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Edinburgh World Heritage/International/Cultural diplomacy in action in Turkey

Cultural diplomacy in action in Turkey

Krzysztof Chuchra

8th May 2018

Krzysztof Chuchra

After climbing the steps of Zinciriye Medresesi (madrasa) in south-east Turkey’s town of Mardin, I looked out at the vast plains of Mesopotamia and breathed a sigh of relief. This was the moment when the KORU project became real.

What is the project?

The KORUproject aims to ‘build capacity’ in Turkey – developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes and resources needed to survive, adapt, and thrive – for Mardin’s local monument protection sector, and encourage a wider engagement with cultural heritage. The £1.3 million grant from the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund will fund a three year programme that will document buildings at risk, conserve a historic tenement, develop heritage conservation skills among local communities, and help implement a sustainability programme for historic sites.

What’s in a name?

Here’s how our colleague over at Turkey’s Association for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, Çağla Parlak, describes the KORU project: “Kültürel Mirasın Korunmasında Kapasite Geliştirilmesi” is the official name we use here, which can be translated as “Capacity Building in Cultural Heritage Protection”. KORU is both the abbreviation and the slogan of the project derived from the official name, which means “PROTECT”.


A view of the Old Town and the historic landscape from the top of the Museum of Mardin

The first workshop

On 24th February we ran the first training session in Mardin. The geopolitical situation in the region is tense, and this required a great deal of preparations by Edinburgh World Heritage staff in terms of security, development of training content ahead of time, and liaising with relevant authorities in the UK and Turkey. Mardin, despite the grandeur of its unique urban landscape, was quiet throughout the duration of the training. It was clear that mass tourism is not the main challenge, like in many European cities, and this was confirmed by trainees representing the tourist industry.

Krzysztof Jan Chuchra of Edinburgh World Heritage presenting 3D modelling as a tool in city and heritage management

It is important that the project does not transfer any ‘Western values’, as this is not what capacity-building and cultural diplomacy are about.

“Cultural Diplomacy may best be described as a course of actions, which are based on and utilise the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity, whether to strengthen relationships, enhance socio-cultural cooperation, promote national interests and beyond; cultural diplomacy can be practiced by either the public sector, private sector or civil society.” – The Institute of Cultural Diplomacy

The training was organised locally by our partners based in Istanbul, Association for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, and it reflected the four strategic pillars of the project:

  1. Surveying and documenting cultural heritage to support conservation planning
  2. Advocacy, learning and heritage presentation based on research and successful case studies
  3. Energy efficiency and sustainability of historic cities
  4. Public realm and safety

The training lasted four days and involved 23 home owners, 25 tour guides, 19 teachers and six representatives of the local authority (KUDEB) in a series of thematic lectures and workshops delivered by Turkish and international experts. A range of learning materials was produced to support the delivery of the programme, including a maintenance calendar, treasure hunting flier, guidance on reporting on cultural heritage, and lexicon of basic architectural terms.

Colleagues from KUDEB (Directorate for the Inspection of Conservation Implementations) participating in the practical energy efficiency workshop with Banu Pekol (right) of KMKD

Dr Mesut Dinler of KMKD introducing trainees to Restoration Lab in Mardin

DIY training on draught-proofing

The first training session involved several constructive discussions on management issues in Mardin and South East Anatolia

The initial feedback from participants was positive and constructive. Tour guides from Mardin, Şanlıurfa and Gaziantep stressed that the training content was particularly useful for younger guides. Other comments suggested engaging a wider audience that play indirect roles in the local tourism industry, and organising workshops that will help develop tour programmes to attract interest in heritage sites requiring special attention. Teachers asked us for more similar trainings in the future, which was very rewarding. A significant part of workshops took place in learning facilities of the Museum of Mardin thanks to support of its director, Mr Nihat Erdogan.

One of the main challenges in Mardin is an increasing number of abandoned traditional residential buildings in the historic centre. The recent trend indicates a significant internal migration to modern blocks of flats in “the new town” located outside the city centre. Although in Edinburgh this phenomenon may sound somewhat familiar, in Mardin it becomes a serious issue as the abandoned properties fall into disrepair. On top of that, most of those homes lack basic amenities and access to running water. Therefore, the Restoration Lab we are helping to create will located in one of them. The building will be restored in the most efficient way and opened to the community as a learning centre for a fixed period under care of the Museum of Mardin. We will use the lab as a practical educational tool for training participants, expecting that it will inspire the local policy framework and conservation planning in the future.

Eastern panorama of Mardin with Kasım Tuğmaner Cami in the centre

This year we will organise the first summer school for Turkish students in Mardin and the first international leadership school for professionals in Edinburgh. The latter is particularly exciting as it will involve another major project from Edinburgh World Heritage’s international programme. Keep checking our blog for the latest updates.

Sonra görüşürüz!

(Feature image courtesy of Balkanique)

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