The Containment as Catastrophe
// the project website: > "the containment contained" //


The civil war between the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) and the Turkish armed forces in Southeast Turkey has been one of the most crucial trials for the structural integrity of the centralized Turkish nation state. To silence the PKK, the armed forces opposed the guerrilla threat to its full extent. To secure the region, the State established temporary partnerships between feudal and religious groups, non-cooperating villages were evacuated and burned, and scores of people were forced into exile. And to “eliminate distractive voices,” politicians and writers have been imprisoned. Consequently, the brutal military engagement generated more support for the PKK among local population, and in return, the military used more force; the conflict claimed more than thirty thousand deaths (mostly Kurds) over its twenty-year history.

Through militarization, the region itself was transformed into a containment zone. For us, the principal sign of containment appears as “the checkpoint,” where the flows (of bodies / language / expressions in general) are controlled and made possible within the defined territory. Militarization acts within the closed system of exchange, among elements of a contained zone. If the violence rages within, it is opposed by armed force to all extent. Language is constrained to hold back the possibility of expression, while regional trade is left free to flow to maintain equilibrium. The nature of the containment becomes that of a curfew, a self-imposed martial law of the civilian rule; the routes of trade facilitate the existence of checkpoints.

Although the Southeast of Turkey, the region bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran, long had the distinction of being a “high alert zone,” extreme militarization and containment of the area through checkpoints apparently eased in recent years, while across the border the occupation of Iraq (and also, of Palestine) is going on full force. In this instance, as of today, the militarization and privatization of Iraq’s resources is confronted with increasing resistance. Perhaps the irony of this is the fact that the US totally misinterpreted the historical-social conditions in Iraq. Hence, we register this failure as a paradoxical triumph for people who strongly argue against the war.


The archaeological strata of the political-circumstantial evidence tend to fuse into one another as one travels eastwards. The unrecorded histories of this fusion and cycles of sedimentation (ie. oppression/resistance) require the methods of field archaeology, the in-situ observation and excavation. Thus, instead of the structural differences of art production as in between the Orient and the Occident (or, center and periphery), we concentrate on the observable side of archaeological layering: How layers fuse into each other, and the possibilities of a kind of observation that includes the members of xurban collective, whether living in the East or the West.

The project we realized for the 8th Istanbul Biennial in 2003, titled “The Containment Contained” provides clues to our future field of interest, as well as key issues to understand the current situation in parts of the Middle East. For this, we have exhibited an extensive record of a journey we made to Southeastern Anatolia, all the way to Iraqi border. The recording (photographs) was accompanied by a fuel tank that we brought over from the border, a representative among thousands sprawled around the area. They were once used for the clandestine but halfway legal purpose of transferring diesel fuel from northern Iraq to Turkey. Being a container of a prized substance, it sparked for us a number of associations on the nature of “containment”, that is, of territory, of bodies and populations, and of modes of ordinary existence.


The “archaeology” we allude to in our working methods is designed to use instances of the past to map an alternative history of a given situation. Treating the fuel tank as an archaeological object evoked the vessels of all kinds that traveled back and forth in this region for millennia. But what the mute objects of archaeology do not make manifest has to be filled in, attributed. In most instances, a version of history is projected unto the object and on the conditions of its "unearthing" via the deliberate use of methods and intentions. Thus, we consider the methods we employ as rhetorical devices used for the purposes of subversion, rather than restitution. Archaeology makes possible the alteration of the official history. As an example, any student of Ottoman history (and by the same token of all empires) is well aware that it was a time of periodic insurgency and counterinsurgency, of containment. In this sense, the legends of the revolt are sung for the heroic/romantic seekers of justice up on the mountain (so dear to Anatolian folklore) as well as for entire folks, and nations as the rebellious subjects of the Empire. With archaeological references, we try to dig into the probabilities other than the militarization and containment of territories.