Abstract

Heritage politics in Turkey came under global scrutiny in July 2020 following the conversion of the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul back into a mosque, and then again in October 2020 after the confiscation of ancient and modern seed collections residing at the British Institute in Ankara. In the accounts of several Turkish and international critics, these two events were presented as kindred, reactionary maneuvers aimed at galvanizing nationalist fervor, and Turkish claims on biological and cultural property were pitted against universalist ideals of conservation. Drawing on long-term ethnographic and archival research on the Turkish conservation bureaucracy, this article analyzes the role of plants and antiquities in Turkish metanarratives of loss, sovereignty, and modernization, and it offers an anthropological account of everyday conservation work in Turkey that challenges the purported divide between universalist science and nationalist politics that very much mimics the contours of a civilizational split.

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