National Archives Under Threat: 27 Million Libyan Historical Documents Could Fall into Turkish Hands – Al Marsad

The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments (GAIAE) of the Government of National Accord (GNA) has given the Libyan Centre for Historical Studies and National Archives (formerly the Libyan Jihad Centre) three days to vacate its headquarters and hand it over to them. The Libyan Centre for Historical Studies and National Archives is classified by UNESCO as a humanitarian and heritage institution in Libya and now faces the danger of its 27 million Libyan documents archive ending up in the hands of Turkish Intelligence.

(Libya, 8 January 2021) – According to a letter by the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments (GAIAE) of the Government of National Accord (GNA) addressed to the Libyan Centre for Historical Studies and National Archives (also known as the Libyan Studies Centre), dated 4 January 2021, which was seen by AlMarsad, it demands that the Centre submits to a verdict issued by the Court of Appeal in Tripoli on the subordination of the land, on which the headquarters of the Centre is located, to GAIAE.

Libyan Studies Centre: We have 27 million documents and the GAIAE demands that we vacate the offices in three days.

Since 2007, GAIAE has claimed that the land on which the Centre is located is an endowment that belongs to the Sidi Munaydir Cemetery, located in the Belkhair district of Tripoli. This claim was rejected by the Centre before the courts.

The Libyan Studies Centre was originally founded in 1977 and known then as Libyan Jihad Center. It contains over 27 million documents, according to a census carried out by the Centre at the end of last year. Throughout its 44 years history it has published hundreds of books in historical, social and documentary studies, and issued courses and research magazines, as well as hundreds of international seminars and conferences in which scholars from many countries participated.

The National Archives 27 million documents includes 507,000 manuscripts, 132,811 photos, 16,000 historical maps of various sizes, 10,000 audio recordings, 150,000 oral narratives, 150,000  files and brochures, 50,000 titles and biographical data, 360,000 articles, and 10,000 newspapers.

TURKISH FINGERPRINTS: TIKA

Libyan Local and intelligence sources who are following up on the case in Tripoli, revealed to AlMarsad the presence of Turkish entities behind GAIAE’s decision to revive the lawsuit n 2012, with the help from personalities from the pro-Ankara Islamic movement in Tripoli, including influential figures within GAIAE and its offices headed by Mohammed al-Abani.

Al-Abani is close to Islamists in Tripoli, even though he presents himself as a Salafi. A campaign was launched against him by other Islamists recently for him to prove his loyalty to Turkey and the GNA.

Mohammed al-Abani and Muslim Brotherhood’s Khaled al-Mishri.

Our sources revealed that the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), which has a branch in Tripoli, exerted enormous pressure on the Libyan Studies Centre to assign a new administration that would enable TIKA to absorb the Centre. Such a move would have allowed TIKA to seize the Libyan National Archives of the Centre, which is the oldest historic Libyan archive in the country. TIKA is directly connected to Turkish Intelligence and was established in 24 January 1992 to coordinate Turkey’s relations with Central Asia countries.

The Nawasi Brigade in Tripoli arrested the head of the Libyan Studies Centre, Dr. Mohammed Tahir al-Jerari, more than twice, in addition to dozens of summons for interrogation with the sole purpose of harassing and blackmailing him.

In response to the insistence by the administration of the Libyan Studies Centre to stay and resist the pressure and attempts at extortion, GAIAE reopened the case again based on a judicial ruling issued in 2010, when the Centre challenged before the Court of Appeal and proved that the land that it is built on was known as the Sidi Al-Ardawi Cemetery—with the testimony of the people of the area and Tripoli’s notables and intellectuals—and that it was not part of Sidi Munaydir Cemetery.

 

Following yet another raid of the Centre by the Nawasi Brigade in February 2017 to once again force the Centre’s management to hand over the headquarters or change its management, and given the extensive coverage in the media on the raid, GAIAE warned journalists not to exaggerate the disagreement with the Centre.

According to its statement in February 2017, GAIAE claimed that “the controversy over the refusal of the Libyan Jihad Center to sign a usufruct contract for the building owned by GAIAE, where the Centre was located, contradicts the ruling of the Tripoli Court of Appeal in 2010, which grants the right of ownership to GAIAE to the building and obliges the Centre to the adhere to the contract.”

Despite testimonies from residents of the area on the militias raiding the Centre, GAIAE said that they “never resorted to force or judicial means of pressure and has taken dialogue as its method”. It also confirmed that it did not intend to “evacuate the headquarters or take over its contents, and that it appreciates its cultural and functional significance”, according to the statement.

LEGAL CONTROVERSY

One of the sources said regarding this case that the land on which the Centre is located is known as the Sidi Al-Ardawi Cemetery, and the Education Secretariat established a concrete structure for a school on the site before allocating it to the Centre. The authorities tasked the Housing and Utilities Secretariat to complete the building of the Centre after it moved from its temporary headquarters in 1984. Later GAIAE claimed it as its own the land, according to subsequent legislation. Therefore, the Court of Appeal ruled in 2010 in favour of GAIAE, but the Centre appealed against the verdict on the grounds of weak documents presented by GAIAE to prove that the land was theirs.

A number of notables and families signed a declaration confirming that the land belonged to Sidi al-Ardawi cemetery and not to GAIAE.

A number of notables and families signed a declaration confirming that the land belonged to Sidi al-Ardawi cemetery and not to GAIAE.

However, according to the same source,  GAIAE reopened the case based on contested verdict. After interventions from Tripoli’s notables and intellectuals, it was agreed that the Centre would pay rent to GAIAE at the rate of 2,000 LYD, but GAIAE asked for 100,000 LYD. The amount was eventually set at 40,000 LYD, with the approval of the Presidential Council, which addressed the Ministry of Finance with the necessity to pay the prescribed amount in accordance with an agreement concluded between the GAIAE and the Ministry of Finance.

Although GAIAE had to address all claims to the Ministry of Finance, GAIAE still pressured the Centre’s administration over payment of the rent and used it as a pretext to demand the evacuation of the headquarters each time. It also forwarded messages by personalities close to TIKA to the Centre to accept a change in management with a new one that was loyal to the Turkish agency, TIKA.

“It is clear that the evacuation demand within three days is to exert only pressure, every Libyan knows that it takes at least one year to evacuate the Centre, in addition to the great risk that this move would face, such as theft, damage and loss during the transfer and evacuation process,” the source added.

The office of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), which opened in Tripoli in early 2012, claims to have sponsored over 60 projects in Libya, according to the Agency’s post on its Facebook official account last June. It included also providing the School of Arts and Crafts in Tripoli a computer centre, within the framework of the expansionist Turkish Propaganda “Ottoman school,” claiming that the Ottoman governor Namık Pasha was the school’s founder. Libyan historical archives, however, contain donor documents that confirm that the people of Tripoli had founded the school, rather than the Ottomans, as a charitable endowment for teaching crafts and handicrafts in support of the economy sector.

TURKISH AMBITIONS TO CONTROL LIBYA’S HISTORICAL ARCHIVES

The same sources confirmed that TIKA’s goal in exerting pressure on the Centre through GAIAE was to seize the Libyan National Archive, which contains millions of documents belonging to Libya’s history since the Karamanli era. The National Archive is considered the oldest Libyan institution, effectively 300 years old through its several mutations, and recognised by UNESCO for its important to Libya.

The sources also said that the historical archives were vital for Libya’s national security, because it has legal documents pertaining to the rights of the Libyan state. The documents were an important basis for the disputed “continental shelf” case in the Mediterranean Sea, and for the ruling of the International Court of Justice In 1981, on  Libya’s right of ownership to the continental shelf.

Furthermore, the sources expected that the Turkish quest to control the national archives was to suppress important legal documents that undermine Erdogan’s Ottoman ambitions, including the issue of the continental shelf, which was the basis for the illegal Maritime Agreement signed by Ankara with Fayez al-Sarraj in November 2019, which defines Libya’s maritime borders with Turkey’s.

Recently, Ankara has sought to build contacts with Malta, which has received promises from the GNA to take advantage of part of the continental shelf.

TURKIFICATION AND ITALIANIZATION

It is noteworthy that this is not the only issue that the archival documents have—there are a lot more. They include also documentation related to Libyan figures of Turkish origins. The establishment of the “Libyan-Turkish Friendship Association”, in 2012 called for the right of Libyans of Turkish origin to be entitled to political representation like other cultural minorities. Such a call was reiterated by Afkar Magazine issued by the Friendship Committee, referring to the availability of the Libyan archives to documents proving the privilege of families of Turkish origin in political participation and taking up prominent positions in the state.

Many countries that possess historical ambitions in Libya are also aware of the importance of Libyan documentation at the National Archives. For example, in 1912, the Italian administration summoned the Italian historian Carlo Alfonso, who is known in history as one of the Italian colonialist politicians in Libya, to restructure the Libyan archives. On the basis of his reports issued as a member of the “Organization of Islamic Affairs with Italian Interests”, the Italian administration issued a decision to restructure the Historical Archives House in 1928.

Moreover, in the 1950s, Libya decided to rename it as “The House of Historical Archives”, before it came to be under the remit of the Libyan antiquities authority. During the period that followed a number of Libyan historians headed the House such as Mohammed Al-Asta and Abdulsalam Adham. After intensive efforts for several years by Centre’s administration they finally convinced the authorities to approve the transfer of the entire archive to the headquarters of the Centre. The administration of the Centre said the new location would provide the National Archive with favourable conditions for the preservation of its documents from damage, heat and adverse climate conditions. It also aimed to start a large scale national project to archive and catalogue it thoroughly for researchers and visitors, but that project collided with Turkish and Erdogan’s Ottoman ambitions.

It is worth stressing that the Centre follows the directives of the GNA’s General Authority for Culture, which surprisingly has yet to issue any position on the case despite the controversy being around for almost 10 years. However, the head of the General Authority for Culture, Hassan Onis, recently visited Turkey for an urgent meeting with an undisclosed agenda.

Hassan Onis during one of this visits to Turkey.

Libyan observers are monitoring the activities of TIKA, especially its interest in Libyan antiquities which was highlighted with the announcement in October 2019 of a visit by a Turkish delegation of engineers to conduct a “study for the restoration of Ottoman antiquities”, and an agreement to train Libyan cadres in the same field, The same observers pointed out that TIKA was activated by Fidan Hakan who headed it in early 2003 and opened TIKA branches in all countries that were previously under Ottoman control.

They indicated that its present ties to Hakan, who is known as the keeper of Erdogan’s secrets and as the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization since 2007,  confirms that TIKA is the arm of Turkish intelligence for realizing Ottoman ambitions in Libya.

© ALMARSAD ENGLISH (2021)

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