Like many countries, Turkey is a nation proud of its heritage and its people are like many others, under an illusion that their government shares that pride.
Yet all too often, government pride only extends to those sites that earn tourist dollars or by their remote nature avoid getting in the way of major developments. A number of organisations have spent time digging beneath the surface of Turkeys claimed protection of its ancient heritage and the reality all too often is that far more heritage sites are being failed by the system than are being protected.
One organisation, the TAY Project recently undertook a detailed physical assessment of some of Turkey's oldest structures, its ancient mounds - build during the Chalcolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age period, these "mound settlements" are some of Turkey's oldest and most fragile heritage sites. Yet there is apparent ignorance of their importance within government agencies, with some even being "de-scheduled" (protection removed) in order that developments can continue unhindered.
At Bardakcitepe a 7,000 year old Chalcolithic settlement mound was initially registered as a level one protected historic site, this status was reduced to level three which allowed it to be used as a developments site. Today it is home to thirteen 6-story apartment buildings. It is no longer a ‘protected site’ but just another apartment building complex.
Hanvakfi Eski II is an ancient settlement mound that has been litterally split in two by the construction of a highway built in the early 1990's.
Karahöyük Elbistan Bronze Age mound was discovered in 1930 and is the largest in the region. With the exception of its eastern section, all of it is covered by houses and has been subject to intense treasure hunting. A village is built on the flattened skirts. The TAY team identified up to 70 treasure hunter pits on it.
One gigantic pit located directly at its top has even gained a local nickname of “Bounty Creek”!
View of the interior of the thermal baths. Photo: courtesy of Dr Ahmet Yaras
But it's not just Turkey's oldest heritage sites that are being destroyed, European heritage group Europa Nostra are keen to point out that one of Turkeys premier Roman period sites - Allianoi Spa town will be destroyed later this year when construction of the Yortanli Dam on the River Ilya is completed and the entire complex will be flooded. This is despite representations from ICOMOS and a petition containing more than 35,000 signatures.
Europa Nostra claim that Allianoi could easily be saved with only a slight modification of the dam project. Unfortunately these protests have fallen upon deaf ears.
At least Allianoi has active campaigns working to try to stop this loss of heritage, one such group Save Allianoi has been working to promote an online petition in support of the Europe Nostra initiative.
It is not just Allianoi that is threatened by a dam project. A recent syposium ' Keeping Hasankeyf Alive' announced a new campaign aimed at protecting the major medieval site of Hasankeyf in Turkey. This time the ancient site is threatened by the Ilisu Dam.
Image: from http://www.hasankeyfgirisimi.org/