A joint World Heritage Centre – ICOMOS mission visited the property from 4 to10 March 2007 to review the implementation of follow-up measures to previous decisions of the World Heritage Committee on the state of conservation of the property, as well as the measures which the State Party plans to take to protect the outstanding universal value of the property. The mission was also to elaborate an updated Action Plan in collaboration with the State Party, and progress was noted in the following areas:
a) Management structure:
The Department of the Historical-Architectural Reserve Icheri Sheher (SDHARIS), established in 2005 by Presidential decree has full management responsibility for the World Heritage property, replacing the former authorities of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the Executive Power of the City of Baku. Its Director was appointed on 29 December 2006. The mission considered that he should pay particular attention to hiring an architect qualified in urban conservation management. The new Department needs to be made fully operational and financially sustainable as soon as possible.
The mission noted the absence of any current coordination between the Direction of SDHARIS and national institutions and local authorities working on the Walled City and its buffer zone. It is understood that the structure for this collaboration will develop from the Management Plan.
b) Demolition of buildings:
The new Director has exercised his powers to stop all demolition and construction activities in the Walled City area in conformity with the Presidential Decrees of 2003 to 2006. He has also begun assessing the state of conservation of the buildings, verifying the leasing conditions of buildings under the state protection, initiating the improvement of infrastructures in the Walled City, establishing an electronic control for the entry and exit of motor vehicles, as well as improving visitor information.
Following the signing of an agreement between the University of Minnesota (USA) and the Azerbaijan University of Architecture and Construction (within the framework of an activity-financing contract between UNESCO and the University of Minnesota), a joint team has prepared a digital database inventory of all historic buildings in the Walled City area. The inventory needs to be further elaborated and maintained as a digitized information database for management and planning purposes.
d) Management Plan:
An international team appointed by the World Bank has prepared, in close co-ordination with SDHARIS, an “Integrated Area Management ActionPlan” for the World Heritage property and its buffer zone. The plan will be finalized in April 2007 and will be communicated officially to the World Heritage Centre after its approval. It is hoped that the Plan will address the need for guidelines for rehabilitation and restoration of historic buildings, as well as design guidelines for new constructions and the street furniture.
It was understood by the mission that the “Integrated Area Management Action Plan” foresees a proposed structure for the new SDHARIS, which included the establishment of a Scientific Council of institutional stakeholders and experts, as well as a Council of Elders, involving representatives of the local community. How this collaborative structure will function still needs to be clarified.
Once the Plan has been approved at all levels, the challenge will be to ensure that it is properly implemented as a strategic guideline for conservation management of the Walled City and its buffer zone. The World Bank consultant team has expressed the wish that the Management Plan be officially recognized as a planning tool by the Azerbaijan Government and the Municipality of Baku.
e) Urban Conservation Plan:
Considering the urgent needs of the Historic Town of Baku, its Walled City with its buffer zone, the Director of SDHARIS requested the World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS mission to provide a list of potential experts for the preparation of an Urban Conservation Plan for the World Heritage property and its buffer zone. This Plan could later be integrated in the overall City Master Plan, which was valid until 2005, and should now be reviewed.
f) Buffer Zone:
The buffer zone, as adopted at the time of inscription, surrounds the core zone on all sides, extending some 100m to the north-west and south-west, and about 200m to the north-east. It also covers the seafront area to the south-east. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has taken initiatives to provide protection for the entire area that developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is much larger than the buffer zone. The area has maintained much of its historic integrity and it also contains significant public buildings. The integrity of the area is however at risk, from the current oil boom and the rapid development trends in the town of Baku. There are already several high-rise buildings built or under construction which will cause an negative impact on the integrity of the area.
Considering that the current buffer zone covers a relatively narrow area around the World Heritage core zone, the possibility of extending the buffer zone should be given careful thought, in order to integrate the 19th and early 20th centuries urban development areas.
The presidential decree mentioned above does not clarify the management responsibility for the buffer zone. Therefore, at the moment, it stays within the municipal authority. The Director of SDHARIS has however confirmed that he will take steps to clarify the management authority in the buffer zone, and propose collaboration with the City of Baku and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
g) Capacity building:
The mission observed the urgent need to prepare a comprehensive strategy for training and education involving those responsible for rehabilitation, restoration and eventual reconstruction activities in the Walled City.