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British archaeology falls prey to Turkey's nationalist drive

The decision to seize seed collections from the British Institute at Ankara are linked to the Turkish president's wider Islamo-nationalist campaign.
Turkish peasant women sow poppy seeds for opium in Turkey, 10/16/1974.(Photo by Express/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Turkish authorities have seized possession of the country’s oldest and richest archaeobotanical and modern seed collections from the British Institute at Ankara, one of the most highly regarded foreign research institutes in Turkey, particularly in the field of archaeology. The move has sounded alarm bells among the foreign research community and is seen as part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s wider xenophobia-tinged campaign to inject Islamic nationalism into all aspects of Turkish life.

In a confidential letter dated Sept. 17 that was addressed to the institute’s members, Chairman Stephen Mitchell described how on Sept. 3 the Ministry of Culture and Tourism had served notice that the collections belonged to the Turkish state and “would be removed the same day.”

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