The site of Ani, which lies outside the Turkish city of Kars, was the capital of an Armenian kingdom around the end of the first millenium, before its conquest in 1064 by Seljuk forces hastened a decline then completed by the Mongol conquest and an earthquake.
In another sensitive inscription, UNESCO elevated to World Heritage status caves once inhabited by Neanderthals in Britain’s overseas territory of Gibraltar, which is claimed by Spain.
They joined seven other sites including in Iran, India, China, Micronesia and Spain in being added to the World Heritage list at the meeting of UNESCO in Istanbul.
The ruined churches and secular buildings of Ani are a hugely sensitive site, lying directly on the other side of Turkey’s completely closed border with Armenia.
Ankara has no relations with Yerevan with the two countries mired in a dispute over the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces during World War I which Armenians and several Western parliaments regards as genocide.
‘Hope for future’
For years an official permit was required to visit the Ani site but this has now been dropped and the Kars authorities are keen to promote its haunting beauty to boost visitor numbers.
It remains to be seen if Ani’s new status could help reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia, with a normalisation process currently stalled and Yerevan occasionally accusing Ankara of failing to protect Armenian heritage in the country.
“The time has come to end the clash of civilisations,” said Turkey’s envoy to UNESCO Huseyin Avni Botsali, quoted by the state-run Anadolu Agency.
“We give hope to future generations,” he said, adding his Armenian counterpart had made the “very nice gesture” of congratulating Turkey.
UNESCO said Ani presents a “comprehensive overview of the evolution of medieval architecture through examples of almost all the different architectural innovations of the region between the 7th and 13th centuries”.
The Gorham’s Cave Complex on Gibraltar meanwhile “provide evidence of Neanderthal occupation over a span of more than 125,000 years”, including abstract rock engravings, it added.
‘From Spain to Iran’
The sites named by UNESCO in the Middle East and Asia included the so-called qanat water systems in Iran, the Zuojiang Huashan rock art cultural landscape in China and the archaeological site of Nalanda Mahavihara in India.
The landscape in China is all that remains today of the bronze age culture — known as “bronze drum” after its most characteristic artefacts — once prevalent across the country’s south, the agency said in a statement.
The site in Iran is an example of an ancient water-supply system — known as qanat — suited for the most arid areas.
The fourth site is Nan Madol — a ceremonial centre of eastern Micronesia in the Federated States of Micronesia containing medieval palaces and tombs.
The Micronesian site is a series of 99 artificial islets built with walls of basalt and coral boulders.
It was, however, immediately placed on UNESCO’s list of heritage-in-danger due to the construction of navigation channels which was making the historic edifices more fragile.
The heritage-in-danger list is intended to highlight the risks facing world heritage sites that need protection and allows the committee to allocate immediate support from the World Heritage Fund.
Also included on the World Heritage list were medieval tombstones found throughout the Balkans known as Stecci as well as the remains of the walled city of Philippi in Greece founded by the Macedonian King Philip II.
The ninth site included is the neolithic and Bronze Age Antequera Dolmens site whose megalithic monuments are among the most important in Europe, UNESCO said.
The meeting, which is considering over two dozen nominations for World Heritage status, will supposed to end on 20th July but has been suspended after the attempted coup in Turkey.