Turkey and Cultural Heritage Management

It is now a well-known fact that Turkey is a very rich country in terms of the traces that have remained from past civilizations. However it would not be wrong to state that the realization of the responsibilities that come with this rich heritage is very recent. “Cultural heritage management” which has appeared with different names in different countries since the 1970s, seems now to have created a place for itself within academia.

For a country like Turkey, the emergence of such a field both in academia and as a practical sector can fill an important gap given that tourism is one of the fastest growing industries around the world - especially with the advantages it can bring for the often-fragile cultural heritage. Additionally cultural heritage management deals with the often-conflicting values that are being attached to heritage by different parties. Although the subject is a very new one in Turkey, there is a good chance to set up a well-functioning system. The first step in this field came with the establishment of “Anatolian Civilizations and Cultural Heritage Management” master’s program at Koç University in 2004. Even though the name of this particular program was changed later, one can easily say that there is a growing academic interest within different Turkish universities.  For example the Anadolu University’s Open Education program on “Cultural Heritage and Tourism” that was opened in 2010 is an indication of the rising academic interest. In some of the universities, departments related to cultural heritage are a part of Faculties of Sciences, for example - at Bahçeşehir University. In these cases, the relationship between cultural heritage and architecture with an emphasis on restoration and conservation is more dominant. In a similar vein, the departments of museology, the oldest of which is at the Yıldız Teknik University, can be easily related to cultural heritage management. In addition to these, departments like “culture management” or “arts and culture management” that deal with contemporary and/or performance arts can be evaluated under the same umbrella. This multivocality within heritage studies is not particular for Turkey. Similar tendencies do occur in countries like the UK, USA and Australia where the concept has also emerged. While in some countries, heritage studies are affiliated with anthropology or archaeology, attempts to make it theoretically independent have resulted in the emergence of more focused departments like “Public Archaeology.”

The universities that have been listed above are important institutions for the strengthening of a theoretical background in Turkey. On the practical side, the field is focusing on the preparation of site management plans which have been introduced and described in the legal framework as part of the attempts to nominate sites for the Unesco’s World Heritage List. As of 2014, Turkey has 13 sites inscribed in the list; there are also 52 sites that are on the World Heritage Tentative List as a result of accelerated nominations since 2009. Turkey’s attempts might have gained an exaggerated pace due to tourism and the city prestige impacts that the World Heritage List label brings, but this still doesn’t eliminate the fact that Turkey is underrepresented in this list for the time being.

The world heritage list has also resulted in some changes within the legal system starting from 2004, and the last 10 years have been remarkable in terms of the number of laws and regulations that have been formulated. These changes to the legal framework, regardless of their content, can be seen as a clear indication of the rising interest towards cultural heritage. 

Another sign for the increasing attention are the initiatives that come from the private sector for the management of the commercial units within the museums and archaeological sites. TURSAB (Turkish Travel Agencies’ Association) is running the ticket offices of 154 museums and sites that belong to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism; BKG (Bilkent Culture Initiative) is, on the other hand, is operating the cafes and souvenir shops at 55 different museums and sites.
These projects are the products of special protocols between the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and these companies, and they have an important role in the management of Turkey’s cultural heritage.

Another institutional format is the involvement of municipalities by investing into departments of cultural heritage (like in Bergama). For many years, any kind of cultural heritage management activity –without being properly termed as such- has been undertaken by museum specialists or excavation teams. The tendencies of the excavation teams in the last 5 years, show that the field is becoming more independent and integrated. The best examples can be given as Çatalhöyük and Sagalassos, which have made both theoretical and practical contributions to heritage studies.

Under the light of all these, it is a noteworthy step by the British Institute to prioritize cultural heritage management among its interests. Within this recent orientation, the project to create a “regional cultural heritage management” plan for the ancient Pisidia region has been of great interest to the archaeologists of the institute, as has also a “sustainable development and cultural heritage management” plan for the ancient city of Aspendos which is being excavated by Hacettepe University and supported by the institute. A postdoctoral research fellowship on cultural heritage management made it possible to investigate the subject from a theoretical perspective while building up practical solutions for both of these projects. Additionally, the institute jointly funds a research fellowship in cultural heritage management with Koç University’s Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations.

It is the utmost priority of the project and of the institute that cultural heritage management prospers both as an academic discipline, as it provides inspiration in sustainable and sensitive ways in order to bring socio-economic benefits to the local communities in Turkey.