Oppression Concealed Behind Engraved Stones | Think & Talk | Seminar No. 7

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On the occasion of the International Day of Archaeology, OHWB e.V. would like to cordially invite you to attend its Seventh seminar of the “Heritage Seminar Series | Orient in Context”, on Friday October 18th, 2013 as part of its “Think & Talk” scientific events.


The seminar would take place at ENGAGEMENT GLOBAL gGmbH, Pangea-Haus, Trautenaustraße 5., 10717 Berlin, between 18:00-20:00, with a presentation entitled “Oppression Concealed Behind Engraved Stones – A non-nationalistic reinterpretation of archaeological material culture of the Middle East” by Dr Leila Papoli Yazdi with discussions following after a mid-break in the form of a mini-panel with Dr Wouter Henkelman and moderation by fellow archaeologist Sepideh Khaksar.

With its 150 years of existence in the Middle East, ‘archaeology’ has acted more or less as a means of propaganda rather than an academic discipline. Before, every ethnical or religious group had their own mythological local history which was objectified and introduced in general and at national scale by archaeologists. While later on, in between the first and second world wars, during the days where the people of Middle East sensed a deep humiliation as the consequences of militaristic defeats, this new archaeological past was being utilized in order to establish a nationalistic propaganda.

In the whole region, nationalism was first presented by native intellectuals who in turn inspired the political systems and finally was used as the means of promotion for more modern governments in order to unite the diverse ethnical groups. More than the indigenous archaeologists, it was the western archaeology in the form of orientalism which provoked the nationalistic spirits of the Middle Eastern nations. Choosing deliberately the sites such as Persepolis, Ur and Alacahuyuk actually gives an insight into the work of archaeologists now bolding the objective history of the region. On the other hand, the historical material culture of the region was offered as a glorious heritage justifying the modern governments as its progenies and so called ‘rightful’ owners.

Based on such propaganda, Mohammad Reza Shah of Iran depicted himself as the continuant of Cyrus the Great, while Saddam endorsed the Hammurabi and its messages for his own acknowledgment and Jamal Nassir exploited Ramses II and its portrayal of one of the most powerful Egyptian rulers. Hence, such sites were well funded accordingly and such periods strengthened the propaganda and thus encouraged the works and the means of its governments while most other eras and periods were sentenced to oblivion. To this end, the nationalistic reading of the material culture has made the violence and of the many stories behind its historical evidences to be shrewdly concealed. The historical wars, executions, mass graves and suppression were all ignored or being justified as the means to constant the vast historical empires.

Now, but a new generation of indigenous archaeologists ask of themselves if they should continue the old way of data interpretation as it has been for decades or should they renew their thoughts in the way of recalling the severe violence concealed behind these material cultures. As an Iranian archaeologist, Dr Papoli Yazdi believes in an approach of reinterpreting the historical material, in a way far from the mainstream nationalistic one, but rather an interpretation which considers the diversity of ethnic groups, languages and religious minorities rather than of the goals of its modern nations.

Leila Papoli Yazdi, attained her PhD in 2008 from Tehran University. Her research interests are the archaeology of recent past, post colonialism, gender, politics and disaster. She has excavated the disastrous context of Bam, Pakistan and Kuwait. She is now the assistant professor of Neyshabour University in Iran and has various publications in International Journal of Historical Archaeology, Archaeologies, World Archaeology, Social Archaeology and several journals in Iran. She has also published three books in Persian. She currently holds a position as Georg Foster Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the Freie Universität Berlin.