UNDP kicks off global online giving campaign to restore cultural heritage destroyed in Türkiye earthquakes

December 8, 2023

#SaveTheLegacy website to collect individual and corporate donations to restore cultural heritage sites that are vital to local identity and livelihoods

Ankara, 8 December 2023 – In a sober ceremony organized today at the Anatolian Civilizations Museum in Ankara, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) pressed the start button on a global online “crowdfunding” campaign aimed at collecting the resources needed to restore cultural heritage damaged and destroyed in the February 2023 earthquakes that devastated southern Türkiye. The campaign centers on the www.savethelegacy.org website and appeals to individuals, charities, companies and governments to pitch in to help restore the region as a priceless “mosaic” of cultural diversity.

The earthquakes killed more than 50,700 people and destroyed 313,000 buildings across 11 provinces, leaving 3.3 million people homeless and much of the region’s economy in tatters. But they also caused incalculable damage to the unique cultural heritage of a region that has hosted 13 different civilizations over thousands of years of history. 3,752 of 8,444 historical structures in the region suffered damage or destruction, leaving experts tallying the costs of reconstruction and restoration in the billions of dollars.

“Restoring cultural heritage is a priority in our earthquake recovery efforts,” said Louisa Vinton, UNDP Resident Representative. “It’s not only about piecing priceless relics back together, as important as that is to world culture. It’s also about restoring the familiar landmarks that give the region its identity, that help create a sense of belonging for its residents, and that attract visitors with local crafts, cuisine and customs.”

Since the first days after the disaster, UNDP has pursued this task in close cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MoCT). Initially, UNDP supplied dozens of customized containers to the region’s archeological museums for use in preserving and protecting at-risk collections, and to house ministry staff engaged in earthquake recovery efforts. Later UNDP facilitated expert assessment missions and provided drones, cameras, tablets and specialized software to assist the MoCT in cataloguing the damage.

For some of the hallmark structures in the region, restoration funding has already been secured, whether from government or community resources. But the financial need still far outstrips the available resources. This is why UNDP opted to launch a campaign appealing for international solidarity in the face of disaster.

“Türkiye will always remember the outpouring of international support that followed the earthquakes, with more than 100 countries sending search and rescue teams to search the rubble for survivors,” said Serdar Çam, Deputy Minister at the MoCT. “We count on the same spirit of cross-border solidarity and generosity as we turn to the daunting task of rescuing the priceless cultural heritage we now risk losing forever, along with all the many communities that depend on it for their identity and livelihoods.”

UNDP’s campaign initially focuses on six sites that capture the region’s geographic and cultural diversity:

  • The Hatay Archaeology Museum, home to one of the world’s most renowned mosaic collections;

  • The imposing 2,000-year-old Gaziantep Castle, whose walls crumbled in the earthquakes;

  • The 14th century Sarımiye Mosque in central Antakya, whose iconic minaret collapsed;

  • The Mar Yuhanna Greek Orthodox Church in the Arsuz district of Hatay;

  • The elegant market bazaar hosting hundreds of shops in central Kahramanmaraş; and

  • The archaeological site of ancient Arsameia in Adiyaman, where King Mithridates once ruled.

“Each and every artifact in our collections is not only the heritage of Hatay but also the shared heritage of all humanity,” said Ayşe Ersoy, Director of the Hatay Archaeology Museum. “This is why we are so thankful for all these collective efforts to save our cultural heritage.”

The UNDP campaign also highlights the importance of intangible cultural heritage, given the direct link between local traditions and the livelihoods of artisans and craftspeople and all those in the tourism sector.

In addition to individual donations, the campaign is seeking large-scale contributions from donors and the private sector. The Governments of Bulgaria, Greece and Romania have already signed on to support the campaign as anchor partners, through their Ministries of Foreign Affairs. To date, more than US$4 million has been committed to support the effort and set an example for other donors. The Meta Foundation will promote the campaign via its digital platforms and has offered the use of Augmented Reality (AR) technologies to visualize southern Türkiye’s cultural heritage and create an educational resource.

The Friday evening event included a performance by the Antakya Civilizations Choir, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, and a discussion among cultural heritage experts, artisans and community leaders on the urgent need for funds to restore cultural monuments that are critical to the lives and economic fortunes of local communities in Hatay and the ten other earthquake-affected provinces. 

“Different religions have coexisted for thousands of years in Hatay,” said Can Teymur, President of Iskenderun St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Foundation. “The earthquakes did not discriminate, destroying mosques, churches and synagogues. We welcome UNDP’s commitment to restore the region in all its diversity.”

For more information:

Esra Özçeşmeci, Communications Associate for UNDP in Türkiye, esra.ozcesmeci@undp.org

Umut Dulun, Communications Associate for UNDP in Türkiye, umut.dulun@undp.org