Despite previous warnings from UNESCO and the international community, Turkey has failed to protect the endangered cultural heritage sites of Diyarbakır (Amed) Fortress, (also known as Sur), and Hevsel Gardens, says Nevin Soyukaya, a member of the Amed City Protection Platform and a local archaeologist.
Soyukaya’s comments come after UNESCO added these sites to its “World Heritage in Danger” list last month, citing ongoing changes mainly caused by Turkish government projects. The decision is expected to be finalised at a Cultural Heritage Centre meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this week.
Soyukaya emphasised that irreversible damage has already been done to these historic sites. “After all the destruction, this was bound to happen”, she said. “Sur was systematically and deliberately demolished.”
The archaeologist also pointed out that Turkey has not invited UNESCO’s Reactive Monitoring Mission since 2016, despite the mission conducting assessments in November 2022. “Their reports, based on satellite images, were ignored by the relevant state channels”, Soyukaya added.
The role of the government
Soyukaya criticised the Turkish government for its lack of action and commitment to protecting these sites. “The government had committed to protecting these sites within the framework of local area management plans”, she said. “The current situation is damaging to Turkey’s prestige and calls for its restoration.”
She also highlighted that the destruction is not independent of the trustees appointed to the municipalities in 2016. “These government appointed trustees have deferred the municipalities’ legal responsibilities, making it easier to carry out the destruction”, Soyukaya noted.
Soyukaya called for immediate action to prevent further damage. “The integrity of the city is being destroyed”, she warned. “Even if the walls are well-preserved, destroying their reason for existence makes the preservation meaningless in terms of their universal value.”
Last month, UNESCO added Diyarbakır Fortress and Hevsel Gardens to its list of World Heritage in Danger, citing Turkish government projects as the main cause of ongoing changes that threaten the “outstanding universal value” of the sites.