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World Cultural Heritage and Turkey

OpinionsOpinion by Prof. Dr. Faruk Sen

UNESCO shapes cultural policies all over the world, especially with its collection of national treasures of its member states on the "World Cultural Heritage Site" -- which is a much praised list of historical and cultural submissions from its members. The inclusion of these treasures is determined by a coordinated action of official representatives in Paris, with the national committees of the member states supported by lobbying activities.

The number of member states of UNESCO is currently 190. Diverse cultures ranging from Vietnam to Australia are among the -- almost -- 160 countries who have introduced their valued national treasures to the site as a result of great effort. Spain has 38 properties on the list as a result of such efforts; Germany and France each have 28, Italy 27 and Britain have 25 properties all recognised by UNESCO as sufficient for inclusion on the list. The list continues with India having 24, Mexico 23, Brazil 17, Greece -- which is in the same street as Turkey -- has 16, Portugal 12 and Poland 11.

The Case of Turkey
Turkey can be described as an open air museum as so many empires and civilisations have existed here, and while it no way lags behind other countries on the list, do you know how many of its cultural resources are recognised by UNESCO? -- unfortunately the number is just nine. The first submission by Turkey was Istanbul in 1985, with Troja being the final submission in 1998.

This is a great shame for Turkey. Although almost all of Turkey's cities are historical treasures, only nine are official world cultural heritages, including the former capitals of the Ottoman Empire -- Edirne and Bursa. On the other hand, Germany has even introduced its coal mines as a cultural heritage; a smart policy.

It is possible to say that Turkey, which has more historical resources than any other European country, is just lazy and is not involved enough in lobbying activities. What exactly is supposed to be done in order to nominate a historical place on the UNESCO list -- and to make UNESCO accept it? It is unforgivable that Turkey has taken no such steps in the last six years, while Spain continuously introduces two-to-three of its rich treasures every year.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Turkey should focus more on UNESCO and gain greater power in this international organisation. After a period of racism in Europe between 1992-93, the national committee of UNESCO undertook serious work and organised symposiums on racism without any support from Turkey. In the ensuing years UNESCO will give even more importance to inter-religious dialogue; most probably bringing Islam in Europe to the agenda. For this reason it is vital Turkey makes a serious study and brings the subject of European Islam under the umbrella of UNESCO at a time when there are many prejudices to Islam in Europe. That none of the Turkish NGOs are recognised in the U.N. -- and have limited roles in UNESCO and the European Council -- shows that the civil movement is underdeveloped in Turkey. It is vital for the promotion of Turkey that civil initiatives accelerate and operates more in tandem with international organisations.


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