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UNESCO sounds alarm over earthquake damage to Turkey, Syria heritage sites

PARIS, France — The UN’s cultural agency UNESCO said on Tuesday it was ready to provide assistance after two sites listed on its World Heritage list in Syria and Turkey sustained damage in the devastating earthquake.

As well as the damage to the old city of Syria’s Aleppo and the fortress in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, UNESCO said at least three other World Heritage sites could be affected.

“Our organization will provide assistance within its mandate,” said UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay.

A statement from UNESCO said it and partners had already carried out an initial survey of the damage of the quake which struck before dawn on Monday.

It said it was “particularly concerned” about the old city of Aleppo, which has been on its list of World Heritage in Danger since 2013 due to the Syrian civil war.

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“Significant damage has been noted in the citadel. The western tower of the old city wall has collapsed and several buildings in the souks have been weakened,” it said.

A picture taken on March 9, 2017, in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo shows people walking past banners of President Bashar al-Assad outside the historic citadel on the outskirts of the old city. (AFP Photo/Joseph Eid)

Aleppo was Syria’s prewar commercial hub and considered one of the world’s longest continuously inhabited cities, boasting markets, mosques, caravanserais, and public baths. But a brutal siege imposed on rebels by government forces left it disfigured.

Syria’s directorate of antiquities had already raised concern about the damage on Wednesday, saying parts of Aleppo’s northern defensive walls had collapsed.

‘Rapidly secure’ sites

In Turkey, UNESCO said it was saddened by the “collapse of several buildings” at the World Heritage site of the Diyarbakir Fortress and the adjacent Hevsel Gardens.

It emphasized that the entire area was an important center of the Roman, Sassanid, Byzantine, Islamic and Ottoman periods.

The predawn quake hit near Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey at a depth of about 18 kilometers (11 miles), the US Geological Survey said.

Emergency teams search for people in the rubble of a destroyed building in Gaziantep, Turkey, Feb. 6, 2023 (AP Photo/Mustafa Karali)

With weather conditions and the remote nature of the areas making access and information hard to come by, UNESCO said other sites on the World Heritage list not far from the epicenter could be affected.

It said these included the famed Neolithic site of Gobekli Tepe in Sanliurfa province, home to the world’s oldest known megaliths some 10,000 years old.

UNESCO is also concerned about the Nemrut Dag site, one of Turkey’s most iconic attractions due to the giant statues that are part of an ancient royal tomb erected high on a mountain, it said.

Rescue workers search for survivors under the rubble of a collapsed building in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, Feb. 6, 2023 (AP Photo/Mahmut Bozarsan)

The third site is the neo-Hittite archaeological site of Arslantepe outside Malatya, a city also badly hit by the earthquake.

“UNESCO is mobilizing its experts, to establish a precise inventory of the damage with the aim of rapidly securing and stabilizing these sites,” it said.