H.E. Gürcan Balik, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Turkey to UNESCO, and Kishore Rao, Director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, on 17 July signed a Plan of Operations for a $1.2 million project to safeguard the Turkish World Heritage site of Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia. H. E. Mr Isao Kiso, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Japan was also present on the occasion.

The three-year international cooperation project—Safeguarding the Rock-hewn Churches of Cappadocia, Turkey: Conservation of Rock Structures and Wall Paintings—is generously funded by Japan’s Funds-in-Trust for the Preservation of World Cultural Heritage and has been designed in close cooperation with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

The project follows on an international expert mission to the World Heritage area in Cappadocia in 2010. After extensive consultations with local heritage professionals and managers, the experts identified 22 painted rock-hewn churches that require immediate safeguarding measures, because of threats to the Outstanding Universal Value which merited the inscription of the property on the World Heritage List in 1985.

Subject to a further endorsement by the Turkish authorities later this year, the Plan of Operations includes a set of activities aimed at the safeguarding of the property: the complete conservation of the Church of Uzumlu in the Red Valley as a pilot project; research; capacity building; information management; an international seminar and publications; as well as a workshop and advisory mission for the preliminary work on the management plan of the property.

The overall aim of the agreement is to protect, enhance and develop sustainably the fragile World Heritage property. The participation of a wide range of national and international partners is seen as strengthening the application of the World Heritage Convention. It also provides a unique opportunity to promote international cooperation in the conservation of the world's cultural and natural heritage as one of UNESCO’s core mandates.