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Edinburgh World Heritage/International/Edinburgh World Heritage to support restoration of historic Turkish cities near Syrian border

Edinburgh World Heritage to support restoration of historic Turkish cities near Syrian border

20th June 2017

Edinburgh World Heritage

Edinburgh World Heritage announced today that it had been awarded funding by the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund, in partnership with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to support the restoration of the historic cities of Mardin and Diyarbakir in a region of Turkey that has suffered as a result of the recent escalation of violence and political uncertainty.

The £1.2 million grant will fund a three year programme that will document buildings at risk, conserve a historic divanhane (community building) in Mardin, develop heritage conservation skills among local communities, and help implement a sustainability programme for historic sites.

Both Mardin and Diyarbakir are home to numerous sites of architectural and historical importance representing a diverse range of cultures from the region’s rich past. In November 2015, Tahir Elci, a prominent lawyer, spoke at the foot of a 500-year-old monument in Diyarbakir which had been damaged by armed clashes, and made a plea for the protection of the city’s unique cultural heritage. He was assassinated during his speech. Since then, many local cultural associations have voiced concern over the neglect of historic neighbourhoods and archaeology, much of which represents the cultural values of previous civilisations.

The British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund grant will allow Edinburgh World Heritage to share its conservation and community engagement expertise with the people of Mardin and Diyarbakir. A comprehensive Building at Risk Register will be created for the two historic city centres. The Divanhane of Saint Behnam in Mardin will be conserved and repaired, and then returned to community use. This specific conservation project will be used as an opportunity to share conservation best practice with local stonemasons and architects. Local teachers and tour guides will also be given training in heritage interpretation. Finally, heritage conservation summer schools will be scheduled in Turkey and Edinburgh which will also include topics such as sustainability and safety.

Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage commented: ‘Helping to protect cultural heritage at risk is important not only in Edinburgh, but also in the world’s confict zones. In both Mardin and Diyarbakir, the historic buildings and archaeology are a daily reminder of the richness and diversity of the region’s culture, and must be preserved for current and future generations. We look forward getting started with this important work’.

Krzysztof Jan Chuchra, International Manager at Edinburgh World Heritage said: ‘This important grant is recognition for Edinburgh’s leading role internationally in heritage conservation. Edinburgh has always been an outward-looking, international city, and this project is part of that rich tradition. Importantly, our international programmes complement and enhance our crucial Edinburgh-based work’.

Professor Eva Sarlak of Kültürel Mirasi Koruma Derneği (KMKD) commented: ‘The two cities of Mardin and Diyarbakir are home to a diverse cultural heritage which has suffered as a result of recent confict and political uncertainty. Many historic buildings and neighbourhoods, much loved by the local community, are in a very poor state of repair, and risk being lost. This project is a first for Turkey. The support of Edinburgh World Heritage will enable us to begin the work of conservation and training so that the cultural riches of these two cities may be enjoyed safely by everyone – residents and visitors alike’.

Mardin hillside (image via Virginia Abbott)