Cablegate: Turkey Restoring Ancient Armenian City of Ani


DE RUEHAK #2139/01 3541523
P 191523Z DEC 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for internet

2. (SBU) SUMMARY. The excavation, preservation and
restoration of the ancient Armenian city of Ani continues
with renewed emphasis since President Gul's July 2008 visit
there. The Culture Ministry (MOC) is working in partnership
on the project with Turkish universities and other local and
foreign experts, including the Global Heritage Fund.
Ministry officials and project directors emphasized their
intent to proceed deliberately on Ani, focusing first on
stabilization, and then restoration, but only with original
excavated materials. The MOC is concerned by blasting at
stone quarries only hundreds of meters across the border from
Ani that has disturbed the foundation of some structures --
already at risk in an earthquake zone -- and spoiled the
surrounding scenery. While there are no Armenians serving
presently on the project advisory committee, the MOC has
relayed its concerns to the GOAM through the Turkish MFA and
through recent contacts with Armenian experts at
international symposia. The blasting has since diminished
and our contacts believe they will be able to work more
directly with Armenian counterparts in the not-too-distant
future, political circumstances permitting. The MOC
suggested an interest in partnering with the U.S. on the Ani
project, which might also offer an avenue for future
Turkey-Armenia joint programming. END SUMMARY.

3. (SBU) CAO and poloff met with Culture and Tourism Ministry
Deputy Director General Okkas Daglioglu and Department Head
Serhad Akcan December 18 to discuss the ministry's ongoing
work in Ani, the ancient Armenian city located just on the
Turkish side of the border with Armenia. We were joined by
an enthusiastic group of young project and sub-project
directors. Daglioglu informed us that the restoration of Ani
commenced in 1992. The visit of President Gul in July 2008
renewed GOT efforts on the project, which is being carried
out directly by the MOC, with the participation of
universities and other local experts, along with some outside
participation, including stabilization work carried out by
the French Sorbonne and stabilization and topographical
survey work by the Global Heritage Fund. A small
non-governmental advisory committee advises the MOC, which
has set short, medium and long-term goals for the site,
prioritized by how urgently key structures require
stabilization. (NOTE: While the MOC maintains a robust
oversight of all cultural preservation projects in Turkey, it
is somewhat unusual for the ministry, with an annual budget
of only $8 million, to take direct ownership of excavation
and restoration work at one of the thousands of Turkish
registered historical sites; local and foreign universities
or foundations often take the operational lead. This might
be explained by the political sensitivity of the project and
that Ani, until recently, was located in a highly-restricted
security zone. END NOTE.) Ani is not a UNESCO World
Heritage Center (there are nine other such centers in
Turkey), but there is interest within the GOT in pursuing
such a designation.

4. (SBU) According to Daglioglu, blasting at Armenian stone
quarries just across the border and only hundreds of meters
from Ani has damaged the foundation of some structures and
spoiled the surrounding scenery. (NOTE: Visibly scarred
hilltops on the Armenian side were evident in a slide show
our hosts presented. END NOTE.) He informed us that Turkey
conveyed its concerns to the GOAM via diplomatic note from
the MFA (presumably passed through the Turkish Embassy in
Tbilisi), as well as through UNESCO officials and recent
contacts at international conferences. Daglioglu was pleased
to report that the blasting has diminished. Asked if he
thought it might be efficacious for Armenian experts to
participate on the advisory committee and thus open new
channels of communication with Turkey on the project,
Daglioglu said he did not think it feasible at this stage,
but that it might become so in the future. He emphasized
that the work is not politically driven and that Turkey
intends to restore the region's heritage regardless of
whether it is Turkish or Armenian , Muslim or Christian.
Akcan told us Ani belongs to the people who live on both
sides of the border and looked forward to both peoples being
able to own it and enjoy it.

5. (SBU) Our hosts presented to us a slide show highlighting
key stabilization, excavation and restoration projects,
including the famous cathedral and Tigran Honents Church.
They emphasized that stabilization and use of excavated
materials -- not renovation -- is the preferred approach,
showing us some examples, including of a Selcuk-era
Kervansaray, that did not benefit from the addition of
non-excavated material in its earlier "renovation." The
importance of stabilization was underscored by slides
demonstrating how, in recent decades, a number of prominent
structures were badly damaged or destroyed by lightning and
earthquake. (See the recently updated MOC website at for photos and news of the project (in

6. (SBU) Upgrading the tourist infrastructure of Ani is
another key component of the project. Presently there is a
small, spare visitors' center and toilet facility, and no
cafe. The MOC does not intend to disturb the sanctity or
natural beauty of Ani, but an upgraded welcome center, with a
small museum, gift shop and conference room is planned. The
location is a 1.5 hour drive from Kars, the nearest city with
an airport and hotel lodging. The road to Ani is being
upgraded, and the small village of Ocakli, along the road,
will get a facelift. The MOC hopes that Ocakli residents can
benefit economically from growing tourism and learn to
respect and value Ani (the town was only founded in the
1960s); limiting animal grazing is a key challenge. Updating
signage -- currently basic and only in Turkish and English --
is another priority; the MOC plans for the updated signage to
be also printed in Armenian, as with the Akdamar church
restoration in Van.

7. (SBU) Despite the political sensitivities of Ani, the
MOC's enthusiasm for the project suggested to us a
willingness to partner with the USG, with whom it has
partnered on other projects. Increased tourism could provide
the impoverished Kars region a substantial economic benefit.
We offered no specific suggestions, but we may wish to
consider if and how we might participate, perhaps by
partnering with the Global Heritage Fund
(, which already has experience in
Ani and which completed a cultural revitalization of an
Ottoman district in near-by Kars. The project might also
offer the potential for promoting engagement between Turkish
and Armenian archaeologists and other cultural preservation
experts. Indeed, if the borders are eventually opened, as
hoped, and if the Armenian side is confident the restoration
was carried out with its concerns in mind, Armenians might
one day be among the largest group of visitors to Ani. Our
next step will be to continue discussions on Ani with Turkish
university contacts participating in the project, exploring
further any potential U.S. role.

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