Acting through their foreign ministries, the governments of Bulgaria, Greece and Romania have joined a global fund-raising campaign organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for the restoration of Turkiye’s cultural heritage that has been damaged or destroyed by the devastating earthquakes in February 2023.
The campaign was launched at a solemn ceremony at Ankara’s Museum of Anatolian Civilizations on Friday evening. Taking part were UNDP Resident Representative in Turkiye Louisa Vinton, Turkish Deputy Culture and Tourism Minister Serdar Cam, Bulgaria’s Ambassador in Ankara Angel Cholakov, and Counsellor Ilias Kremmidas of the Greek Embassy in the Turkish capital.
Ambassador Cholakov stressed that Bulgaria was among the first countries to send rescue teams and planeloads of relief aid to help the local authorities mitigate the effects of the disaster. He recalled the wave of solidarity from Bulgaria, pointing out that private companies and ordinary Bulgarians rushed to donate funds for Southeastern Turkiye. The diplomat added that Bulgaria will continue to assist the restoration of that part of the country.
“Now, demonstrating our solidarity yet again, we would like to be once more among the first to contribute to the sustainable restoration of Southeastern Turkiye by sharing in this UNDP-initiated fund-raising campaign for the cultural heritage,” Cholakov said.
He pointed out that the Bulgarian-Turkish Ladies Business Club has launched a fund-raiser for the construction of a school in Southeastern Turkiye.
“Turkiye is not alone, we are with you,” the Ambassador said. He congratulated the hosts on the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic which is marked in 2023.
“The restoration of cultural heritage is a priority in our post-earthquake restoration efforts,” said UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Vinton.
The UNDP initially provided dozens of especially adapted containers to archaeological museums in the region, to be used for storage and preservation of endangered collections and for accommodation of Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry staff engaged in the post-earthquake restoration efforts. Next, the UNDP provided drones, cameras, tablets and specialized software to help the Ministry identify the damage, Vinton said.
Financing for the restoration of some landmark sites in the region has already been located. The needs for funds, however, far exceed the available resources. That is why the UNDP decided to launch a campaign for international solidarity in disaster conditions, she added.
“Turkiye will always remember the international support provided after the earthquake, when more than 100 countries sent rescue teams,” said Deputy Culture and Tourism Minister Serdar Cam.
The UNDP initially focused on six sites, including the Hatay Archeology Museum, which houses one of the world’s most famous mosaic collections; the 2,000-years-old Gaziantep Castle, whose walls collapsed when the quake struck; the 14th c. Sarimiye Mosque in central Antakya, whose skyline-defining minaret crumbled; the Greek Orthodox Church in Hatay’s Arsuz Neighbourhood; a 14th c. bazaar in central Kahramanmaras; and an archaeological site in Adiyaman.
The February 6 earthquakes claimed more than 50,700 lives and destroyed 313,000 buildings in 11 provinces, leaving 3.3 million people homeless and ruining most of the region’s economy. They also inflicted irreparable damage on the unique cultural heritage of the region that has been home to 13 different civilizations over its millennial history.
Out of a total of 8,444 historical structures of cultural heritage listed in the quake-affected region, 3,752 were either damaged or destroyed. According to experts’ estimates, they will cost billions of dollars to reconstruct and restore.