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Mehmet Kuşman Retires

End of the watch for last true ‘Urartian’ of Turkey

Mehmet Kuşman’s life story is much like the plot of the popular Hollywood film series “Night At The Museum.” Starting out as a watchman for ancient ruins left behind by the Urartian civilization thousands of years ago in eastern Turkey, he immersed himself in their legacy and in decades, became a master of their language and culture and a custodian of their legacy. After 58 years of watching over Çavuştepe Castle, the 80-year-old man retired this week, leaving behind a life of devotion to ancient people inhabiting his hometown in the province of Van.

One of the few people with knowledge of the ancient language today, Kuşman never thought he would be the go-to guy for everything Urartian when he took a job as a worker at the excavation of the castle in 1962. Back then, archaeologists and academics were flocking to the site known to be one of the strongholds of the Urartian civilization, which was the dominant power in the region between the ninth and sixth centuries B.C. One day, archaeologists discovered an epitaph, but none were able to decipher the inscription due to a lack of command of the ancient language.

Kuşman, a stubborn young man, decided to learn the language almost on a dare. Impressed by his determination, the professors he asked for help decided to give him a hand. His journey to learn the language took him to Iran and Armenia where people with knowledge of Urartian lived. In three years, Kuşman learned a little Urartian but more importantly, managed to compile an alphabet corresponding to the ancient one, to decipher the inscriptions. When local authorities discovered his skills, he was invited to a symposium in the capital Ankara on Urartu civilization. In the following years, Kuşman improved his language skills, all the while keeping a close eye on the castle he called a second home.

His work with archaeologists at Çavuştepe opened a new world for him, expanding his knowledge of the Urartians. Ultimately, Kuşman became an unofficial envoy of the ancient civilization and traveled across the world to attend symposiums and seminars on the Urartians where he spoke about the forgotten language.

Later, Kuşman decided to devote all his time to the castle. The salary for a watchman, however, is too little to survive on so he turned his Urartian skills into a trade. Drawing Urartian letters and figures and in later years, carving them into stone to sell to tourists in the area, brought him an income that was “enough to send my children to school,” he told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Thursday.

“The Urartians gave me a lot,” Kuşman says. “They inspired me to be as hardworking as them, and I never skipped one shift in my duty. They built this castle and many others, buildings you cannot construct easily even with modern-day technology. I admire them so much.”

(AA News)

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