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Europa Nostra Turkey works to protect cultural heritage

Some 71 people from various disciplines have formed Europa Nostra Turkey, the local branch of an association dedicated to preserving cultural heritage. The group is active in advocacy, raising awareness and lobbying public opinion for the protection of cultural heritage, says President Orhan Silier. Still, however, there is much work to do, he says.

One of the world’s richest areas in terms of cultural heritage, Turkey is slowly beginning to devote more attention to protecting its historical legacy yet there is still much work to do, according to a campaigner for cultural preservation.
“Anatolia is home to a heritage of thousands of years. But in spite of this there are 4 million works of art in 100 museums around Turkey. But the number of artworks at the London City Museum is 3.5 million. We need to think about what we have lost and start to act immediately,” Orhan Silier, president of the Turkish Academy of Sciences, recently told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

Silier, together with the History Foundation, recently formed Europa Nostra’s Turkish branch with the participation of 71 volunteers from various business groups.

Europa Nostra, which has over 4,000 members, has been active in Europe for 45 years and helps to campaign against threats to the continent’s cultural heritage. Although the group started working in Turkey in the 1970s, the association came to the forefront in 2007 when it presented its top award for the masterful restoration of Cappadocia’s Sarıca Church.

Europa Nostra presented its top award to the restoration of the Sarıca Church in Cappadocia in 2007.

Silier said Europa Nostra Turkey was active in fields like advocacy, raising awareness, lobbying, providing inter-enterprise interaction and communication as well as rewarding good works.

“While rewarding good works, we will mold public opinion by discussing the bad ones,” he said.

The group focuses on involving young people in their work, Silier said, but added that Turkey lacked people trained to preserve cultural heritage.

“The number of archaeologists and restorers who graduate every year is very low. The graduates cannot already find a job. It is almost impossible to see Turkish scientists in Turkey,” Silier said.

“It is important for us to come together with our masters in order to provide a transfer of knowledge,” said 35-year-old architect Barış Alkan.

Alkan said raising civil awareness and diffusing this to all classes of society was highly important.

Noting the activities of the “Cultural Ants” projects, which were initiated a few years ago under the leadership of Europa Nostra, Alkan said: “Thanks to this project, we have brought schoolchildren together with history and culture. We have made them touch and perceive historical structures. This will shape their conscious and a more conscious generation will come.”

‘AKM was ideological discussion’

Asked how Europa Nostra Turkey would be included in discussions over iconic landmarks like the Atatürk Cultural Center, or AKM, in Taksim Square, Silier said: “The AKM has been discussed from an ideological point of view. The building’s architectural importance was not considered; the point of discussions was different. We would consider the architectural values and history of the building in such a discussion.”

In recent years, the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government broached plans to demolish the center and construct a new building in its place, touching off a storm of controversy that pitted conservatives and secularists against each other. The center, which was constructed in 1969 for ballet, theater and concert shows, as well as congresses, is a highly symbolic building for the Turkish Republic, and its demolition would be perceived as an attack on the country’s Kemalist values by certain sectors of society.

Meanwhile, there has been no event at the AKM since 2008 because of restoration.

Wooden houses disappearing

Ultimately, Istanbul has been negatively affected by migration over the past 50 years, Silier said.

“There is little restoration and many artifacts have already been damaged. Istanbul was a city famous for its wooden structures. There were some 100,000 wooden structures at the beginning of 1900s, now this number has decreased to 2,000. These structures are historical artifacts but they are not being preserved. Some of them have been sabotaged and others have been ruined. There are many things to do not only in Istanbul but also all around Turkey,” he said.

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