Turkish writer quits UNESCO to protest damage to heritage, rights abuse

Thu May 26, 2016 9:33am EDT
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By Ayla Jean Yackley

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's goodwill ambassador to the UN cultural agency UNESCO resigned on Thursday, accusing it of hypocrisy in ignoring the destruction of large parts of a heritage site during clashes between the Turkish army and militants in his country's mainly Kurdish southeast.

With Roman-era basalt walls encircling historic houses, churches, synagogues and mosques, the city of Diyarbakir's Sur district was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2015. Weeks later, a Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) ceasefire collapsed and an armed campaign reignited.

Sur was the site of some of the fiercest fighting and has been under military lockdown since December.

"As the demolition of history is taking place in Sur, hypocrisy dominated the (Istanbul) World Humanitarian Summit," Zulfu Livaneli, a novelist, filmmaker, composer and singer said in tendering his resignation from United Nations cultural agency on Thursday, accusing the government of violating human rights.

"To pontificate on peace while remaining silent against such violations is a contradiction of the fundamental ideals of UNESCO," said Livaneli, who had held the goodwill post to promote UNESCO values since 1996.

This week's U.N. humanitarian summit in Istanbul, billed as the first of its kind and attracting 55 heads of state and government, sought to raise funds and political will to tackle the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two, with 130 million people displaced by war and natural disasters.

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Concrete blocks are placed next to the historical city walls at the main entrance of Sur district, which is partially under curfew, in the Kurdish-dominated southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkey March 17, 2016. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar