The Secretariat informed the Bureau on the European Union-funded project on the Feasibility Study for the Rehabilitation of the Areas of Balat and Fener of Fatih District, Istanbul executed by the World Heritage Centre. This study initially included the area of Zeyrek, renowned for the wooden buildings of the Ottoman period, which is part of Fatih District and one of the three districts of the historic centre of Istanbul that is protected under national law as a conservation area. The three districts contain monuments, sites or buffer zones of the World Heritage site.
It was reported that Zeyrek was excluded as a direct beneficiary of the EU-funded project focused on housing improvement of the poor inhabitants because the population had already abandoned it due to the dangerous conditions of the buildings in Zeyrek. The alarming state of conservation of the historic timber buildings of Zeyrek which are included in the inventory of monuments and sites under World Heritage protection, led to a reactive monitoring mission by ICOMOS in November 1997.
The EU-commissioned study completed in April 1998, enabled a general evaluation on the application of national cultural heritage protection laws in Fatih District. Initial conclusions indicated that part of the cause of the degradation of the historic buildings was due to the poverty of the inhabitants of these buildings compounded by the strict regulations which have led to the “freezing” of development and hence the degradation of the built environment and the eventual exodus of the inhabitants.
The Secretariat also reported that the European Parliament had already approved a budgetary appropriation of 3 million ECU for the national execution of this project. UNESCO expressed its wish to continue being involved in the operational phase of the project as a member of the scientific advisory group of the project so that the impact of this social development project in a World Heritage buffer zone could be monitored and reported to the Committee as required.
The Bureau was informed that this EU-funded project has already resulted in the establishment of a community advisory service by the Municipality of Fatih to enable dialogue between the inhabitants and the authorities on the improvement of housing and the urban environment. The Secretariat stressed the importance of this project which foresees, for the very first time, the investment of social housing funds of the Turkish Ministry of Housing into the rehabilitation of historic buildings, which has been to date, used only for the construction of new low-cost housing buildings. This could set a precedent that may lead to public and international development funds being made available to the rehabilitation of vernacular houses in other areas of Historic Istanbul and other historic cities in Turkey.
The Delegate of Lebanon questioned why the World Heritage Centre was implementing this EU-funded feasibility study, which was not specifically approved by the Committee and adds to the workload of the Centre. The Director of the Centre responded that it was within the function of the Centre as part of the UNESCO Secretariat and carried out under instructions from the Director-General who attaches the greatest importance to this “up-stream” study. The Secretariat added that this study was the first entrusted to UNESCO for implementation that tangibly demonstrates the European Commission’s response to UNESCO’s promotion of the cultural dimension of development and to the “Humanize the City” appeal launched by the Director-General at the Habitat II City Summit Conference in 1996.
The Observer of Greece stated that the Committee should not be involved in buffer zone areas and should be concerned only with the core World Heritage site. The Secretariat stated that in Istanbul, as in many historic cities inscribed on the World Heritage List in the 1980s, the inventory of monuments and the exact delimitation of the World Heritage protected areas are unclear, but that in any case, the entire district of Fatih is protected under national law and constitutes a buffer zone. The Secretariat further noted that this feasibility study is an example of the mobilising role of UNESCO for international co-operation activities that bridge social development and heritage preservation in accordance with Article 5 of the Convention.
The Delegate of Benin raised his concern over the World Heritage emblem being used by the Centre in letterheads and in reports of projects since this may give the impression of the Committee’s involvement or commitment. He also expressed concern about the European Commission or other entities making agreements that concern World Heritage. The Secretariat responded that this EC-UNESCO project was like other extrabudgetary projects being executed by UNESCO that are financed from the Japan Funds-in-Trust, the Italian Funds-in-Trust or UNDP among other donor sources, or activities under the International Safeguarding Campaigns that are for World Heritage sites but not financed through the World Heritage Fund.
The Observer of Thailand recalled the creation of the World Heritage Centre within UNESCO and underlined that all agreements concerning World Heritage sites should be approved by the Committee or its Chairperson. If the Director-General of UNESCO assigns functions to the Centre which are outside its scope of work, this would add to its workload and it would be preferable if this type of project would be assigned to the Division of Physical Heritage.
The Chairperson recalled that a decision was made in Merida at the twentieth session of the Committee that the Centre is not to sign any contracts or agreements that commit the World Heritage Committee and that such contracts are to be signed by the Committee Chairperson. The Secretariat stated that this project agreement with the European Commission does not commit the Committee in any way (N.B. the EC-UNESCO project agreement was signed by the Director of the Bureau for External Funding Relations (BER), on behalf of the Director-General). The purpose of the state of conservation report was to inform the Bureau of the alarming state of conservation of Zeyrek which is part of the World Heritage site and to provide information on innovative international aid activities that support World Heritage preservation. The Chairperson stated that he would look into the agreement(s) and/or contract(s) related to this project and would report back to the twenty-second extraordinary session of the Bureau, if necessary.
The Bureau took note of the report of the Secretariat on the study carried out jointly by UNESCO, the Fatih Municipality and the Institut Francais d’Etudes Anatoliennes under contract from the European Commission and supported the integrated community development approach in heritage preservation. The Bureau requested the Secretariat and the State Party to inform the Committee at its twenty-second session on the progress of the European Union project. The Bureau, furthermore, expressed its concern over the state of conservation of the historic buildings in Zeyrek and requested the State Party to report on its conservation efforts.