A large collection of seeds held by the British Institute at Ankara have been seized by Turkish authorities, according to reports.
|Credit: European Association of Archaeologists
Specimens of ancient and modern seeds were taken by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which claimed the collections “belonged to Turkey,” The Times newspaper reported.
The seizure was revealed by the institute’s Chairman Stephen Mitchell in a letter to board members leaked to Middle Eastern news website Al-Monitor.
The seeds were donated to the institute by Gordon Hillman, a well-known and pioneering UK archaeobotanist who passed away in 2018.
Mitchell said Turkish officials took “108 boxes of archaeobotanical specimens and four cupboards comprising the modern seed reference collections” to the headquarters of government-run museums in Ankara, and requests for more time to minimize damage were refused.
The collection was the work of Hillman, who worked for the UCL Institute of Archaeology, and comprises seeds and botanical specimens from ancient sites from across the region that date back thousands of years.
There are also modern specimens in the collection, which is used by experts as a reference tool.
The Turkish authorities have “removed this research resource from the wider Turkish and international community of researchers. It was a nice, small research facility, open to anyone who wanted to use it. Now it’s all gone,” said Dorian Fuller, an archaeobotanist at the UCL Institute of Archaeology.
It is not the first time the Turkish government has been criticized for over-zealous action with regard to the country’s cultural and historical sites.
Earlier this year, the former Byzantine cathedral Hagia Sophia was reopened as a mosque after many years functioning as a museum.
Analysts say the seed seizure is another example of the “hyper-nationalist atmosphere” prevalent under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“For over a decade now Turkish nationalists have been mulling over a ‘seed conspiracy’ — based on the idea that ‘Israeli seeds’ are pushed upon Turkish farmers in order for them to produce tomatoes, onions or eggplants of a lesser quality, with no smell or taste but bright colours,”Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Times.
“The theory has now expanded to cover a vast western conspiracy to deprive Turkey of seeds — and is now apparently shared by Erdogan, who has reinvented himself as a super-nationalist. This has more to do with the hyper-nationalist atmosphere in Turkey today than anything else.”