Şerife Özata: World Heritage protection would not be complete without youth


Şerife Özata
23 June 2016

As part of the 40th session of the World Heritage Committee, the World Heritage Youth Forum 2016 is held in Istanbul, Turkey, from 29 June to 12 July 2016. World Heritage Youth Forum is among the main activities of the World Heritage Education Programme designed to foster intercultural learning and exchange by bringing students and teachers together from different parts of the world. Şerife Özata, a young Turkish World Heritage activist, talks about the ins and outs of this international youth meeting.

Awareness of protection, development and handing down of heritage is a notion that can be affected by almost anything humans do, from lifestyle to frame of mind. Some of the main reasons why I asked questions like, “Why should we protect heritage and hand it down to future generations?” and became conscious of it at an early age, are that I was born into the Cappadocia [Turkey] World Heritage Site, which is a cradle of civilization, and I was raised by parents who often preached “If you forget your past your future will not be complete.”

I chose to attend the undergraduate program in the Faculty of Architecture at Yıldız Technical University in Istanbul, one of the best universities in Turkey, and I went to Spain as part of a student exchange program during my undergraduate studies.  This allowed me to notice the potential and challenges of heritage protection in different areas around the world. Having lived in three different cities, which are considered historical heritage, in my early twenties helped to internalize the value of protection of heritage.

Influence of qualified people on youth in the context of awareness of protection

While internalizing the necessity for protection, not knowing what I could do about it as a young person and the lack of qualified professionals who would lead youth to use their potential, led me to doing nothing at first. But I found the opportunity to actualize my ideas about protection when I started the graduate program at Yıldız in 2012 and a research assistantship at the same university in 2013. I worked with Prof. Dr. Görün Arun, who is the head of International Scientific Committee on the Analysis and Restoration of Structures of Architectural Heritage, ISCARSAH. She spent her years studying protection and safely handing historical heritage down to next generations. She and other professors in my faculty guided me and other young people who were inexperienced but enthusiastic like me, and showed us how we could contribute to protection. I started to apply for the workshops that would give me the opportunity to meet people from different academic disciplines and share studies about protection.

Forums that are tools for finding out young people’s potentials

In 2015, I reached a milestone. I was selected to represent my country, Turkey, in the ‘’Young Expert Forum”, which met in advance of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) in Bonn, Germany last year. The forum provides inputs for the Committee’s consideration. Through the Forum I was able to meet people with different backgrounds and to develop stronger international networks and cooperation. Youth Model Simulation, which is a very useful exercise for deepening understanding on the working mechanism of the World Heritage Committee, took place in this forum. This exercise should be widely distributed to young people.

Seminars in the forum, site visits and hands-on activities and discussions also encouraged us and gave us new perspectives about the importance of education and volunteering in sustainable protection, management of historical heritage, and creating heritage-related initiatives. In addition, having a chance to watch the sessions of the World Heritage Committee was a stimulating experience.

After the forum, we created a young heritage expert site, which is the first step for youth-led activities to foster youth involvement in the field of heritage. Non-profit youth opportunities from different parts of the World are announced on the web-site and the corresponding newsletter. We also have an annual magazine, which addresses multi-layered heritage and heritage in conflict. The Young Expert Forum was a capacity building opportunity, which also aimed to reveal our enthusiasm and creativity.

33 participants at the Youth Forum 2016 in Istanbul

The Youth Forum 2016, held in Turkey between 29 June and 12 July, aims to propose and present young participants’ suggestions to the Committee on heritage by discovering challenges, complexities and potential of sites and by raising awareness for sustainable safeguarding. Conveying the traditional artisanship, understanding the effects of water to constitute and improve cultural landscapes and searching for methods and ways to make young people take active roles in heritage protection are some other main objectives of the Forum.

The 2016 Forum will start with presentations on objectives and activities of the forum, aim and structure of UNESCO and multi-layered heritage. Young participants will discuss pragmatic suggestions during interactive speeches after presentations. 

Young representatives will see and analyze the layers of an archeological site that date as back as 8th millennium BC. Industrial heritage sites, physical and social peculiarities of the districts on both sides of Golden Horn, an urban waterway and inlet of the Bosphorus in Istanbul, will be emphasized. The participants will have a deeper understanding about the historical stratification and unique development of Istanbul and will get a chance to observe different cultural heritage assets.

The information about natural source of water and its hierarchical and functional order from its source to the old city, the Historical Peninsula, through dams, reservoirs, channels, aqueducts, cisterns and fountains will be provided. Participants will contemplate these issues by seeing and experiencing the effects of water on consisting a cultural landscape.

One of the activities will focus on the creation of awareness of heritage among children and the contribution of young people to the protection of heritage. Participants will design a new instructional activity with simple materials to teach children the importance of heritage and its safeguarding.

The importance of local stakeholders and a real model for integrating locals into heritage conservation will be studied via site visits to Bursa and Cumalıkızık heritage sites. Participants will visit Iznik, a multi-layered site on World Heritage Tentative List, and collect data in order to discuss the evaluation of Iznik’s nomination for the World Heritage List.

At the end of the Forum, young people will present a declaration to the WHC. Youth Forum 2016 will end by providing technical and practical opportunities and promoting many initiatives among young participants. 

Beyond Youth Forum 2016

The fact that the Youth Forum will have drawn the young participants that come from various places of the World together is a big step, as the previous forums were, toward providing youth involvement in World Heritage protection.

Practical, technical and theoretical knowledge of young representatives concerning the safeguarding of tangible and intangible heritage will be deepened.

As a participant of the previous forum, I believe that young people will gain reformist and innovative ideas related to conserving and supporting heritage with negotiations, discussions, observations, hands-on works, workshops, site visits and WHC model simulation. Moreover, they will carry out these ideas in their working areas after the forum.  

*  *  *

PhD at Yıldız Technical University (YTU), Şerife Özata is Executive Team Member of Youth Forum 2016. She is also member of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), among other activities.