All the images are found on Turkish treasure hunting forums
It is no secret that Armenia used to encompass a territory much larger than its modern Republic. Most of Armenian historic territory lies in today’s Turkey – the soil of which is drenched with antique history and no deficit of undiscovered archaeological sights. Especially the eastern parts of modern day Turkey used to be inhabited by the Armenian people from times immemorial up until the beginning of the 20th century. Due to the Genocide and mass deportations of the Armenian population at the end of the Ottoman period, the Armenians abruptly vanished from their historic lands leaving their valuables and ancient cultural monuments to the mercy of the new occupants. Making use of these circumstances, many Turkish fortune-seekers have embarked on a quest for Armenian treasures. Equipped with everything from metal detectors to dowsing rods and encouraged by stories from village elders about the “immense” Armenian wealth hidden in secret places, these treasure hunters have since been searching high and low for the last valuables left by Armenian families during the Genocide and other more antiquated periods.
Numerous persistent myth about the riches of the Armenians are circulating among Turkish treasure hunters, making the search for Armenian treasures particularly attractive. Armenians are believed to have been hiding their valuables in great quantities in specifically “skillful” fashion. Countless Turkish forums and blogs are dedicated to explaining the “meaning” behind various signs and clues Armenians supposedly left to the whereabouts of their hidden treasures. It’s not uncommon to read such phrases as : “Armenians are really one of the nations with the world’s best hiding methods.” (source) In great detail Armenian alphabet is explained, the way Armenians build their houses, where they hid their treasures, the meaning of various religious symbols, the size and depth of Armenian graves and so on. Whether a grave is a single grave or a family tomb is said be distinguished from various markings carved on the tombstone. For example one site explains:
“The average depth of Armenian graves amounts to 2.5 and 3 meters… In case one arm of the cross is different from the rest, the research should be done in the direction of the unequal arm. It could be a noble family tomb.” (source)
Signs like animal symbols, floral patters, crosses, carved geometrical shapes and objects such as an axe, a knife, a cane, a water pitcher, and so on are explained in great detail. The base of the cane for example is said to point to the direction of the hidden items and treasure hunters should pay attention to the length and the curvature of the cane’s grip which also reveals certain information about the whereabouts of the treasure. The water pitcher figure is said to be usually drawn on stone near a water or a pond edge, suppose to mean there is money around the water’s edge (source). Horseshoe signs are also said to be often used by Armenian people:
“Armenians almost certainly bury treasure right next to the sign. Treasure should be located in a narrow cave entrance in the immediate vicinity of the horse-shoe sign. It’s probably hidden in a cave. The horse shoe is usually shown with 6 or 12 spikes. Wherein each of the nail indicates the amount of treasure. For example, 6-studded horseshoe refers to 60 kg of treasure. The depth of the buried treasure reaches about 80 cm and there will be gold coins.” (source)
Decorative flower leaves are yet another “clue” of hidden Armenian treasures. If a flower misses a petal, it’s being advised to follow the direction of the missing petal and start digging! (source)
Hypothetical plans for hidden tunnels and storage spaces are circulating countless treasure hunting forums. People are sharing photographs of old Armenian houses with “strange” markings claiming them to represent directions to treasures and asking other hunters for assistance (source) Using gloves is being highly recommended as some elderly people are said to have died from Armenian curses that lie upon these treasures. (source)
A few authors however discourage gravediggers, by warning that Armenians as Apostolic Christians are not buried with treasure, it’s not a part of their religion, and ask to respect the graves.
“What is the cross we ask? The cross we see as treasure mark, but it is all a lie! We should forget about what we have heard. It’s just a religious symbol of Christianity, it is not a treasure mark. Graves are just bones … Ignore Armenian gravestones” (source).
Whether or not some of these myths and suppositions have some value in reality or mainly rooted in prejudice and ignorance is of lesser concern. Today Turkey has a serious illegal treasure hunting epidemic on their hands. Contributing to the problem is the lack of government actions and preservation of archaeological sights. Hürriyet Daily News reported back in 2009: “Speaking at a conference in Antalya… writer Özgen Acar said there are more than 100,000 treasure hunters in Turkey. During their illegal excavations, they destroy historic remains not yet known even to archaeologists. Those who are caught conducting illegal excavations usually get fines instead of a jail term. If the punishments were a deterrent, we would not have so many treasure hunters in this country.” Turkish media outlets are filled with headlines such as these:
- “Mosaics destroyed by treasure hunters in Central Anatolia“
- “Treasure hunters destroy tomb“
- “Historical Valley seeks protection“
- ‘Treasure hunters’ dig tunnel to ancient tombs in Central Anatolia“
- “Raiders plundering Byzantine treasures“
- “Ancient city in Mersin needs protection“
- “Works start to find missing pieces in area of illegal excavation“
In recent years, countless reports have surfaced on desecrated Armenian cemeteries and ancient churches in Turkey, collapsed houses because of digging and contraband treasures (like ancient Armenian coins) sold at illegal black-market auctions (source). Back in 2010 professor Ayse Gunaysu wrote a touching article called: Akhtamar: A Lost Paradise. It was a piece well worth reading. Like many articles about the Genocide it was bittersweet, both heart warming and heavyhearted at the same time. In one part Ayse relates an encounter where a “Turkish gentlemen” wanted to hear the story of an older Armenian lady visiting Van. The man presented himself as an academic and seemed genuinely interested in the story of the lady’s grandmother and the village she was from around Van. It was emotional for the lady to relate the story. At the very end, the man asked if the lady knew if her family had buried any gold and offered to help find it and they would split the bounty.
Another unsettling report recounts how Turkish treasure hunters desecrated Armenian cemetery and dumped skeletons at the graveyard (source). The hunters dug the graves at the depth of 15 meters. 65 year-old Aksun, who arrived from Istanbul to visit his relatives’ graves, discovered a desecrated cemetery and dumped skeletons around the graves.
“We left Erzincan in 1967. My mother and my elder brother are buried here. I am shocked by this scene. There is no respect even for the deceased,”
– Aksun said.
An equally bizarre situation was reported from Istanbul (source):
In an attempt to find the “treasures” of an Armenian woman who runs a jewelry store at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, four people have dug a 20-meter hole underneath a 4-storey residential building at the city’s Fatih district. … Attorney of the building’s residents informed that years ago an Armenian woman had lived in the building, and she had told her neighbors that she had buried a fortune underneath the building. “And this turned into a calamity for the residents. They [the treasure hunters] have dug a hole, but have not considered that there are 8 apartments above and the residents’ lives are put at risk. The residents live in their homes in fear. They had dug such deep hole, yet no noise was heard; they were definitely professionals, – the attorney noted.”
Unfortunately such instances are not limited to a few misinformed fortune seekers. Turkish government officials have been found guilty of the same practices. In November 2013, a small village in the Western province of Bursa has become the center of a modern tale of treasure hunt as officials searched for gold and other personal belongings of Armenian families who have suffered the consequences of the Armenian Genocide. Officials have formed a commission headed by an archaeologist to perform the excavations at the Keramet village under one of the hamlet’s houses where the valuable items of the Armenian families are believed to be buried.
“According to the recounting of the village’s elders, many Armenian families settled at the Keramet village. They have all migrated except for one after the war of independence. The family that remained apparently said that those Armenians who had escaped hid their gold and other belongings under our house,” said the owner of the house, Efkan Arı. This rumor circulated for years. So when the muhtar [village administrator] became concerned that the abandoned house could collapse at any moment and ordered its destruction, we wanted to gain permission and have the excavation begun,” (source)
The article appeared in the Turkish media tells that the Armenians have “migrated” and it’s “unknown” if they managed to complete their hazardous journey unharmed. I guess the required mental gymnastics of Olympic proportions did not deter the authors from brushing away an obvious case of ethnic cleansing. An entire village of Armenian residents buried their treasures under one house and “migrated” like a flock of turtle doves at the dawn of winter, must have been the more “obvious” explanation for them.
With so many reports of desecrated Armenian heritage sights and forums filled with images, conversations, myths and technical details on how, where and when to dig for Armenian treasures, it has become impossible to keep up with all the developments. Reports such as these are becoming painstakingly familiar:
- “Treasure hunters in Turkey again desecrate Armenian graves“
- “Treasure seekers keep on destroying Armenian churches in Turkey“
- “Turkish treasure hunters ravage Armenian graves“
The Turkish government’s disregard for cultural heritage of humanity is worrisome to say the least. Aside from all the superstition, prejudice and plain ignorance, there is a lot of damage being done to cultural landmarks and world heritage. Not to mention the desecration of ancient churches and graves. A few years back, the government actually initiated a construction of a 20 km long road right through an old Armenian cemetery, resulting in local outrage as bones from skeletal remains were scattered across the area. The officials then ordered the local villagers to collect the bones in trash bags and bury at the nearby Armenian church. Human rights groups have criticized the actions, with no actual results. (source) (video) (video)
Looking at the state of things from a cultural and humane perspectives, the current situation in Turkey is quite grim. With the government doing little to deter these activities, treasure hunting in Turkey is as big as ever and myths of hidden Armenian treasures continue to stir the imaginations of Turkish fortune seekers.