National laws on cultural heritage
The first law issued concerning the protection of cultural heritage in Turkey dates back to 1869. This law, the “Regulations on Ancient Objects” (Asar-ı Atika Nizamnamesi) regulated the archaeological excavations which were run by foreign researchers, as well as the use of what was found during these excavations. In accordance with changing conditions and needs, this law was updated in 1874, 1884, 1906 and 1912.
The law of 1912 was used until 1951, when the law which lays at the basis of the conservation law still applied today was enacted. With this new law, the Supreme Council of Monuments was created, controlled by the Ministry of Education. This council created a very extensive inventory of cultural heritage in Turkey, and was concerned with registration procedures. The law was abandoned in 1973, replaced by a new one, which would be the first with a conception of protecting monuments and their environment.
Between 1973 and 1982, the Supreme Council of Monuments registered 417 sites, 3442 monuments, and 6815 examples of civil architecture. Unfortunately public opinion was not in favour of this registration, and with the help of political pressure some of these sites have been unregistered again.
In 1983, the Legislation for the Conservation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (no. 2863) was brought into force and is used until the present day. With some updates and changes, this law is still the framework for the protection of cultural heritage issues. The aim of this law is “to identify relevant definitions about movable and immovable cultural and natural heritage, organizing activities to be done, to identify institutions that will take the necessary decisions and implement policies and missions”. With this law, the terminology “ancient monument” was replaced by UNESCO’s more common term “cultural heritage”.
The law from 1983 gave the Ministry of Culture and Tourism the authority to take decisions on protecting cultural heritage. The ministry decentralized this authority again with the help of the Councils of Monuments, which can be found in various cities. These councils are the main authority to give permission to all restoration projects, run either by the public administration or by private initiatives.
Since 2003 existing legislation has seen major revisions, and new laws have been put into effect, giving power and financial resources to local authorities to undertake conservation and renewal projects in historic districts. However, rather than having provided a solution, it may be said that the way in which these new legislations have been put into effect have only added to the “not on the side of conservation”-problems. An amendment to the Legislation for the Conservation of Cultural and Natural Heritage in 2004 delegated authority over cultural heritage to local authorities, and created a special fund for the restoration of heritage properties. As a result, a portion of the property taxes collected in Turkey is now set aside for conservation projects undertaken by municipalities.
Another important law was implemented in 2005, the Law for the Preservation of Deteriorated Historical and Cultural Immovable Properties by Renovation and Re-use (5366, referred to as the urban renewal law). This is the law that was mentioned in the introduction, and which may be seen as a threat to cultural heritage in Turkey. This law gives extraordinary powers to local authorities, who can decide to renew areas into urban areas. As a result they can implement development plans in run-down areas, areas which may contain many historical heritage sites, which therefore are lost.