Turkey seems to be trying to fabricate the history of an ancient religious site called Nebi Huri, about 35 miles (45 kilometers) outside of Afrin, Syria, in the region of Syria occupied by the Turkish military and their proxies. They are replacing current Kurdish features with structures in the Ottoman style and destroying ancient Roman features of the site. 

A step beyond just re-writing history, Turkey seems to be trying to re-design the Nebi Huri ancient site to fabricate a predominantly Ottoman history.

The historical Nebi Huri mosque prior to the Turkish occupation, which began in 2018, shows Kurdish features, such as a colorful pulpit and tapestries. Outside the mosque stands an ancient Roman graveyard dating to 300 AD, that has been damaged. The graveyard had great spiritual significance to the local Kurdish population and has been used for prayer rituals by present day Kurds. The historical record in the earth’s layers was destroyed by bulldozers, erasing the site’s non-Ottoman history. (Photo published by North Press Agency)
The mosque after its “renovation” done in 2020 under the Turkish occupation. The historical Kurdish-style pulpit has been destroyed and replaced by a new one with Ottoman features. The walls have been torn apart, down to just the stone, and other features fabricated. (Photo published in Turkish propaganda and re-published by North Press Agency)

The Nebi Huri archaeological site, containing a Roman-era graveyard, dates back to 300 AD. The site carried the markers of influence from the Roman era, the Byzantine period, the age of the Ottoman Empire, and most recently Kurdish cultural influence. After the Turkish government began occupying the predominantly-Kurdish region in early 2018, the site was hastily dug through by the occupiers, and scoured for artifacts that could be sold on the black market.

In mid-2020, following other renovations to parts of the Nebi Huri archeological site, the Directorate of Endowments of the Turkish state of Hatay announced “renovation work” to the site.

The site includes a Roman-era pyramidal graveyard dating back to the middle of the third century AD. On the other hand, the khan (traveler’s inn) and mosque at the site date back only to the year 1859, according to an inscription on the gate of the mosque. The khan and mosque were built during the Ottoman period. The site is also surrounded by a wall and includes a well.

The local Kurdish community had placed deep spiritual significance to the temple at Nebi Huri. According to their traditions, local residents would either affix a stone to a wall at the site or tie a colorful strip of cloth to a tree in order to make an offering. This practice bore spiritual significance in that it was a form of prayer.

Now these prayer trees have been cut down and the site has been destroyed for future excavation work.

The Ottomans had sought to change the nature of this historical site, transforming it from a Roman graveyard into an Islamic center, and now the contemporary Turkish government is doing the same.

New images published to social media show that the site has had an Ottoman facelift. The smooth white walls of the site have been stripped down and now show grey stone. The colorful Kurdish pulpit has been torn away and replaced with a plain wooden pulpit bearing Ottoman design markers.

The Turkish “renovation work” has not only changed the face of the site, but it has senselessly destroyed layers of the earth surrounding the site, shoveling the priceless archaeological record into heaps with bulldozers.

A report made by the Directorate of Antiquities of Afrin in December 2020 concluded the following: “The Directorate made a comparison between the visual documents that it received dated from (10/8/2018, 6/10/2018, 3/11/2018, 11/15/2019 and 6/23/2020) that prove the Turkish authorities and their affiliated militias (Suqur al-Shamal faction in particular) ) carrying destructive and random excavations with heavy machinery (bulldozers) that led to the destruction of the archaeological layers without documenting them, in addition to the destruction of fragile archaeological materials such as glass, ceramics, pottery, mosaic paintings … etc. ”

This Turkish fabrication of history is an attempt to alter the historical record of the land they occupy. It is not enough for Turkey to seek to control the present, they are attempting to control the past as well.