one way or another engaged with CH in general, and with archaeological heritage in particular, whether these are people working in the museums, freelance archaeologists, academics, teachers, people working in the conservation councils, municipalities’ heritage departments. During the project time, we run the course 4 times in a period of 8 months. We received 8357 applications. We had a careful selection process and offered places to 5512 people and 3809 people graduated. We also realized that many state organizations such as the General Directorate of Highways, or the General Directorate of Water Works, or İstanbul Water and Sewerage Administration, have heritage related positions. There were engineers and archaeologists. Maybe not high, but a critical number of people from the security forces took the course. We are learning that some of the things we taught in the course are shaping their thinking, how to combat illicit trade, for example. They want to open further communication channels, which is a big success, because normally we couldn’t reach out to these people, but when it is online and out there, they find us. Similar with the judiciary, there are public prosecutors, judges, lawyers, who took the course and wrote their feedback, equally firemen, medics, nurses. Their number is not hundreds, but it is a start and it is adding up. 

I wouldn’t have guessed even people from those departments would be part of it... so interesting.

GP: I think what is even more fascinating when something is out there, and if you promote it then people find it, and if they like it, they recommend it to each other and that’s the best advertisement. In these various assessments, we always asked how they have heard about this course, and in the early days they would say social media, which was our main promotion tool. After the first round, it was always social media and from a friend or a colleague.

Why is it knowledge, education training and awareness raising for the SARAT project and CH in general?

IG: The need and the gaps that we identified in the CH sector were quite in line with the project itself. There were so many people who used to talk about the bad reporting in the media and its negative impact. We never knew any initiative that really did something to tackle this problem. In the field of CH there is a very basic perspective: either you look at the monuments themselves from a conservation point of view, or you turn to people and put them at the center. This has been discussed quite widely in the academic world too. So, we chose from the very beginning that we’d like to look at CH from the people’s perspective. That’s why I think everything that SARAT offered is evolving around this idea: knowledge, capacity-building, awareness raising, education… they all relate to people. When you look at the programmes of SARAT you can immediately see how it is all about people. Of course, heritage itself is very precious, but our way of thinking is how CH can become more beneficial to society, so that it can secure its future. We, of course, care about sustainability of archaeological assets and CH, this is our basic motivation, but how can we succeed? The way we answer this question was this kind of an approach that puts people at its center. 

GP: When we talk about CH in general or archaeological heritage in particular, it is always about safeguarding, protecting, conserving, … We don’t have such a variety of words in Turkish, we say “koruma” for all, whereas in English you can impart subtleties. What kind of “koruma” are we talking about? In that sense, we wanted to think outside the box, and we kind of don’t like this “koruma” approach. We need to feel what is behind this. You will protect something that you know and you like. In order to like something, you need to know it first. I am not talking about academic knowledge, you should have some kind of awareness, some level of knowledge, what it is, how old it is, what its function is. Like Işılay said, in the world of CH, there are people and there is the heritage itself. You can conserve heritage, or you can write about it, research it, you can do all these things around heritage with the heritage itself. There are people engaging with that heritage at different levels. That may be a guard, a professor writing about it, a tourist visiting, a local passing by, a villager… Instead of the rigid protection approach, I think what we are choosing is let’s do other things first and if those things happen, they are going to bring protection function as well. In SARAT, as I said, the safeguarding focus was very prominent because of the nature of the project, but the more we did, the more we realized that we should emphasize this enjoyment idea and develop projects towards it. That enjoyment also requires delivery of information and knowledge to people. It will all make more sense. 

What is the overall impact of SARAT in CH in Turkey? 

GP: I divide that into a couple of headings. First of all, we had an academic impact. Many people found an academic direction through the SARAT project, whether it is related to their research, thesis, teaching, or curriculum. 

Secondly, the educational impact, it became an inspiration for younger people and here our medium is teachers. I am not talking here about university academics, but teachers in elementary or high school. They are not archaeologists nor working with heritage. We know that teachers have a great impact on their students through what they teach. If they learn something new in our course, or from SARAT, they will convey this to their students too, and this is happening. I know at least 2-3 schools who developed model SARAT projects with their students. 

Thirdly, there is an international impact for heritage training, the project is becoming a model. All aspects fed each other. It was very interconnected, and that quality has been noticed by the international heritage community. The Europa Nostra Award also contributed a lot to this visibility. We have been invited to specific conferences, meetings, to talk about the mechanics of the project, mechanics of the online course, how we did and what we did. 

Fourthly and perhaps most importantly is the impact on the people who participated in the course. All those people in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for example, or people working in the municipal agencies, or Culture and Tourism directorates, bodies that in a way control CH in Turkey. We had many people who completed the online course, but at the same time attended some other workshops of SARAT. So how does SARAT impact their practice is something we also want to find out, but that means a further project. That’s what we want to do whenever an opportunity comes. We also thought that in order to understand the impact, we need to wait for some time, at least 2 years, enough time for these people to do something in their museums. For example, I was contacted by a policeman recently and he told me that within the police force, there is a debate going on whether they need a different center that deals with archaeological looting and illicit trade, how that center could function, etc., and he said that what they learned in the course was very inspiring for them. Indeed, we had a very interesting interview in the course with an Italian special police force, working against illicit trafficking. We will be further in touch.

So, you were always in the field, it was not a theory-oriented project.

GP: No, it is real. With the collectors for example. We opened an important dialogue there, a communication channel. We archaeologists are on one side of the story and the collectors are on the other. I am not someone looking at archaeological collection in a positive way, on the contrary, I think whether they wanted or not they are contributing to the damaging of archaeological sites. It was good for me to hear why they think that they are doing something right by collecting antiquities. They also think that they are protecting the heritage in their own way. If you reduce heritage to the object themselves, maybe they have a point. Whereas, when you look at it from a more general archaeological assets point of view, that is not the right thing to do. I had profound discussions, they were very open about their problems, their concerns, and eventually they all want to share their collections with the public, turning their collections either into a museum they would establish, or eventually donating them to an existing museum. Antiquities collecting is diminishing in Turkey, which is positive in a way, because it is complicated bureaucratically. What is on the market is not so easily accessible, and they are afraid of getting caught in an illegal operation. When you talk to the prominent collectors in Istanbul, these are respectable people, they have good positions in the society, and the last thing they want is to mix their names with a police operation. So, I realize that most of them, especially elderly ones, are not buying anything for a long time. 

Good news. Europa Nostra Award in the category of education and awareness raising. But there is one more award…

GP: We won also the European Archaeological Heritage Award as an institution. When the results were announced in 2020 the project was already completed. Awards bring international visibility. 

SoPHIA aims at contributing to the reflection on impact assessment and quality of interventions in European historical environment and cultural heritage by proposing an impact assessment model that takes into account the social, cultural, economic and environmental domains, identifying best practices, and drafting policy briefs with recommendations. In this sense, what is the gap in safeguarding archaeological assets specifically in Turkey? Why and what is the need for high-quality interventions in CH sites (if any), and what challenges and opportunities do you foresee?

GP: One can write a dissertation on this and probably people do. About the SoPHIA project, I must say it is a very ambitious endeavor to put together an impact assessment model. I hope you succeed, and I hope there will be a product that will be useful to projects like ours. The impact assessment analysis was an integral part of the SARAT project from the very beginning. Not just the overall impact of the project, but we also needed to measure every component’s impact. We used various models, questionnaires, sometimes exams we gave in the beginning and at the end to compare the difference in results. In order to assess impact, you need to integrate certain things from the very beginning. We dealt with the idea of impact assessment a lot, but one needs to be realistic, because especially in CH related projects, unless you are doing a physical conservation, you see the impact in the medium-long term. Whereas in the project structure, the fund is limited, staff is limited, everything is limited, so most of the time what we are able to measure is very short-term impact. When we deal with CH, we actually talk about change of mentality. Everyone working in the cultural and natural heritage sector or protection related areas, is after long-term impacts. We believe that certain things are the right/correct ones, and we try to give that truth to the society, and we want them to have a mental transformation. That‘s the bottom of everything, we are after a mentality change and this requires time and doesn’t happen immediately. So, I think in some ways, no matter which model has been implemented for the impact assessment of CH projects, it will be limited to short-term. And I wish there were mechanisms and funding to measure at least the medium-term impact. 

For example, we talked about social and economic benefits that might be generated from CH in the Archaeology in Local Context workshops. Societies do not immediately benefit. Time is needed, and I think the difference we can make is only in small pockets. May be that’s what we should focus on, small changes. Making an overall change and overall impact on the society is difficult and needs economic sustainability. In our case, when the fund ended, the project ended too. Did the ideas of the project or the targets end or disappear? No! they are there, we could have done SARAT for a lifetime with different trainings. In a way, it’s a miracle that the course continues. 

As an idea, I am all for holistic, in that sense SARAT also had a holistic approach to archaeological heritage. We never wanted to differentiate between the UNESCO World Heritage, or moveable and unmovable, tangible and intangible. People love talking with categories, is it an antique site? is it a mound or a tumulus? We limited ourselves with archaeology. What I am trying to say again is that the larger you make your area, the shallower the result will be. Being aware of it is a good thing. 

Regarding the gaps and challenges. The biggest gap in archaeological assets or in CH, I would say that the capable, skilled, and educated people in Turkey are not matching with the posts or jobs that are actually doing the implementation. Heritage in Turkey is mainly controlled by the State. All the critical or non-critical positions, whether decision making or implementation or dealing with a heritage issue at an expert level. Most of these are delivered by civil service positions. The municipalities, local administrations/governments are the second largest employer. The civil sector working in heritage is very limited. Moreover, it is not easy for the cultural and natural heritage to survive in the wild capitalistic economies, against the motivation of profit.

Now that the SoPHIA has 6-8 months to go, we would like to keep in touch and continue updating you with our activities. Thank you very much for your valuable time. 

Of course, knowing better ways, sharing our experiences is very valuable for us too. Thank you for inviting the SARAT project to this platform. 

Thank you!


Further information on the SARAT project: 

[Image: Archaeology in Local Context Workshop in Sanliurfa, by the SARAT project.]

Share this Post