October 22, 2006


Muazzez Çığ

I'd like to draw attention to what's going on with a Turkish colleague, Sumerologist Dr. Muazzez İ. Çığ. She is a scholar of Sumerian cuneiform texts, now in her 90s. She has long retired from her position at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Turkish Islamist fundamentalists have taken her and her publisher İsmet Öğütücü to court for what she wrote in a book. She is charged with “inciting hatred and hostility” and “insulting religion." The book in question, Vatandaslik Tepkilerim, is a collection of letters she sent to artists and politicians (e.g., Prime Minister Erdoğan en Foregn Minister Abdullah Gül). News.com.au: "... Cig said the headscarf - a controversial issue in Turkey - was first worn by Sumerian priestesses initiating young people into sex, but without prostituting themselves." This ritual-prostitution link was already broached upon in two of her previous books published in 1995 and 1997. Nobody took offense at the time... Çığ and Öğütücü face a prison sentence between 9 months and 3 years. The court case is scheduled for November 1. It seems to me that this is yet another example of how the Iraq War has further disturbed the fragile but gradually evolving and adjusting balance between tradition and modernity in the Middle East. The fast pace of societal change is disconcerting enough to a lot of people in the West (North America, Japan and Europe), in the Middle East it is however magnified by war, increasing anarchy and mayhem. Just like fundamentalism and conservative radicalism have been on the rise in the West, so they are in the Middle East. Science and scientists are a convenient focal point in this confrontation, as is made clear by, for instance, the attacks on the theory of evolution in the US, and now this case in Turkey. The article in the International Herald Tribune from earlier this year illustrates what a great educator Dr. Çığ is. She does not deserve this kind of treatment by cultural barbarians.

One more thing: when recently the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk received the Nobel Prize for Literature, Dr. Çığ, who has been a staunch, lifelong defender of Kemal Atatürk's legacy, wrote a letter to the Nobel Prize committee expressing her displeasure. Like the great majority of Turks, she resents his writing about the events surrounding the deaths of 100,000s of Armenians in 1915, events that are characterized by many (esp. outside Turkey) as a genocide. Cig: "May be we cannot judge the literary aspect of Orhan Pamuk as well as you do, because a large group of people do not like his books. However, his being highly appreciated, because [sic; "even though"] he wrongly blamed his own country, is the matter that makes us feel sorry. As [Pamuk] said, if there were no freedom of thought, his last novel 'Kar' could have been forbidden, because it was not telling the truths." [Pamuk of course did not say that his book was not telling the truth, this is an accident of translation from the Turkish, I am sure] I believe that nationalism in all its forms has brought and still brings forth almost inevitably many excesses. As a Belgian, I have experienced firsthand the exaggerated antagonism between Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons, craftily exploited by politicians for their own short-sighted gain time and again. Also, as a student of my native country's history, I know what it is like to be at the receiving end of nationalisms: the Low Countries have been at one time or another a possession of the Romans, French, Austrians, Spanish, Germans, Franks, etc. Again and again the big brothers fought their battles on our soil: Waterloo, Bastogne, Ypres, etc. So Dr. Çığ's position on Pamuk is highly ironic in my opinion. Nevertheless it does not invalidate her cause. After all, she is not taking him to court or threatening him. She is entitled to her opinion just like he is. I just happen to think that historical fact is on his side. Anyway, this court case is obviously also another salvo in the ongoing battle in Turkey between Islamist fundamentalism and Atatürk secularism of which she is a well-known champion.

Çığ, Muazzez İlmiye," in Republic of Turkey. Ministry of Culture and Tourism, online, 2005
• S. Arsu, "After 4,000 years, love keeps poem alive," in The International Herald Tribune (France), February 14, 2006
• "Case Against Sumerologist Çığ and Publisher Öğütücü...," in Eyes of the World/Turkey (Turkey), online, n.d. [2006]
• M. Cig , "Nobel Üdülü Jürýsý' ne/To Esteemed Members of Nobel Prize Jury," in Muazzez İlmiye Çığ. Sümerolog - Sumerologist (Turkey), online, October 10 and 12, 2006
• "Academic faces trial over headscarf article," in News.com.au (Australia), online, October 19, 2006
• A. Erkul, "Nieuwe hoofddoekrel zet Turkije in vuur en vlam," in De Morgen (Belgium), October 19, 2006

Selected bibliography of Dr. Çığ
• S.N. Kramer, H. Kızılyay and --, "Selected Sumerian Literary Texts. Final Report of a Fullbright Research Year in Istanbul Museum of Ancient Orient," in Orientalia, 22, 2 (1953)
• -- and H. Kızılyay, Yeni Sumer Cagina Ait Nippur Hukuki ve Idari Belgeleri/Neusumerische Rechts- und Verwaltungsurkunden aus Nippur - I (Turk Tarih Kurumu Yayinlari, 6, 7), Ankara 1965
• -- and S.N. Kramer, "The Ideal Mother: A Sumerian Portrait," in Belleten, 40 (1976), pp. 413-421
• --, H. Kızılyay and S.N. Kramer, İstanbul Sümer Edebî Tablet ve Parçaları 2, Istanbul, 1976
• "Atatürk and the Beginnings of Cuneiform Studies in Turkey," in Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 40, 2 (Autumn 1988), pp. 211-216
Kur'an, İncil ve Tevrat'ın Sümer'deki Kökeni [The Origins of the Koran, the Bible and the Torah in Babylon], Istanbul, 1995
Sümerli Ludingirra. Geçmise Dönük Bilimkurgu [Sumerian Lindingirra. A Retrospective Science Fiction], Istanbul, 1996
İbrahim Peygamber [The Prophet Abraham], Istanbul, 1997
İnanma'nın Aşkı. Sumer'de İnanç ve Kutsal Evlenme [The Love of İnanna], Istanbul, 1998
Dunyanin En Eski Yazilari Istanbul'da : Sumer Tabletleri/The World's Oldest Written Documents in Istanbul: Sumerian Tablets," Eylul, 1998
Hititler ve Hattuşa. İştar'in Kaleminden [The Hittites and Hattusha. Written by Ishtar], Istanbul, 2000
Ortadoğu Uygarlık Mirası [Civilization Heritage in the Middle-East], Istanbul, 2002
Vatandaslik Tepkilerim [My Reactions to Citizenship], 2005

See also the October 31 post IAA appeal for Dr. Çig and the November 5 post Dr. Çig update.


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