'What is UNESCO protecting?' counter forum to be held in Istanbul

Many organizations that are critical of UNESCO announced that they would be holding a ‘counter forum’ in Istanbul.

Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK) and other organizations emphasized that UNESCO has been losing its credibility regarding the protection of cultural and natural assets, and decided to hold a counter forum. The organizations issued a written statement and recalled that the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which claims that everything on its World Heritage List is the shared heritage of humanity, will hold its 40th meeting in Istanbul on July 10-20, 2016. The international meeting is scheduled to start with the 2015 report of the World Heritage Committee, and participants will discuss whether assets on the World Heritage List are being protected or not, and determine strategies for the protection of those that are under risk. Temporary lists will be prepared or the assets that are proposed additions to the list, and the World Cultural and Natural Heritage List will be updated. The Turkish government, which has contributed to the destruction of natural and cultural assets – registered in the heritage list or not – will be hosting the 40th meeting of UNESCO.

The organizers of the counter forum stated that, despite the fact that the meeting will be held in Istanbul, the destruction of the historical fabric of this city – which has been on the heritage list since 1985 – due to the capital groups’ pressure of construction and tourism will not be discussed. The destruction of historical neighborhoods in Süleymaniye for urban transformation projects, the surrender of old neighborhoods such as Ayvansaray and Sulukule to construction firms, and the destruction of forests and wetlands for the sake of ‘crazy – mega’ projects will not be addressed during the meeting.


Organizers of the ‘What is UNESCO protecting?’ forum emphasized UNESCO’s silence in the face of the destruction of natural and cultural assets on its list, and said that those that damage the assets cannot protect them. The organizers stated that the destruction of Kurşunlu Mosque, Four-legged Minaret, churches and centuries old living spaces inside the Diyarbakır Walls and Hevsel Gardens which are on the World Heritage List will be ignored during the UNESCO meeting, just like how the flooding and destruction of the thousands of years old archaeological site Hasankeyf.

HDK and other organizations criticized UNESCO’s decision to honor the mayor of Istanbul with a medal for his personal contribution to the protection of cultural heritage, and recalled the mayor’s role in the land filling of a 1 million square meters of sea in Yenikapı which has a history of 8500 years as well as the destruction of other historical sites. The organizers of the counter forum expressed their lack of trust in UNESCO’s claim to independently protect the cultural and natural heritage of the world.


Organizers of the ‘What is UNESCO protecting?’ forum stated that cultural and natural assets could not be protected by governments and the institutions they establish, but by the people that live near the assets and transmit them to future generations. Lastly, the organizers called upon everyone to show solidarity against UNESCO and similar organizations that acquit forces of war and capital, and participate in the counter forum to discuss how historical and cultural assets can be protecting as opposed to contributing to abstract discourses on the issue.


Date: 16 July 2016

Place: TMMOB Chamber of Architects, İstanbul Büyükkent Branch



Amed Sur Solidarity Association

Archaeologists Association İstanbul Branch

BODEP -Boğaziçi Associations Platform

ÇHD- Contemporary Lawyers' Association- İstanbul Branch

DAM-Dersim Research Center

Dersim Newspaper

DİSK –Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions- İstanbul Regional Representation Office

Divriği Culture Association

FAM Publication

Gökkuşağı Women’s Association

Haliç Solidarity

Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive

HDK –Peoples’ Democratic Congress- Ecology Assembly

HDK Culture and Arts Commission

İKS-İstanbul City Defense

İstanbul SOS Platform

İHD –Human Rights Association- İstanbul Branch

Federation of Karakoçan Associations

Kartal Lawyers Association

Urban Movements

KESK-Confederation of Public Employees’ Trade Unions

MEH -Mesopotamian Ecology Movement

MHD-Mesopotamian Lawyers’ Association

ÖDAV – Libertarian Democrat Lawyers

University Lecturers Association

Libertarian Lawyers Association

Free Women’s Congress-KJA

Social Rights Association

Right to Water Campaign

Association to Protect Sur and Keep it Alive

Initiative to Protect the Historical Yedikule Gardens

TMMOB Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects- Chamber of Environmental Engineers İstanbul Branch

TMMOB Board of City Coordination

TMMOB Chamber of Chemical Engineers İstanbul Branch

TMMOB Chamber of Architects Diyarbakır Branch

TMMOB Chamber of Architects İstanbul Büyükkent Branch

TMMOB Chamber of Urban Planners Diyarbakır Branch

TMMOB Chamber of Urban Planners İstanbul Branch

TTB –Turkish Medical Association- İstanbul Chamber of Medicine

Ünye Fatsa Platform to Protect Nature

Union of Judges and Prosecutors

Union of Judges

Green Anger Ecology Collective