Turkey’s ‘Gallipoli collector’ eager to open museum
ISTANBUL – Anadolu AgencyTurkey’s only official Çannakkale collector, Seyit Ahmet Sılay, has dedicated his life to collecting objects from the Battle of Çanakkale. Now, he wants to open a private museum dedicated to artifacts from the war, lamenting how many private museums featuring objects from the battle are fake.
“I want these objects to be open to the public,” said Sılay, who found his first artifact, a bullet, on the Anafartalar plain on the Gallipoli Peninsula (Gelibolu) in 1995. “We want to build a museum. Companies want to become a sponsor for the museum. Since I am an official collector, companies are free of tax. But first the state should give us permission and show a place. If not, it can take my collection free of charge. We need a Museum of the Battle of Çanakkale.”
The Ottoman Turks finally won the battle against the Allies on March 18, 1915.
Sılay said they wanted to build the museum on an area of 2,500 square meters and open a library on the upper floor of the museum.
With more than 5,000 objects, Sılay has gained the title of “Turkey’s only Çanakkale collector” despite – in his own words – “not being a historian.”
Villagers forced to sell artifacts
Sılay said families from the Balkans moved to the villages which were evacuated during the battle. After the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the region of these seven-eight villages was closed to visits until the 1980s, Sılay said.
During those year, selling war scraps was the only source of income for locals living there.
“I never ask these people why they sold them, but I ask the state, ‘Why did you let these people sell them?’ These people had to survive one way or another,” Sılay said.
Stating that he is frequently asked where he finds all the objects, Sılay said: “Villagers used the water bottles, bags and barrels. They wore the uniforms of French soldiers. Thank God they did, otherwise we would not have had the remains of such an important war in our own land because most of them have been sold as scrap.”
It is not known where the objects were sold
Sılay said objects were still being unearthed in the Gallipoli (Gelibolu) Peninsula. “As interest has increased in Çanakkale, the number of people who want to become a collector have increased, too. Illegal excavations with detectors have begun in Gelibolu. They sell these objects for good prices. What I fear is who is buying these objects and where are they going? I also know some that have been taken abroad. Since I am an official collector, each object in the house is documented; it is under state control. But a person may have a very valuable object that the state does not know about. This is why this region is very important. The objects found there should be protected very well.”
Sılay said he was a collector registered with the Topkapı Palace Museum. “The state gives the same value even to a bullet in my collection as a spoonmaker’s diamond [Kaşıkçı elması] … The objects of the Battle of Çanakkale should be protected because they are movable cultural assets.”
The collector said the region where the Battle of Çanakkale occurred does not have a state museum, adding that there was a Military Museum in Çanakkale but that it is not authorized to assume a collector’s license.
Additionally, the Archaeology Museum has no weapons expert, he added. “A few showcases in an information center are not tantamount to a museum. This is shame for the state,” he said.
Sılay said the objects from the Battle of Çanakkale have become a way of gaining profit and that most of them are being sold on the Internet.
Sılay said people were trying to deceive others in selling various objects and documents on the supposition that they are from the Battle of Çanakkale.
“I need to buy objects all the time. When I look at them, I see that they were not used in the battle. All Çanakkale objects should be documented. Otherwise, they cannot be transferred to the next generations. The Culture and Tourism Ministry has authorized units in Çanakkale. There is a law, but it is not being implemented,” he said.
Sılay, who revealed the diary of the fallen lieutenant İbrahim Naci and turned it into a book, “Allahaısmarladık” (Goodbye), said the state has 800 registered objects from the Battle of Çanakkale but that he has more than 5,000 pieces in his own collection.