Kars

Kars, an ancient city at a strategic location in the south Caucasus, retains a rich architectural history reflective of the various peoples that have come and gone.

Where We Work

Today, the Kars Historic District has received the respect it deserves as a Class A National Archaeological Site, and has already gained the local, regional, national and international recognition of its importance and future potential for tourism and economic development for the Kars Municipality and the entire region. Kars is today one of the best showcases for cultural revitalization and historic preservation in Turkey, in one of the country’s poorest and more difficult regions.

History

The ancient city of Kars, controlled in turn by Urartians, Persians, Armenians, Byzantines, Seljuk Turks, the Ottoman Empire, Imperial Russia and the Turkish Republic, lies in the heart of the southern Caucasus region, a strategic location in northeastern Turkey just 60 kilometers from the borders with Armenia and Georgia. Although the area is struggling with a depressed, largely agrarian, economy and a high level of out-migration, Kars has significant potential for economic, social, and cultural development.

Threats

Although for centuries and even millennia the site of Kars has been of great strategic value, in more recent times the city has lost its former importance and wealth.  As a result, its historical buildings have suffered from neglect, vandalism and the effects of a harsh winter climate, so that many of these structures are now becoming very unstable and even collapsing.  Additionally, The Kars Historic Ottoman District is suffering from physical decline, inadequate housing, pollution, and lack of organized community activities and cultural development.

What We Do

Ottoman houses and baths, Armenian churches, and the home of one of Turkey’s most celebrated poets are the enduring legacy of Kars, but today they suffer from neglect, vandalism, and the degrading effects of a harsh climate.  To mitigate these problems, GHF’s objective was the preservation of Kars’ existing cultural heritage and revitalization of living cultures, art, music, nature, and bio-industries in the Caucasus region to create a new magnet for trade, tourism, and long-term, sustainable economic and cultural development.

Planning

The Kars Master Conservation Plan initiated and funded by GHF, the region’s first Master Conservation Plan for Historic Preservation. It was developed in partnership with the Kars Municipality and Anadolu Kültür, a regional NGO supporting cultural programs and artistic production across Anatolia. Both the Erzurum Conservation Board and Kars Municipality have now approved this plan, and the entire Kars Heritage District is now a formally registered Class A Archaeological Area by the National Government of the Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Culture and Tourism.  Based on GHF MCP Guidelines, this master plan sets a new model for cultural heritage protection and planning for Turkey.

The GHF Kars Master Conservation Plan has begun to transform the perception and image of Historic Kars in the municipality, the Town Council and the communities. What was once the former abandoned backyard of Kars is now transformed into the central showc

Conservation Science

GHF led the first major conservation program in Kars and North-eastern Anatolia by a private international agency after decades of internal strife and border conflicts.  The project implemented the conservation, restoration, cleaning and revitalization of the Kars Historic District. Ottoman-era houses situated at the base of the citadel mound and in varying states of neglect and disrepair were renovated or stabilized to arrest further deterioration and inappropriate concrete buildings were removed as part of the historic district revitalization and improvement. In addition, two Turkish bath houses, Mazlumağa Hamamı and Topcuoğlu Hamamı, were cleaned and their domed roofs were repaired.  Great effort was also put in to restoring Namik Kemal Evi, the one-time home of famed Turkish poet Namik Kemal, for use as a community center.

Community Development

GHF led and funded vitally-important community development projects.  GHF created a dynamic new program in Kars for cultural revitalization and preservation, community involvement, multi-cultural exchange, pluralism and promotion of diverse, living cultures- arguably the most visible cultural initiative in the region today.

The house in which Namik Kemal, a famed Turkish poet, lived received the most attention and was ultimately rebuilt and turned into a community center complete with offices, workspace and meeting rooms.

A great deal of training has been achieved both directly and indirectly.  Key members of the Kars Municipality and Community were trained in historic preservation and local conservation capacity was raised to international standards.  The projects have employed over 120 Turkish professional and workers.  The local people have also gained a respect and appreciation of the historic Ottoman district.

The local population has followed and now understands and respects the aims of the project with both interest and excitement.  In the past there has been little civic pride in the older aspects of the built environment. In a real way, history here started in 1924 with the formation of the modern Turkish State.

The establishment of the Kars Historic District as the #2 Tourism Destination in the region after Ani has received national recognition and over forty newspaper articles.  A Tursab Turkish and international tourism association Kars Conference hosted over 120 operators in Istanbul in December, 2005.  GHF’s partnership with the Kars Municipality has brought about a large local government commitment to the development of both the Historic District and the city of Kars.  The Municipality has invested significant resources to purchase the most important historic structures in the Kaleici district to ensure protection and conservation.  The Kars Municipality has also made significant improvements to city infrastructure through newly paved streets, utilities, pathways and parks, public spaces and lighting.

Partnerships

  • Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism
  • Kars Municipality
  • Anadolu Kültür
  • Turkish Cultural Foundation.
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Why It's Important

GHF has focused its project leadership, planning and conservation efforts on the Ancient City of Kars. The Ancient City lies at the heart of the Caucus region at the intersection of the borders of Turkey with Russia and the former Soviet Union, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran, and has significant potential for tourism.  GHF’s objective is the preservation of Kars’ existing Ottoman and Armenian heritage and revitalization of living cultures, art, music, nature and bio-industries in the Caucus region around Kars to create a new magnet for trade, international and Turkish tourism, and for long-term, sustainable economic and cultural development in Eastern Anatolia, Turkey.

Accomplishments

The entire area is seeing a revitalization and improved protection and preserva- tion due to the model conservation work of the NKCC and adjacent hammams, bridges, historic buildings and streetscapes, under the enhanced legal, zoning and planning protection given by the Class A Archaeological Status of the Kars Heritage District.

Through 2007 and 2008, an active program of festivals, meetings, presen- tations, donor visits, crafts and art work- shops, music recitals and other activities took place in this wonderfully restored historic building.

Local Voices

Quote from Anatolian Artisans Trip Report – May 2008

“In Kars, we warmed up on its famous cheese and on the energy of women showing off their needlework at AnArt’s Product Development Project. Their presence in the new (NKCC) community center shows the town supports the effort, and if these first products lacked world market sophistication, we know it is only a short time away. The shoppers among us responded with our first feeding frenzy, leaving tables bare and back orders the local museum would have envied.”

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