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Cultural and Natural Property law

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Law 2863 on the Protection of Cultural and Natural Property of 21 July 1983 defines cultural and natural properties and lists examples covered by the related definition, the persons, institutions and organizations which are liable for protection of such properties, specifies the roles and responsibilities thereof, while stating the rights and responsibilities of citizens pertaining to such properties. Movable and immovable cultural and natural property listed under ‘general provisions’ of the Law and definitions regarding their protection are parallel to the UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage dated 1972. The Law thus makes secure and adequate provision for the protection of properties covered by this definition, within the borders of the Turkish Republic.

Responsibility for protecting cultural and natural property as clearly defined by the Law is shared by three bodies: the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the High Council of Protection and the Regional Council of Protection. Roles of protection and management and responsibilities pertaining thereto are undertaken by these three institutions instead of one single institution, which allows supervision and management to be more rapid, practical and sound. Besides, statutory members of regional councils for protection such as archaeologists, art historians, lawyers, architects, town planners as well as two academics with expertise in other disciplines, may enhance the possibility of ensuring that the related councils are operating in accordance with more scientific and contemporary methods. Moreover, as stated in the additional paragraph to the article concerned, the relevant professional bodies may participate in regional council meetings as observers, which will ensure that decisions taken in such meetings are observed by impartial legal and private entities.

There exist nevertheless some incomplete aspects and imperfections in this Law. While Article 6 defines the immovable cultural and natural properties to be protected, it covers only those immovable properties which are dated to before the end of the 19th century. Other immovable properties may be covered by the Law if deemed necessary. Since this Article would involve ignoring some very important artefacts and properties belonging to the last 20 years of the Ottoman Empire and the first years of the Republic, it would be appropriate to update and broaden the scope of the Law. Additionally, according to Article 24, in the event that some immovable cultural and natural properties to be protected are detected being taken out of the country ‘they shall be returned to their owners provided that they are evaluated at home’. Assuming that it will not be difficult to exploit legal loopholes in this Article, it is clear that it should be elaborated on and additional precautions taken to prevent cultural and natural properties from being taken out of the country.

Turkey has been aware of its cultural heritage and the regulations and laws designed to protect it since the enactment under the Ottoman empire in 1869 of the regulation ‘Asar-ı Atika Nizamnamesi’ prohibiting historical artefacts from being smuggled abroad. It is only natural that laws are subject to amendment, with articles added or abolished as necessary, and this will remain the case in the future. However, it should be decided whether the primary focus of attention should be the laws or the practice. In Turkey, where issues such as cultural heritage, the priorities of which are subject to constant and rapid change, are regarded as of only secondary importance, incomplete aspects and imperfections of both the legislation itself and its enforcement need to be identified and appropriate steps taken to remedy them.