Authors: Erkan Doğanay, Disaster and Emergency Management Expert, Mehmet Akif Alkan, Geophysical Engineer – Turkish Ministry of Interior, Disaster and Emergency Management Authority - AFAD, and Nermin Uzunali, Manager at Department of Restoration, General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums - Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
The interventions undertaken by Türkiye in response to the earthquakes that hit the Country on February 2023 and the measures and initiatives implemented during the recovery phase have revealed the importance of intensifying the exchange and cooperation among all stakeholders involved in disaster management and cultural heritage protection. Türkiye is located in a highly seismically active region where major earthquakes have occurred throughout history. According to the Global Risk Index drawn by the United Nations to measure and rank the humanitarian crises and disaster risks of countries, Türkiye is 45th out of 191 countries in the list, being also in the “high risk” group with an index score of 5.0. Between 1900 and 2023, there were 269 earthquakes that caused loss of life or severe damage in Türkiye.
On February 6, 2023, at 04:17 and 13:24 Turkish time, two earthquakes with a magnitude of 7.7 and 7.6, respectively, occurred in Pazarcık and Elbistan districts of Kahramanmaraş. Until June, a total of 36,692 aftershocks were recorded following the main earthquake. The 62 most affected places are concentrated in 11 provinces (Hatay, Adana, Osmaniye, Malatya, Elazığ, Adıyaman, Diyarbakır, Kahramanmaraş, Gaziantep, Kilis and Şanlıurfa) where about 9 million people, about 65% of the total population, were directly hit by the earthquake: more than 48,000 people lost their lives, more than half a million buildings were damaged and communication, transport and energy infrastructures were seriously affected. As a result of the evaluation, an estimated financial loss of approximately 104 billion USD was recorded.
Resilience and conservation of cultural heritage
These earthquakes have also had a devastating impact on the heritage of these cities, which are rich in cultural sites, streets and avenues featuring a rich cultural fabric, as they have been home to many civilisations in the past and must therefore be protected. In particular, these 11 severely affected provinces have registered cultural assets such as monumental structures, examples of civil architecture, archaeological remains and mausoleums of martyrs: there are 8,444 buildings within the immovable cultural heritage category, including 28 museums, 22 ruins, 153 libraries and 219 movie theatres affiliated to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism- MoCT. (1)
Damage assessment studies were carried out with a technical team of 150 people consisting of civil engineers and architects from the MoCT’s General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums and General Directorate of Foundations, in cooperation with the national Disaster and Emergency Management Authority - AFAD, the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, non-governmental organizations and universities. As a result of these studies, a total of 5.998 registered immovable cultural assets were classified as destroyed, heavily damaged, moderately damaged, slightly damaged or undamaged, and placed for future reference in a database that allows for recording, in addition to the level of damage, other characteristics of the areas, places and buildings assessed useful during the reconstruction phase.
In the post-earthquake phase involving the recovery of registered cultural assets, the priority was to operate together in a participatory environment with a cooperative approach. In order to coordinate the operations in the field, cooperation meetings were held under the chairmanship of the MoCT Deputy Minister that brought together experts and professionals (architects, civil engineers, art historians, archaeologists, geological engineers) coming from universities, non-governmental organizations and professional networks such as the UNESCO Türkiye National Commission, the International council of monuments and sites - ICOMOS Türkiye, the International Council of Museums - ICOM Türkiye, International Scientific Committee on Risk Preparedness - ICORP Türkiye, KORDER Experts Association (2), Cultural Heritage Preservation Association, Chambers of Engineers and Architects Union, Chamber of Civil Engineers, etc. Following the meetings aimed at sharing the results of damage assessments carried out in the earthquake-affected areas, holistic recovery programs and an action plan for revitalizing all settlements with their old spirit and preserving the memory of the city were implemented.
Fortunately, the assessments carried out didn’t report significant damage in the museums where large and important art-works are located, such as Hatay Archeology, Şanlıurfa Edessa Archaeology and Haleplibahçe Mosaic Museum and Gaziantep Zeugma Museum, which have been in service for the last 10 years. On the contrary, partial damage occurred in the museums in the cities of Hatay, Kahramanmaraş, Adıyaman and Malatya, among those mostly affected by the seism. It is worth noting that the Adıyaman Museum, although a rather old building, was only slightly damaged.
The first damage assessment carried out in the region’s museum directorates, reported severe damage to a total of 90 cultural heritage assets. However, there is no item in the “unique” category among the damaged artifacts. Damage assessment studies continue for the artifacts exhibited and preserved in the Hatay Museum Directorate's collection. Although no significant damage to the ruins was reported, two sites listed in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage were affected: heavy damage was registered in the conservation and landscape heritage area of Malatya Arslantepe Mound, and some falling stones partly damaged parts of the 5,000-year-old Diyarbakır Walls.
In the aftermath of the earthquakes, urgent measures were undertaken in all the affected sites, as foreseen by the Emergency Action Plan drafted immediately after the earthquake in cooperation with AFAD and the MoCT, in accordance with and in support of the Province Risk Reduction Plans of 2020 (3) that identifies the actions to be undertaken to reduce losses, and helps to identify the stakeholders that shall be involved in.
Security and rescue personnel were assigned to the affected areas and museums, and protection and rescue efforts were initiated rapidly. In addition, damage assessments and excavations in archaeological sites were carried out with AFAD, the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, non-governmental organizations and universities under the coordination of the MoCT: a total of 210 experts from 11 provinces participated in these operations.
In order to react to the emergency and adequately intervene for the protection of the cultural heritage in the provinces damaged by the earthquake, first of all, it was necessary to identify and mark each structure to distinguish the registered ones from the non-registered ones, then necessary safety measures were adopted, and finally, response and protection operations were carried out.
For the smooth implementation of rescue interventions, Disaster Excavation Departments were established. During such interventions the original architectural pieces were separated from the debris of the registered immovable cultural assets and transferred from the museums and from the excavation sites to the warehouses, after the completion of inventory records. In addition, during the operations of separating, sorting, documenting and cleaning of the movable cultural assets and the original architectural parts that have become rubble, scientific methods have been applied to ensure that these works of art can be relocated later on to their sites of origin after their reconstruction and/or restoration. In parallel, the works for the establishment of the Directorate of Surveying and Monuments and the Restoration and Conservation Regional Laboratory in Hatay started and are still ongoing in order to carry out restoration and conservation interventions of the artefacts damaged by the earthquake.
A “Cultural Heritage Scientific Advisory Board” was also established, composed by professionals and expert academicians, whose mandate is to define the criteria for reconstruction and restoration in urban archaeological areas where monumental and civil architecture examples are intertwined.
Finally, in order to support the recovery phase, it was necessary to improve the legislative framework establishing the provisions for the protection, securing and restoration of buildings damaged by the earthquakes, most of which privately owned. To this end, the 2015 Regulation on Providing Assistance to Immovable Cultural Properties (4) by MoCT has been updated to broaden the scope of projects for the restoration and protection of registered immovable cultural properties and the implementation of aids in disaster-stricken regions. Indeed, this Regulation allows non-refundable cash assistance for the preparation of projects and applications for such initiatives implemented on immovable cultural heritage privately owned since 2005.
Earthquakes are among the most important natural risks faced by cultural heritage, since the loss and damage they cause threaten their integrity, value and originality. Especially in recent years, the intensification of disasters whose impact is exacerbated by the effects of climate change, the protection of cultural heritage has become an increasingly important area of cooperation. In conclusion, the works carried out in Türkiye following the earthquakes will contribute to the literature for the inclusion of cultural heritage protection in all disaster risk management processes and planning. The measures and initiative undertaken by the Country have shown the importance of intensifying the exchange and cooperation among all stakeholders involved in disaster management and cultural heritage protection, in order to make a comprehensive resource planning and to create detailed cooperation plans for cultural heritage areas before, during and after the disaster. In addition, social inclusion, awareness raising and proactive participation of the local communities are of key importance for an adequate and sustainable implementation of the actions within the recovery phase.
(1) Source: Türkiye Earthquakes Recovery and Reconstruction Assessment https://www.sbb.gov.tr/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Turkiye-Recovery-and-Reconstruction-Assessment.pdf
(2) KORDER Experts Association http://korder.org/index.php/english/
(3) Available in Turkish only https://kahramanmaras.afad.gov.tr/kurumlar/kahramanmaras.afad/e-kutuphane/IL-PLANLARI/KAHRAMANMARAS%CC%A7-IL-AFET-RISK-AZALTMA-PLANI2022.pdf
(4) Available in Turkish only https://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/2015/05/20150527-4.htm