Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 17.COM 7.A.2

The Committee
1. Takes note that Türkiye has nominated Traditional Ahlat stonework (No. 00655) for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding:

Traditional Ahlat stonework refers to the knowledge, methods, skills and aesthetic understanding surrounding the extraction of volcanic Ahlat stones, shaping and ornamenting the stones, and then using them to create structures and artefacts. Ahlat stone is a volcanic stone extracted by miners from the foothills of the Mountain Nemrut in Türkiye. The extracted stone is cut and shaped, then ornamented by stone carvers with hand-held tools. The ornamentation on the Ahlat stone is formed by scraping, relief and carving techniques, generally using organic, geometric and calligraphic shapes. Building a structure with Ahlat stone requires specific techniques and knowledge. Folk calendars and traditional knowledge of nature play important roles in the extraction of the stone by the miners as well as in construction. In addition to architectural works such as houses, mosques, mausoleums and bridges, the stones are also used in tombstones, inscriptions, fountains and other artefacts. The practice has been transmitted from generation to generation for centuries, but its viability has faced serious threats in the last decades, including demographic changes (difficulty finding new apprentices due to the sharp decline in population and migration to big cities) and the widespread use of modern building techniques and materials in the region.

2. Considers that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding:

U.1:   Traditional Ahlat Stonework involves the knowledge, methods, skills and aesthetic understanding of the extraction of volcanic Ahlat stone, as well its shaping and ornamenting. It also involves the construction of structures and creation of artefacts, and its bearers and practitioners include stone miners, stone carvers, stonemasons and motif designers. Academics, museum experts and researchers involved in restoration and conservation efforts also play an important role in the revitalisation of the element. The element is practiced mainly by men, but women are involved in management of quarries, and as motif designers. The knowledge and skills are transmitted from the masters to the trainees, from parents to their children, and through professional courses organized by administrations and institutions. An important part of the city's identity and image, the element plays a key role in preserving Ahlat's social and cultural identity with a strong link to the family life of community members.

U.2:   The nomination file provides a clear explanation of the need for urgent safeguarding of the element. A threat rating based on colour codes was developed to categorise the potential threats and risks that could harm the safeguarding and viability of the element. Various threats have been identified and classified according to the rating system such as ‘code red’, ‘code orange’ and ‘code yellow’ in descending order of seriousness. The most significant threats, classified as ‘code red’, include: (a) demographic changes, particularly population decline and the migration of youth to large cities; (b) socioeconomic changes, especially rapid changes in the economy and local consumption habits; and (c) the disruption of the master-apprentice relationship.

U.3:   The nomination file provides information of past and current safeguarding activities, such as the training of new masters, research, the creation of documentaries, and promotional efforts to increase awareness of the element. In addition to the efforts by the communities concerned, public institutions and local administrations have carried out many safeguarding efforts in the past decades. The Safeguarding Action Plan for the element was developed with the active participation of public institutions, related NGOs, academics, bearers and practitioners. It sets out five objectives, which include the need to take necessary measures against economic and social changes threatening the viability of the element, and to ensure continuity in the transmission of traditional knowledge and skills, among others. Key activities under each of the five objectives were explained in the file. A timetable and detailed budget for the proposed activities were also provided. A monitoring and evaluation board will be created consisting of representatives from government entities and the communities, groups and individuals concerned.

U.4:   A working group composed of practitioners of the element, experts in the field of intangible cultural heritage, NGO representatives, the Governorship of Ahlat District and Ahlat Municipality was formed in 2019 to work on the proposed nomination. The working group met with bearers and practitioners of the element to identify the threats and develop the safeguarding plan. The report of the working group was shared via email with the communities concerned, who also participated in online meetings and helped draft the file. The final version of the file was approved by all participants of the Traditional Ahlat Stonework File Writing and Preparation Online Meeting held on 25 February 2021. The letters of consent demonstrate the commitment of various stakeholders (bearers and practitioners as well as local government entities and NGOs) to the safeguarding of the element.

U.5:   The element is included in the Intangible Cultural Heritage National Inventory of Türkiye (ICH National Inventory), which is maintained by the Directorate General of Research and Training of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the ICH Evaluation Commission and the Local ICH Boards. The inventories are updated at least once a year, if there is an application from the Local ICH Boards. In some cases, the national inventory can be revised and updated two or three times a year. The inventories are based on a participatory approach involving the communities concerned. Bearers and practitioners, experts, institutions and NGOs are involved in the inventory making process through the Local ICH Boards.

3. Decides to inscribe Traditional Ahlat stonework on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding;
4. Commends the State Party for nominating an element that demonstrates the close links between the conservation of tangible cultural heritage and the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage.