Everything we are and do leaves a permanent trace that identifies us. For MaTerre here is the story of the identity of Francesco Campagnola, Professor at the University of Ghent.


Fish and stones. A reflection on traces, symbols and identity

Years ago, I was observing a huge bank of carp swimming all in the same direction, following the channel carved into the stone, bordered by the rose garden, which flows into the large pool of the Halil-ur-Rahman Mosque in Urfa, in Turkish Kurdistan. The carp crowded against the edge of the canal and, in unison, looked in my direction. A young man is approaching me who attacks a button; he wants to tell me the story of the mosque, which I have already read in a book. Abraham/Ibrahim/Abraham had been imprisoned by King Nimrod, in hatred of the true god. Nimrod had the patriarch fall from the rock above the current mosque, but Allah/Dio/Jahveh created a bed of roses to cushion the fall of his servant. Nimrod commanded that Abraham should be burned alive, but by order of heaven, the fire was turned into water, and the burning tizons became fish.
The tizzons move their tails all together, as they scrutinize me with their little round eyes, the circular mouths that open and close rhythmically.
The conversation with my new acquaintance proceeds and tells me about (his?) life, his hopes. He is Kurdish, studying Danish and his big dream is to move to Denmark. Maybe he wants to practice his English, maybe he’s intrigued to talk to me for some time and then he introduces me to a friend of the Syrian Arab minority who lives (and already lived) in that region. When I ask him in which language I should thank someone in the city, if I don’t know which group he comes from, they don’t know what to say.
Around us pass men and women with heads wrapped in the same purple veil. This particular garment does not distinguish between men and women or, I am told, between ethnic groups. Those who come from the region end up dressing it. The purple heads contrast with the green uniforms of the military, with their Turkish flags sewn on the sleeves, which regularly cross the flow of pilgrims. I am one of the very few tourists in the city; with gestures and in English I try to fit into a complex mosaic of different languages and gestures. This mosaic evidently has its own hierarchy, its own order and rules of relationship and reciprocity that are not evident to me. The relations between Arabic, Kurdish (kurmanji, more precisely, a type of Kurdish dialect) and Turkish are further complicated by the presence of different beliefs and sects that reinterpret and appropriate in their own way the mosque and its symbolic reality. In the long journey by bus on dirt mountain roads, I met a group of Alevi, ready to cross hundreds of kilometers to see the cave where Abraham prayed. Who knows what they would say if they knew what my Kurdish acquaintance confessed to me two days later: there is another city, in Iraqi Kurdistan, with a carp pond and a rose garden, which claims to be the real place where Nimrod reigned and Abraham prayed. Or if they found out what I saw on the internet once I got home: that, before becoming a firebrick, those carp were already living in that place, sacred animals, living symbols in a temple dedicated to the goddess-fish Atargatis.

In this area of the world, where identities coexist, sometimes they oppose and continually negotiate alternatives to the spatial boundaries imposed by the politics of nations, giving meaning to belonging is an undertaking. It is in the nature of the place, which has seen the organized presence of man since ancient times. A few kilometers from the city, I visit the then still semi-unknown archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe.
When the Sassi of Matera did not yet exist and the troglodyte caves of Cappadocia were empty of human lives, long before Abraham, in Göbekli Tepe an ancient civilization, still unaware of agriculture and the art of ceramics, was building one of the most impressive megalithic and symbolic structures of which there is trace. Thousands of years old, the oldest ever found in the world. In what is now a desert of stones but at the time was supposed to appear much greener, these our ancient resemblins, whose identity is lost in time, have built mounds and buildings. They erected pillars 3 meters high on which are engraved figures of colossal headless men and mysterious animals and now extinct. We talked about “cult buildings” and “temples” to define those mute stones, but, as E. B. Banning pointed out, all our anthropological projection of the categories of the sacred and the profane on a civilization so far away is arbitrary.
What happened to Göbekli Tepe’s men? After more than a thousand years of use of the site, they covered it under a large mound and disappeared in an aimless migration known. Today, in each of us can be hidden some biological or symbolic trace of that human group (those human groups?), without there being any possibility for us to identify and separate it from the flow of the many human experiences of which we are constituted

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