Turkish writer quits UNESCO to protest damage to heritage, rights abuse

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s goodwill ambassador to the UN cultural agency UNESCO resigned on Thursday, accusing it of hypocrisy in ignoring the destruction of large parts of a heritage site during clashes between the Turkish army and militants in his country’s mainly Kurdish southeast.

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With Roman-era basalt walls encircling historic houses, churches, synagogues and mosques, the city of Diyarbakir’s Sur district was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2015. Weeks later, a Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) ceasefire collapsed and an armed campaign reignited.

Sur was the site of some of the fiercest fighting and has been under military lockdown since December.

“As the demolition of history is taking place in Sur, hypocrisy dominated the (Istanbul) World Humanitarian Summit,” Zulfu Livaneli, a novelist, filmmaker, composer and singer said in tendering his resignation from United Nations cultural agency on Thursday, accusing the government of violating human rights.

“To pontificate on peace while remaining silent against such violations is a contradiction of the fundamental ideals of UNESCO,” said Livaneli, who had held the goodwill post to promote UNESCO values since 1996.

This week’s U.N. humanitarian summit in Istanbul, billed as the first of its kind and attracting 55 heads of state and government, sought to raise funds and political will to tackle the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two, with 130 million people displaced by war and natural disasters.


Large tracts of Sur on the banks of the Tigris river, once home to 24,000 mostly lower-income residents who have all left, have been bulldozed. Historic monuments bear battle scars.

Authorities have promised to rebuild Sur to reflect its historical importance. They accuse the PKK of storing weapons and harboring fighters in Sur and causing the deaths of 271 militants and 72 soldiers.

Opposition parties have said dozens of civilians also perished in Sur.

Works including “Bliss” by Livaneli have been translated into at least 37 languages. He is also one of Turkey’s most popular singers.

A leftist, he served for three years as a lawmaker in the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) before quitting in 2005 to protest party’s “authoritarian” politics.

Additional reporting by Sehymus Cakan in Diyarbakir; Editing by Dasha Afanasieva and Ralph Boulton