The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has announced the inclusion of Diyarbakır (Amed) Fortress and Hevsel Gardens, also in Diyarbakır in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast, in its “World Heritage in Danger” list, prompting a statement from the Green Left Party to address the decision.
The decision was announced during the meeting of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage in Paris on 28 August.
“After all the destruction, this was bound to happen. Sur was systematically and deliberately demolished,” said Nevin Soylukaya, former director of cultural heritage for Diyarbakır Municipality, announcing the decision.
In its report on the Diyarbakır Walls and Hevsel Gardens, UNESCO cited the November 2022 report of the World Heritage Centre’s Joint Reactive Monitoring Mission, which stated that the area was at great risk due to the severe loss of cultural significance and the destruction of historical elements, and that it was necessary to return to the 2012 conservation plan.
The UNESCO report highlighted that the ongoing changes in Sur and its surroundings were mainly the result of projects carried out by the Turkish government. The report states that these changes have had a negative impact on the ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ of the area, and that current planning controls are threatening its significance.
Green Left slams government policy as threat to cultural and natural heritage
The pro-Kurdish Green Left Party stressed that the inclusion of these culturally diverse sites, which hold common cultural values of different faiths and communities like the Armenians, Arabs, Assyrians, Syriacs, Kurds and Turkmens, on the ‘World Heritage in Danger’ list is a matter of great concern. The party’s statement attributed the decline in the historical and cultural significance of these sites to ‘the government’s policy of conflict, violence, greed and exploitation’.
The Green Left accused the government of undermining the natural and traditional agricultural practices of Hevsel Gardens and replacing them with industrial agriculture. They pointed out that industrial products had taken precedence over the area’s natural and traditional production methods, leading to the destruction of the gardens’ authenticity.
The party also criticised the imposition of appointed trustees on municipalities, which they argued was leading to further destruction of cultural heritage and the natural environment.
The party called for an end to the practice of trustees being appointed, and emphasised the importance of strengthening local democracy as a solution to ongoing exploitation, conflict and destruction. They called on UNESCO not only to call for a halt to projects that contribute to the destruction of these sites, but also to take a stand against government policies in this regard.
Diyarbakır Fortress and Hevsel Gardens
Diyarbakır Fortress, also known as Diyarbakır City Walls, is a historical structure located in the Sur (Sûr) district of Diyarbakır. The Hevsel Gardens, on the other hand, cover approximately seven hundred hectares of fertile land on the banks of the Tigris River, nestled between the Diyarbakır Fortress and the river valley. Both the city walls and the Hevsel Gardens were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2015.
The Diyarbakır Walls and Hevsel Gardens have also been home to over 200 species of birds and various endemic plant species over their 8,000-year history.
The Sur district of Diyarbakır witnessed intense clashes in 2015-2016, following the collapse of short-lived peace talks between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) aimed at resolving the Kurdish-Turkish conflict in the country. The historic walls suffered damage during these conflicts.
According to a damage assessment report prepared by the Diyarbakır Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape Area Directorate, concrete was poured over some of the towers to anchor a flagpole, portable toilets were installed on a Marwanid architectural heritage tower, and sewage was dumped directly onto the city walls during the conflicts.
The areas containing the walls and the historic gates were used by the government as security points during the conflicts. Fires lit by soldiers and policemen to keep warm caused soot to build up on the walls.
Concrete blocks were also placed between the towers without the approval of the Scientific Committee, compromising the integrity of the walls.