Leveraging Cultural and Natural Heritage for Development: The UN Experience in Turkey
Mahmood A. Ayub
UN Resident Coordinator
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Allow me to begin by saying what a real pleasure it is to be here in this historical and spiritual city of Konya, where the spirit of Mevlana and the search for knowledge continues.
I was asked by the organizers of this important conference to talk about the experience of the United Nations in harnessing the power and the might of cultural and natural heritage for human development in Turkey.
I am delighted to accept this invitation to talk to you on this subject.
In my brief presentation, I would like to start by talking first about why the United Nations gets involved in issues related to cultural heritage.
Next I will illustrate in specific terms, from the experience of two of our projects related to cultural and natural heritage, how we try to make a difference through our support to the Turkish government and civil society.
Finally I would like to draw some lessons from our experience in these two projects—lessons which hopefully can be applied by others, and in other places
So let me explain first our rationale for involvement in cultural and natural heritage activities. What are our objectives? And what do we expect to achieve?
Ladies and Gentlemen
The United Nations’ work in the area of cultural and natural heritage begins with the assumption that the preservation of heritage is not an end in itself. Rather it is a mechanism geared toward broader objectives: the celebration of diversity; the encouragement of fruitful dialogue among peoples and civilizations; and the promotion of mutual respect for the identities of different peoples, all resulting in better well-being and greater human development of the societies.
In the specific case of Turkey, our efforts are driven by the aim of social and economic development through addressing regional and gender based disparities. Regional and gender based development disparities continue to detract from Turkey’s otherwise remarkable economic growth of the past years. Here I will not go into details of the present situation of developmental disparities in Turkey. National and UN experts have illustrated this point well, in statistical and qualitative analyses, including through successive UNDP National Human Development Reports.
But let me just note that, as a consequence of these analyses, the UN Country Team in Turkey has agreed with the Government that UN programs in Turkey will channel technical cooperation and expertise of UN agencies toward reduction of regional and gender based developmental disparities. Expert organizations such as the UN Organization for Education Science and Culture (UNESCO) and UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), further indicate that tourism which leverages cultural and natural heritage can play a significant role in balanced sustainable development and generate benefits for poor regions and poor people.
So let me move on to the second part of my presentation, namely to provide summary information from our cultural heritage projects, new and ongoing,
The flagship of UN programs in this field is a UN Joint Program entitled Alliances for Cultural Tourism in Eastern Anatolia. This program has just been approved by the Government of Turkey and will commence its first planned activities this summer. Specifically, the Joint Program will develop the cultural tourism sector in Eastern Anatolia, focusing on the province of Kars. It will contribute to social cohesion by recognizing pluralism and by reducing income disparities between Eastern Anatolia and the rest of the country. Mobilization of the culture sector in Turkey’s Eastern Anatolia region, specifically in Kars, is significant in terms of establishing good models for Turkey and at the local level for management of tangible and intangible assets. The Joint Program brings four UN agencies (UNDP, UNESCO, UNWTO and UNICEF) into partnership with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for implementation.
The rationale for this Program derives from the acknowledgement that Turkey is uniquely rich in terms of its natural and cultural heritage. There are nine registered World Heritage sites in Turkey, three of which are in the country’s eastern regions where development levels, including basic human capability measures for education and health, are well below national averages. Furthermore, the country’s eastern regions are home to unique natural wealth, including remarkable biodiversity. Noting the stark contrast between the natural and cultural wealth of Turkey’s eastern provinces with the human development levels, the UN has embarked on this program.
The Program has three main components, all of which are designed to leverage cultural and natural heritage in Eastern Anatolia for local economic and social development.
The first component will build capacities of local managers of cultural assets, including directors of sites and museums, to better manage cultural heritage sites in line with international standards as monitored by UNESCO. Among the notable sites in the region are the Ani Ruins of Kars, the Great Mosque of Divrigi and the Seljuk Kervansaray route which links Ishak Pasa Palace in Dogubayazit, Agri to central Anatolia. Good site management capacities at local levels will in turn contribute to the further identification of eastern Anatolia destinations as attractions for tourism while protecting this heritage as a value in itself.
The second component of the Program plans to build explicit linkages between the cultural sector and commerce, including tourism. The UNWTO and UNDP will work with local commercial enterprises and national tourism industries to develop the commercial value chain that includes hospitality businesses as well as businesses in sectors such as food production to transportation. By supporting the capacities of local economic actors, the Program will ensure that businesses and people can actually generate incomes and benefits from the tourism activity in the region.
And finally, the UN agency partners of the Program, namely UNICEF, UNDP, UNESCO and UNWTO will cooperate with the local governance actors, such as the municipalities and civil society organizations to translate enhanced knowledge of local cultural heritage into forums of inter-cultural dialogue and social cohesion. This will be done by financial and technical support to local civil society and authorities to organize fairs, symposia and other cultural fora which will allow for a meeting of different cultural backgrounds in shared recognition of the cultural assets in these regions.
We all know that no good programming exercise happens in a vacuum. The program that I just described briefly builds on the successes and lessons learned from another ongoing joint program of the UNDP with the UNWTO, also in Turkey’s eastern Anatolia region. It is called the Çoruh Valley Ecological and Cultural Tourism Program, and is being implemented in the towns and sites along the Coruh river basin in northeastern Anatolia.
The people of Coruh valley rely on subsistence agriculture for livelihood. With limited competitive power of the local economy, the authorities have sought the cooperation of the UN to help identify non-agricultural sectors as alternative means for income generation.
The Çoruh river basin, covers the districts of Ispir, Uzundere, Narman, Olur, Tortum and Yusufeli and has a strong potential for tourism, owing to its natural and cultural heritage assets. The River Çoruh is a sight to behold in itself. It originates at the heights of Mescit Mountains (3,225 m) and flows 466 km before reaching the Black Sea in Georgia. It is one of the fastest flowing rivers in the world, and as such is already well known to a small group of rafters and adventure tourists from all over the world. The river basin is the natural habitat of endemic species of birds and insects that are also of great interest to the environmental and scientific communities worldwide.
The remoteness of the region from major urban districts has preserved the social and physical fabric of the settlements along the river basin. The small towns and villages are authentic in terms of architecture, lifestyle and cuisine. These small towns and villages, while authentically Anatolian in present day practice of lifestyles and traditions, are also home to medieval Georgian monuments. The Georgian monasteries and churches of 9th to 12th centuries are of great cultural, religious and architectural significance. Every year students of Georgian culture and religion come to this region to study the history and architecture of these monuments.
Since March 2007, the UN World Tourism Organization experts, the UNDP and the Ministry of Tourism have identified and inventoried natural and cultural assets and products in this ecologically significant region in order to support the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in its efforts to promote this region as a culture and nature tourism destination.
Through this project, the UNDP, the UNWTO and national partners have built capacities of local authorities and people to host tourists in their villages. Consequently small hospitality enterprises have been established in these little towns and villages, opening opportunities for alternative sources of income for the people. Presently, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is further investing in small tourism facilities in the region to provide for accommodation for tourists in a way which heeds environmental protection considerations.
In short, within a little over a year, the Çoruh Valley Ecological and Cultural Tourism Program has been able to place this river basin on the destination map of national and international tourism routes. It has also helped promote the cultural and natural heritage as assets that are protected not only for their commercial value but also as values in themselves. Parts of the river basin have been mapped for natural protection by the authorities, ensuring that the biodiversity, especially of bird species is protected for overall environmental sustainability. Similarly, geological formations in parts of the river basin have been brought under protection laws. Furthermore, the Georgian monasteries and churches are being considered for priority physical conservation and restoration investments again by the Ministry of Culture.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Let me come to the final part of my presentation, namely: what are the lessons that we have learned from our cultural and natural heritage projects? And can they be applied elsewhere?
There are at least three important lessons learned from the UN’s programming experience in cultural and natural heritage promotion.
The first lesson is the importance of linking local level dynamics to central planning and investments. The second one is keeping local social dynamics in mind and ensuring local ownership of conservation and promotion efforts. The third and final one relates to the need to focus on gender dynamics.
Let me talk briefly about each of these three lessons.
First, there is a critical balance that must be established in matching national, central planning and investments to local initiatives. In the Çoruh region, UNDP has empowered local authorities and individuals, through training and exposure to other experiences, to take ownership of the cultural and natural assets around them, not only as means to income but as assets that are inherently valuable in their own culture and in the belief structures of others. This local level empowerment and ownership has been matched with central plans and investments (of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, notably that of the General Directorate of Enterprises and Investments) that will allow local initiatives to take root and get the appropriate government support.
Secondly, cultural and natural heritage promotion is a process that must be managed delicately and with great sensitivity to local social dynamics. For example, efforts that focus solely on conservation of natural or cultural assets without considering the lives and livelihoods of the present day inhabitants of these areas face risks of local objections and non-cooperation. A natural conservation plan that does not make arrangements for the livelihoods of poor farmers is bound to fail. Therefore, the UN and its national partners have sought to combine measures for biodiversity conservation in the Coruh river basin, for example of bird species, with economically viable activities for local communities, for example supporting the supply by local village communities of accommodation and bird watching facilities for tourists. To use the common term, this has been a win-win situation, both for the biodiversity and for the local communities.
The experience also shows that local community dynamics need to be very well balanced with conservation of cultural heritage. Efforts that single out monuments for conservation without presenting incentives to local communities to participate in such conservation efforts may result in negative attitudes among communities. This has been the experience in areas where the cultural heritage includes monuments of religions and people who are different from the present day inhabitants of poor villages where these monuments stand. Therefore, national authorities and the UN have again contextualized cultural heritage conservation within the broader social and economic development of the region, providing real economic incentives to local communities to design and market goods and services around cultural assets.
This brings me to the third and final lesson learned. The UN’s experience in cultural and natural heritage promotion for local area development further underlines the importance of participation by local communities from a gender perspective. Global experience shows that tourism is a driver of social transformation in any setting. In eastern Anatolia, the introduction of cultural and natural tourism as a livelihood has important social transformative potential for gender dynamics as well. In a region, where social, economic and political attainment by women is behind that of men, gender issues have been an important factor in the UN’s approach. Consequently, all the training and capacity building activities in tourism services have followed a strategy of empowering women to learn and to establish their own businesses in this sector.
I am pleased to say that, by applying these lessons learned, the UNDP plans to commence programming in the province of Konya where the UNDP will support the initiatives of young people in promoting cultural heritage for personal and economic development. In cooperation with the Youth Services Directorate, we will be funding the innovative activities of the Youth Services Center of Konya that link Konya’s unique heritage to the UN’s ideals of peace and cultural respect and tolerance.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, will be a small contribution from us to the spirit of love, tolerance, passion and learning, which are the values that Mevlana and his followers throughout the centuries-- and throughout the world-- have believed in.
I wish you all the very best for this important conference.