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An Exclusive Interview with Professor Jak Yakar

Date: 20.11.2007

In March 2007 Professor Jak Yakar visited Salt Lake City receiving the lecture grant Marija Gimbutas – an initiative of the International Institute of Anthropology, Salt Lake City, which was realized in 2007 in collaboration with the Middle East Center at the University of Utah. After his lecture on Enthoarchaeology in Anatolia, Professor Jak Yakar was also a special guest of the Bulgarians in Utah and their Friends at Belvedere, Salt Lake Downtown. During the discussion about the role of the folklore in the everydayness of the different culture we learned that Professor Jak Yakar has Balkan genealogy roots. Details and his understanding of the prehistoric archaeology follow below.

L. Nikolova: Professor Yakar, first of all I would like to thank you for coming to Utah as an academic guest of the University of Utah and the International Institute of Anthropology. The lecture at the UofU and the followed Seminar were exciting. We learned that enthoarchaeology was a subject involving your student interests and later field experience. And your studies always show that you are more interested how the people lived in Prehistory than what typology of the material culture they reproduced. Then, how do you feel yourself as a specialist – more archaeologist or prehistoric cultural anthropologist?

J. Yakar: Regarding your question, I would like to elaborate. My filed of interest is pre-classical Anatolian archaeology.  In other words, my research involves the ancient Anatolian society from its prehistoric beginnings to the end of the Middle Iron Age.

I believe that modern archaeology as an interdisciplinary and multi-dimensional scientific research field is increasingly successful in investigating various social, economic and spiritual aspects of prehistoric cultures, as well as those pertaining to the Anatolian society of early historical times.  Naturally, dealing with the latter, textual data from local and non-local sources do help considerably in clarifying the historical and cultural background of various Anatolian ethnicities and polities.  Since I strongly believe in the importance of multi-disciplinary collective research in archaeological field projects, including ethnography and ethno-history, I define myself as an archaeologist interested in investigating, among other things, the possible reasons for cultural variations among some past contemporary communities inhabiting environments sharing the same geographic and climatic characteristics.

L. Nikolova: What is your new book about?

J. Yakar: It is titled: Reflections of Ancient Anatolian Society in Archaeology: From the Emergence of Villages to the Formation of City States- from the tenth to the end of the third millennia BC.  It should be out by mid-2008.

L. Nikolova: How do you like the USA and how do you remember Utah?

J. Yakar: I like the USA ever since 1965, when I started my graduate studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. I believe despite all criticism at home and abroad, it is the only country in the world with equal opportunities to all regardless of race, religion and color.  I can understand why people do not spare any effort to make it their home.  Especially the socially, ethnically and economically oppressed that keep coming from lesser democracies.  I don't think Utah was in my itinerary until I heard from you again some years ago. I could not say no to your invitation to give lecture at the University of Utah.  I am very glad I came.  I very much enjoyed my stay, meeting your colleagues, friends and students.  It gave me the rare opportunity to see another facet of the multi-cultural American Society.

L. Nikolova: Tell us something about your Balkan genealogy roots?

J. Yakar: I only know that my father was born in Strumitsa(Macedonia) and came to Turkey at the age of 6 in 1912.  His father who fought at the head of a militia on the side of the Ottomans against the invading armies was by that time a wanted man with a price on his head.  He fled his farmstead on horseback taking his son and rode to the Port of Salonika.  According to what he told me( I was 6 years old at the time) his plan was to sail to New York. He was dressed like a Greek priest in order not to be recognized and had to  hid my father inside his long coat.  But seeing his picture on a wanted poster at the port and at the same time seeing two approaching Bulgarian soldiers, he panicked and boarded the first ship on port.  So instead of arriving in New York, he ended up in Izmir! Once there, and with things cooling down, he brought his wife and young daughter over as planned beforehand. Although they too must have been surprised that the destination was not the USA but Turkey!

L. Nikolova: Do you believe in global archaeology and how do you see the future of global archaeology?

J. Yakar: Global archaeology is a fact as far as sharing knowledge relating to dating methods, excavation and survey techniques, and various processing procedures necessitating the use of laboratories and computer systems.  We learn a good deal from each other without getting involved too much in each others respective projects.  I think things would remain the way they are now.  However, more effort should be made separating politics and nationalism from influencing archaeological research and results, whether it is in the Middle East, Near East or the Balkans. One way of doing this isjoint projects and the exchange of temporary exhibits regardless of national borders and political considerations.

L. Nikolova: What is the future of archaeology as a profession and social practice?

J. Yakar: It is going from bad to worse.

Lolita Nikolova, PhD
International Institute of Anthropology
Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

Links to websites of the International Institute of Anthropology about the visit of Professor Jak Yakar in Utah:

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