The British Museum is misinforming visitors about the artefacts displayed in Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery No. 54, claiming they originated from “Ancient Turkey”. Our complaint is with regard to the artefacts of the Armenian cultural heritage, and in particular from the period of the Kingdom of Urartu, which are of great cultural value to Armenians and their history. The museum prescribes the artefacts dating back to the 9th to 6th century BC to “Ancient Turkey”, while copper and bronze age to “Pre-Historic Turkey”. Even the burnished wine jugs excavated from Karmir Blur, present day Republic of Armenia, are displayed in this gallery under the title “Ancient Turkey”. Since Turkey as a country, or its people – for that matter, did not exist prior to the 15th century AD, when writing or speaking about ancient times, the terminology “Ancient Turkey” is incorrect and irrelevant.
The Middle East keeper of the British Museum, Mr Jonathan Tubb, accepts the nonsensical character of the term, but justifies its use by pointing out that their aim is “to make the Museum’s signage as simple and accessible as possible and avoid terms that would not be immediately apparent to non-English speakers; as many of our visitors come here from abroad.” He then adds, “When borders or country titles change we will change accordingly.” First of all, this explanation is groundless and not objective, since Room 55 is entitled Mesopotamia and Room 57-59 – Ancient Levant. If the statement were true then the above mentioned rooms should have been called Ancient Iraq and Ancient Syria respectively. Secondly, such a statement is a direct offense to both the visitors, who are perceived as ignorant, as well as to the bearers of cultural heritage that is on display at the museum. As an educational institution the role of the British Museum is to educate their visitors about the true origin of art and culture and their creators. By falsifying the history and misleading the visitors, the British Museum is losing credibility as an institution that conserves exhibits of historical importance. This is an unacceptable distortion and revisionism of history. Therefore, we demand that the truth and justice be restored!
“It is a coinage that will please Turkish individuals and organisations of extremist or ultranationalist sympathies, who periodically launch murder raids on non-Turkish individuals and communities.”
Christopher J. Walker
Author, Armenia: the survival of a nation
Visions of Ararat: Writings about Armenia
Islam and the West
“Why is truth important? Few things could be more damaging to cultural memory and our understanding of historical change than the policy of describing all places and regions in terms of their present political constitution: “When borders or country titles change we will change accordingly.” Does the BM really say that Roman London was located in England? What matters is the political and cultural constitution of place and region at the time whence the displayed artefacts are derived. It is precisely when borders and country’s titles change that history is needed to bear witness to how things were: to show us at least the rudiments of the past. Anachronism is the very ignorance of history. Yet the BM seems to be making a principle of anachronism.”
Professor of English Literature
University of Copenhagen, Department of English, German and Roman Studies