Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin 08ANKARA2139 2008-12-19 15:23 2011-08-24 01:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Ankara
VZCZCXYZ0000 PP RUEHWEB
DE RUEHAK #2139/01 3541523 ZNR UUUUU ZZH P 191523Z DEC 08 FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8264 INFO RUEHYE/AMEMBASSY YEREVAN PRIORITY 1345 RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL PRIORITY 5129 UNCLAS ANKARA 002139
DEPT FOR EUR/PPD, ECA/P/C, EUR/SE, EUR/CARC
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: SCUL PREL PGOV AM TU SUBJECT: TURKEY RESTORING ANCIENT ARMENIAN CITY OF ANI
¶1. (SBU) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for internet distribution.
¶2. (SBU) SUMMARY. The excavation, preservation and restoration of the ancient Armenian city of Ani continues with renewed emphasis since President Gul's July 2008 visit there. The Culture Ministry (MOC) is working in partnership on the project with Turkish universities and other local and foreign experts, including the Global Heritage Fund. Ministry officials and project directors emphasized their intent to proceed deliberately on Ani, focusing first on stabilization, and then restoration, but only with original excavated materials. The MOC is concerned by blasting at stone quarries only hundreds of meters across the border from Ani that has disturbed the foundation of some structures -- already at risk in an earthquake zone -- and spoiled the surrounding scenery. While there are no Armenians serving presently on the project advisory committee, the MOC has relayed its concerns to the GOAM through the Turkish MFA and through recent contacts with Armenian experts at international symposia. The blasting has since diminished and our contacts believe they will be able to work more directly with Armenian counterparts in the not-too-distant future, political circumstances permitting. The MOC suggested an interest in partnering with the U.S. on the Ani project, which might also offer an avenue for future Turkey-Armenia joint programming. END SUMMARY.
¶3. (SBU) CAO and poloff met with Culture and Tourism Ministry Deputy Director General Okkas Daglioglu and Department Head Serhad Akcan December 18 to discuss the ministry's ongoing work in Ani, the ancient Armenian city located just on the Turkish side of the border with Armenia. We were joined by an enthusiastic group of young project and sub-project directors. Daglioglu informed us that the restoration of Ani commenced in 1992. The visit of President Gul in July 2008 renewed GOT efforts on the project, which is being carried out directly by the MOC, with the participation of universities and other local experts, along with some outside participation, including stabilization work carried out by the French Sorbonne and stabilization and topographical survey work by the Global Heritage Fund. A small non-governmental advisory committee advises the MOC, which has set short, medium and long-term goals for the site, prioritized by how urgently key structures require stabilization. (NOTE: While the MOC maintains a robust oversight of all cultural preservation projects in Turkey, it is somewhat unusual for the ministry, with an annual budget of only $8 million, to take direct ownership of excavation and restoration work at one of the thousands of Turkish registered historical sites; local and foreign universities or foundations often take the operational lead. This might be explained by the political sensitivity of the project and that Ani, until recently, was located in a highly-restricted security zone. END NOTE.) Ani is not a UNESCO World Heritage Center (there are nine other such centers in Turkey), but there is interest within the GOT in pursuing such a designation.
¶4. (SBU) According to Daglioglu, blasting at Armenian stone quarries just across the border and only hundreds of meters from Ani has damaged the foundation of some structures and spoiled the surrounding scenery. (NOTE: Visibly scarred hilltops on the Armenian side were evident in a slide show our hosts presented. END NOTE.) He informed us that Turkey conveyed its concerns to the GOAM via diplomatic note from the MFA (presumably passed through the Turkish Embassy in Tbilisi), as well as through UNESCO officials and recent contacts at international conferences. Daglioglu was pleased to report that the blasting has diminished. Asked if he thought it might be efficacious for Armenian experts to participate on the advisory committee and thus open new channels of communication with Turkey on the project, Daglioglu said he did not think it feasible at this stage, but that it might become so in the future. He emphasized that the work is not politically driven and that Turkey intends to restore the region's heritage regardless of whether it is Turkish or Armenian , Muslim or Christian. Akcan told us Ani belongs to the people who live on both sides of the border and looked forward to both peoples being able to own it and enjoy it.
¶5. (SBU) Our hosts presented to us a slide show highlighting key stabilization, excavation and restoration projects, including the famous cathedral and Tigran Honents Church. They emphasized that stabilization and use of excavated materials -- not renovation -- is the preferred approach, showing us some examples, including of a Selcuk-era Kervansaray, that did not benefit from the addition of non-excavated material in its earlier "renovation." The importance of stabilization was underscored by slides demonstrating how, in recent decades, a number of prominent structures were badly damaged or destroyed by lightning and earthquake. (See the recently updated MOC website at www.ani.gov.tr for photos and news of the project (in Turkish).)
¶6. (SBU) Upgrading the tourist infrastructure of Ani is another key component of the project. Presently there is a small, spare visitors' center and toilet facility, and no cafe. The MOC does not intend to disturb the sanctity or natural beauty of Ani, but an upgraded welcome center, with a small museum, gift shop and conference room is planned. The location is a 1.5 hour drive from Kars, the nearest city with an airport and hotel lodging. The road to Ani is being upgraded, and the small village of Ocakli, along the road, will get a facelift. The MOC hopes that Ocakli residents can benefit economically from growing tourism and learn to respect and value Ani (the town was only founded in the 1960s); limiting animal grazing is a key challenge. Updating signage -- currently basic and only in Turkish and English -- is another priority; the MOC plans for the updated signage to be also printed in Armenian, as with the Akdamar church restoration in Van.
¶7. (SBU) Despite the political sensitivities of Ani, the MOC's enthusiasm for the project suggested to us a willingness to partner with the USG, with whom it has partnered on other projects. Increased tourism could provide the impoverished Kars region a substantial economic benefit. We offered no specific suggestions, but we may wish to consider if and how we might participate, perhaps by partnering with the Global Heritage Fund (www.globalheritagefund.org), which already has experience in Ani and which completed a cultural revitalization of an Ottoman district in near-by Kars. The project might also offer the potential for promoting engagement between Turkish and Armenian archaeologists and other cultural preservation experts. Indeed, if the borders are eventually opened, as hoped, and if the Armenian side is confident the restoration was carried out with its concerns in mind, Armenians might one day be among the largest group of visitors to Ani. Our next step will be to continue discussions on Ani with Turkish university contacts participating in the project, exploring further any potential U.S. role.
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