Write: Jülide Karahan
The UNESCO World Heritage List is always a great guide for a holiday, especially right before the summer.
There are ten cultural points of attraction in Turkey that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. To list them, they are the historic areas of Istanbul, Safranbolu, Hattusha (Boğazköy), Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, Mount Nemrut, Xanthos-Letoon, the Great Mosque and Hospital of Divriği, the archaeological site of Troy, Hierapolis-Pamukkale, and Göreme National Park and Cappadocia... And there are twenty-six more that are slated for the list. There is an association that is working very hard to have the candidates placed on the list and to preserve and promote those that are already on it: the World Heritage Travelers’ Association. Their first intent is to increase consciousness, and their last is to add every location in Turkey to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Atilla Ege, the president of the association, has seen 626 UNESCO World Heritage Sites as of the time we spoke. According to what he says, he is number two in the world in this matter currently, and will be first next year—we hope! He has been traveling with his wife Nihal since 1971. In the early years, he would go wherever fate would take him... Since 2002, however, he has been pursuing the list. In his own words, he says, “We met a Swiss couple at a guesthouse in southern Chile, and we were chatting with them. They said they were going to go on to some other place from there. Almost involuntarily, I asked why—they said it was because that place was on the World Heritage List. I didn’t understand at first, of course, and they explained at length. And I said, “Well, well, well.” I researched it immediately upon my return, and wrote to UNESCO asking for information. And I got hundreds of pages of information. We translated it, and then we picked up a map and started to travel. We had already seen part of those on the list before, but we did them all over again as we didn’t know their true value.”
After a while, they started wondering about the state of the situation in Turkey, and thus they started their travels in Istanbul. As they toured the Hagia Sophia, they asked a Turkish guide, “Do you tell tourists that this place is on the UNESCO World Heritage List?” “No,” replied the guide… And then they experienced the same in Troy, the Great Mosque in Divriği, and in Nemrut... They realized that neither the governors, nor the mayors, nor the guides were aware of the situation. After ruminating upon what to do, they decided to tell and practice in Turkey what they saw and learned abroad as best as they could. They shifted their goal from seeing 626 places all the way to researching what was being done in these 626 places. Later, they took what was essentially an oath to explain what they encountered first to officials and then to everyone they encountered.
For Serdar Ahıskalı, the vice president of the association, the situation wasn’t so different. He, too, was enlightened at a distant corner of the earth a few years ago, just like so: “We were in Angkor Wat in the northwest of Cambodia. At the gate was the emblem of a World Heritage Site… And beneath it was a list of sites possessing titles in two categories of World Heritage—both cultural and natural heritage, that is… And then I saw that Pamukkale from Turkey was among them too. I was very embarrassed—I was learning a very important cultural fact concerning my country from a sign in Cambodia.” The rest is obvious—he met with Atilla Ege and founded the association. Now, he constantly compares when visiting World Heritage Sites—he sometimes utters, “If this place is on the list, our such-and-such would easily enter…”
And when we ask what that “such-and-such” is, Ahıskalı explains, “UNESCO has selected a consultant and an international expert, and it has determined a number of criteria; and furthermore, they’re free of charge… All you must do is make a nice presentation and conform to UNESCO’s conception of universal values, that being, ‘Does the exceptionality of a place’s cultural and natural properties transcend national boundaries and represent a shared value for humanity in future generations?’ If it does, then it is an international duty to preserve this heritage. Why do people want to see World Heritage Sites on their travels? It’s because they are one hundred percent certain that they will find value there.”
Ten of those sites of value are in Turkey, in Anatolia, right beside us… Then, to use an Anatolian saying: “Move into action!”
WHERE DID THIS IDEA COME FROM?
The idea for the World Heritage List was proposed when the Egyptian government requested assistance from UNESCO to save the temples of Abu Simbel and Phila in the Nubia region, which would be covered in water when the Aswan Dam on the Nile filled up. It was henceforth understood that certain places on earth were part of a shared world heritage and that it is important to guard them.
WORLD HERITAGE IN NUMBERS
In meetings it has held regularly every year since 1978, UNESCO has declared 725 World Heritage Sites, 183 Natural World Heritage Sites, and 28 Cultural and Natural World Heritage Sites. Therefore, 936 sites in 151 out of 187 member countries were registered as heritage sites belonging to all the world’s people.