Turkey unaware of its superpower status in cultural heritage

Turkey unaware of its superpower status in cultural heritage

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s so called lust for reviving Ottoman legacy by reconstructing a long forgotten Ottoman artillery barracks in one of the few remaining green areas in the middle of Istanbul had cost the lives of five people, who had joined the crowds to protest the government’s construction frenzy.

The big irony is that the prime minister is the number one individual responsible for giving a deadly blow to the most important Ottoman legacy in Istanbul: the city’s silhouette based on the magnificent buildings of the historic peninsula. 

Two skyscrapers are already visible among the minarets of the silhouette and the completion of the Golden Horn Bridge, as stated in the latest statement by UNESCO, “certainly has a negative impact on people’s ability to appreciate aspects of the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property, particularly of views looking down the Golden Horn towards the Historic Peninsula such as Sinan’s masterpiece, the Süleymaniye Mosque.”

Basically, the bridge is too high. It has to be high in order to be connected to the tunnels that were opened, apparently without any planning, but upon the instruction of the “highest authority” at that time in Istanbul, yes you guessed it: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the mayor of Istanbul. 

The new bridge has been on UNESCO’s agenda for many years, as Istanbul’s historic peninsula is on the organization’s World Heritage List. In fact, Istanbul has been at risk of being removed from the UNESCO list.

Last month, a bridge that, according to UNESCO, marred the view of the German city Dresden’s magnificent baroque palaces was opened to traffic. The four-lane structure was deemed such an eyesore that the city was removed from UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list.

One wonders why UNESCO has refused to do the same with Istanbul and whether it would have been better if it had taken the decision to remove Istanbul from the list.

Those familiar with the issue say this is exactly what “some” in the Istanbul municipality would have like to see happen. Devoid of any international scrutiny, a construction frenzy would be able to continue at full speed. Actually, it was thanks to the dialogue with UNESCO that those responsible for the construction finally conceded to lower the bridge, which is obviously still not enough. Then again, it’s better than nothing. 

After all we are talking about an administration that is headed by someone like Erdoğan, who has shown his disinterest in historical heritage by condescendingly describing the thousands-year-old artifacts discovered during the Marmaray Tunnel construction as mere “archaeological stuff.” He has shown no shame in expressing his anger that the tunnel’s completion was delayed by the “archeological stuff” found in the seabed.

Of course, one might think that while being disinterested in prehistory, the prime minister, who has a pious-conservative constituency, would be more sensitive to the Ottoman era, and that the Golden Horn Bridge was a onetime mistake.

However, the conclusions of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s latest meeting last June said otherwise. There are many examples, but to name one among many, the situation with the Ottoman heritage has reached a “crisis point,” according to UNESCO. “In formal ‘Renewal Areas,’ the projects have involved demolition and rebuilding, largely unrelated to the historic character of the areas,” according to the meeting’s conclusions.

“Turkey is a superpower in terms of cultural heritage,” a high level UNESCO official once said. If only Turkey was aware of it!