Boost for Turkey’s Gobeklitepe as UNESCO adds ‘ground zero for human history’ to World Heritage List

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On Sunday, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee added the Turkish archaeological site Gobeklitepe to the World Heritage List. (© DAI, Göbekli Tepe Project)
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On Sunday, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee added the Turkish archaeological site Gobeklitepe to the World Heritage List. (© DAI, Göbekli Tepe Project)
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On Sunday, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee added the Turkish archaeological site Gobeklitepe to the World Heritage List. (© DAI, Göbekli Tepe Project)
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On Sunday, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee added the Turkish archaeological site Gobeklitepe to the World Heritage List. (© DAI, Göbekli Tepe Project)
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On Sunday, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee added the Turkish archaeological site Gobeklitepe to the World Heritage List. (© DAI, Göbekli Tepe Project)
Updated 03 July 2018

Boost for Turkey’s Gobeklitepe as UNESCO adds ‘ground zero for human history’ to World Heritage List

  • On Sunday, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee added the Turkish archaeological site Gobeklitepe to the World Heritage List
  • The site, located in Turkey’s southeastern province of Sanliurfa, was recently reopened to tourists following extensive restoration work

ANKARA: Few people were aware of Gobeklitepe before the start of the excavations there by researchers from Istanbul and Chicago universities in 1963.
On Sunday, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee added the Turkish archaeological site, considered the “ground zero for human history,” to the World Heritage List.
The site had been on UNESCO’S so-called Tentative List for five years before the decision was taken, at the 42nd UNESCO World Heritage List Committee meeting held in Bahrain’s capital Manama, chaired by the country’s pioneering lawyer and diplomat Shaikha Haya bint Rashed Al-Khalifa. Turkey now has 18 cultural heritage sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Gobeklitepe, which translates as Potbelly Hill, is the world’s oldest known megalithic structure in Upper Mesopotamia. It dates back 12,000 years and is considered to be the world’s oldest temple. It is also among the oldest archaeological ruins in the world, featuring massive carved stones and T-shaped pillars that predate the invention of agriculture.
The site, located in Turkey’s southeastern province of Sanliurfa, was recently reopened to tourists following extensive restoration work.
Professor Klaus Schmidt, a German archaeologist and pre-historian, led the wide-ranging excavations at Gobeklitepe from 1996 until his death in 2014, contributing through his research much that helped to rewrite the early history of civilization.
“We, as the archaeological team excavating the site, congratulate Turkey for this inscription into UNESCO’s world heritage list and are thankful for the unique opportunity of doing research at this important site,” said Jens Notroff, a researcher at the German Archaeological Institute and member of the Gobeklitepe research project.
The research team issued a statement saying: “The significance of the site for our understanding of the Neolithic transition in this key area of the Fertile Crescent can’t be stressed enough.
“But it’s not only an important site for us archaeologists. It’s a crucial site in world history and its inscription on the World Heritage List will underline this fact.”
Gobeklitepe is located at the northern edge of the Fertile Crescent, an area often described as the “Cradle of Civilization” that covers the Middle East from the Arabian Gulf to Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Egypt.
The addition of the site to the UNESCO list is expected to boost tourism at the site, which is in a region where visitor numbers have significantly declined because of the conflict in nearby Syria and the refugee crisis.
Sanliurfa, also known as Urfa and the City of Abraham, is renowned for its historic buildings with Arab-influenced architecture.
The population of the city is mainly a mixture of Turks, Kurds and Arabs. It is believed that Prophet Abraham was born and thrown into the fire in this city.
“Despite the negative effects of the nearby Syrian conflict and refugee crisis on tourism at the site, there is still a considerable number of tourists visiting the area,” said Isil Acehan, a post-doctoral fellow at the Foundation for Religious Sciences John XXIII in Bologna. “The coverage of the site by international news outlets and channels attracted more tourists.”
Acehan said that no matter how significant a site such as Gobeklitepe is to world history and heritage, not only must it meet certain criteria to merit being added to the World Heritage List, but so must the government responsible for it.
“For example, nominating states must clearly demonstrate their commitment to preserving the site,” she added.
Speaking exclusively to Arab News, Mechtild Rossler, the director of the Division for Heritage and the UNESCO World Heritage Center, said addition of Gobeklitepe to the World Heritage List is a great recognition of the scientific research at the site and the efforts to protect its outstanding heritage.
“This inscription will further raise awareness about this unique heritage globally and may also attract tourists and visitors and could be a motor for local and regional sustainable development,” she added.


Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

Updated 17 September 2019

Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

  • The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is putting increased pressure on the nation’s armed factions, including Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops and Kurdish guerrillas, in an attempt to tighten his control over them, Iraqi military commanders and analysts said on Monday.

Military commanders have been stripped of some of their most important powers as part of the efforts to prevent them from being drawn into local or regional conflicts.

The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq. 

Each side has dozens of allied armed groups in the country, which has been one of the biggest battlegrounds for the two countries since 2003. 

Attempting to control these armed factions and military leaders is one of the biggest challenges facing the Iraqi government as it works to keep the country out of the conflict.

On Sunday, Abdul Mahdi dissolved the leadership of the joint military operations. 

They will be replaced by a new one, under his chairmanship, that includes representatives of the ministries of defense and interior, the military and security services, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and the Ministry of Peshmerga, which controls the military forces of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

According to the prime minister’s decree, the main tasks of the new command structure are to “lead and manage joint operations at the strategic and operational level,” “repel all internal and external threats and dangers as directed by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces,” “manage and coordinate the intelligence work of all intelligence and security agencies,” and “coordinate with international bodies that support Iraq in the areas of training and logistical and air support.”

“This decree will significantly and effectively contribute to controlling the activities of all combat troops, not just the PMU,” said a senior military commander, who declined to be named. 

“This will block any troops associated with any local political party, regional or international” in an attempt to ensure troops serve only the government’s goals and the good of the country. 

“This is explicit and unequivocal,” he added.

Since 2003, the political process in Iraq has been based on political power-sharing system. This means that each parliamentary bloc gets a share of top government positions, including the military, proportionate to its number of seats in Parliament. Iran, the US and a number of regional countries secure their interests and ensure influence by supporting Iraqi political factions financially and morally.

This influence has been reflected in the loyalties and performance of the majority of Iraqi officials appointed by local, regional and international parties, including the commanders of combat troops.

To ensure more government control, the decree also stripped the ministers of defense and interior, and leaders of the counterterrorism, intelligence and national security authorities, and the PMU, from appointing, promoting or transferring commanders. This power is now held exclusively by Abdul Mahdi.

“The decree is theoretically positive as it will prevent local, regional and international parties from controlling the commanders,” said another military commander. 

“This means that Abdul Mahdi will be responsible to everyone inside and outside Iraq for the movement of these forces and their activities.

“The question now is whether Abdul Mahdi will actually be able to implement these instructions or will it be, like others, just ink on paper?”

The PMU is a government umbrella organization established by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki in June 2014 to encompass the armed factions and volunteers who fought Daesh alongside the Iraqi government. Iranian-backed factions such as Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah represent the backbone of the forces.

The US, one of Iraq’s most important allies in the region and the world, believes Iran is using its influence within the PMU to destabilize and threaten Iraq and the region. Abdul Mahdi is under huge external and internal pressure to abolish the PMU and demobilize its fighters, who do not report or answer to the Iraqi government.

The prime minister aims to ease tensions between the playmakers in Iraq, especially the US and Iran, by preventing their allies from clashing on the ground or striking against each other’s interests.

“Abdul Mahdi seeks to satisfy Washington and reassure them that the (armed) factions of the PMU will not move against the will of the Iraqi government,” said Abdullwahid Tuama, an Iraqi analyst.

The prime minister is attempting a tricky balancing act by aiming to protect the PMU, satisfy the Iranians and prove to the Americans that no one is outside the authority of the state, he added.