Europa Nostra raises its voice against destruction of heritage in South-East Turkey

Europa Nostra has raised its voice against the destruction of cultural heritage caused by armed conflicts in South-East Turkey in the past months. Prior to UNESCO’s 40th session of the World Heritage Committee held on 10-20 July 2016 in Istanbul (Turkey), Denis de Kergorlay, Executive President of Europa Nostra, wrote a letter to Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, to draw attention of all concerned on the alarming cultural and human situation in the South-East of Turkey, including the World Heritage site of Diyarbakir. In this important appeal, to be transmitted to all members of the World Heritage Committee, the Executive President of Europa Nostra calls upon the competent authorities in Turkey to “respect the human rights of inhabitants, abide by the norms of rebuilding / recovery under conflict conditions”; and the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO to “offer specialised international professional assistance to this recovery process which should be conducted with effective local participation”.

Credit: Fatma Meral HALIFEOĞLU

Credit: Fatma Meral HALIFEOĞLU

A delegation from Europa Nostra, comprised of Nuran Zeren Gulersoy, Europa Nostra’s Council Member and President of Europa Nostra Turkey, and Dr. Claus-Peter Echter, Europa Nostra’s Council Member and Vice-President of Europa Nostra Deutschland, is attending the various meetings organised in the context of the 40th World Heritage Committee Session, especially the most important International NGO Conference on “Civil Society and Sustainable Development in World Heritage” held on 8-9 July 2016 and organised by the World Heritage Watch.

During this 40th session in Istanbul, the World Heritage Committee will consider the nominations of 27 sites on the List of UNESCO World Heritage. These include nine new natural sites, 14 cultural sites and four mixed sites (i.e. both natural and cultural). The Committee will also review the state of conservation of 108 sites already on the List and 48 sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger. In its draft decision regarding the Diyarbakır Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape, declared UNESCO’s World Heritage Site since 2015, the Committee expresses its concerns over the “historic structures of the property, as well as a number of historic buildings and monuments in the buffer zone which suffered damage”, and acknowledges the steps taken by the Turkish authorities to protect the property and its buffer zone.

Europa Nostra deplores the armed conflicts in this region of Turkey, which have not only cost the lives of hundreds of civilians in more than ten historical towns, but also caused the destruction of cultural, social and economic urban life, as well as a large number of registered cultural heritage sites having roots going back to millennia (e.g. historical mosques, churches, civilian architectural sites, dwellings) and thousands of people made homeless. The historical center of Diyarbakir bears witness to the unacceptable damages made on cultural landmarks, including the St. Giragos Church which has been awarded a EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award in 2015 for its exemplary restoration.

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