Rescuing cultural heritage from earthquake devastation: UNDP and Europa Nostra support Türkiye’s recovery

A high-level briefing hosted yesterday in Brussels by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Permanent Delegation of Türkiye to the European Union and Europa Nostra urged continued international assistance in restoring vital cultural heritage sites across southern Türkiye damaged by the devastating earthquakes of February 2023, which destroyed 313,000 buildings, and left 53,537 dead and 3.3 million people homeless in 11 provinces that are home to 15.6 million people.

Rescuing the Endangered Cultural Heritage of Earthquake-hit Region of Türkiye

The vast disaster caused incalculable damage to the region’s unique cultural heritage, including art and structures bequeathed by 13 different civilizations over thousands of years. 3,752 of the region’s 8,444 historical structures were damaged, with experts estimating the cost of restoration at over US$2 billion.

Restoring cultural heritage is a critical priority in our earthquake recovery efforts,” said Louisa Vinton, UNDP Resident Representative. “It’s not just about rebuilding monuments; it’s about preserving the soul of a region, the essence of its identity, and the livelihoods of its people. Through collective efforts and international solidarity, we can help restore the region’s cultural legacy and the resilience of its people.”

Rescuing the Endangered Cultural Heritage of Earthquake-hit Region of Türkiye

The briefing featured the Brussels launch of UNDP’s global campaign “Save the Legacy”, which aims to engage individuals, charities, companies and governments in restoring Türkiye’s unique cultural mosaic. The campaign features six sites chosen at the advice of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism that represent the full geographic and historical scope of the affected area: the Hatay Archaeology Museum, the Sarımiye Mosque, and Mar Yuhanna Greek Orthodox Church – all in Hatay – as well as Gaziantep Castle, the Ottoman-era bazaar in Kahramanmaraş, and the ancient city of Arsameia in Adıyaman.

Europa Nostra, together with the European Investment Bank Institute, recently included two sites in the Hatay province on its list of 7 Most Endangered heritage sites in Europe for 2024: the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Georgios in Altınözü, and the Iron Gate of Antioch, an ancient 18-metre-high stone structure that towers above Antakya.

Rescuing the Endangered Cultural Heritage of Earthquake-hit Region of Türkiye

By joining forces, we amplify our collective impact and reaffirm our dedication to protecting cultural heritage that reflects our history and is a resource for our future. Together with Türkiye we stand united in our commitment to preserve and valorise a diverse, cultural and European heritage,” stated Piet Jaspaert, Vice-President of Europa Nostra.

We are thankful for the kind support of our international partners, especially the EU as we endeavour to rebuild and preserve Türkiye’s cultural heritage, which is also a European common heritage, in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes,” said Ambassador Faruk Kaymakcı, the Permanent Delegate of Türkiye to the European Union. “This collaborative effort exemplifies the solidarity and shared commitment to cultural preservation that transcends borders.”

The briefing provided expert insight into the region’s uniquely rich diversity and the importance of restoring both tangible and intangible heritage. It served as a platform to mobilise resources and solidarity in support of Türkiye’s earthquake recovery and cultural heritage restoration endeavours.

While funding for the restoration of certain landmark structures in the region has been secured, either through government or community resources, the financial need far exceeds the currently available funds. This is why UNDP has initiated this campaign to appeal for international solidarity in the face of disaster. To date, more than US$5 million has been committed towards the campaign target of US$15 million.

Since the first days after the disaster, UNDP has collaborated with the MoCT to address this challenge. Initially, UNDP provided customised containers to archaeology museums to safeguard at-risk collections and accommodate ministry staff involved in recovery efforts. Subsequently, UNDP facilitated expert assessment missions and supplied drones, cameras, tablets and specialised software to assist in cataloguing the damage. UNDP now looks ahead to the physical reconstruction of targeted monuments.


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