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Ani in Context Workshop

From September 28 to October 5, 2013, WMF participated in a workshop called “Ani in Context,” sponsored by the Norwegian Embassy in Turkey. Although WMF’s conservation work at Ani has focused on the cathedral and Church of the Holy Redeemer, the workshop offered an opportunity to situate the sites in a broader regional context. The cultural landscape of the region surrounding Kars, as defined by its numerous structures and a vast array of architectural remains, only serves to enliven and complete Ani’s rich history. One of the primary goals of the workshop was to bring together an international group of scholars and professionals to survey and consider 21 significant sites within Turkey, both on their own and in relation to Ani, many of which are undocumented and disappearing at an alarming rate.

By gathering a group of experts from Turkey, Armenia, Russia, Macedonia, France, Norway, and the United States, it was possible to access a variety of information about the sites, and to develop competence and a deeper understanding of the architectural significance of the region. All sites were within a one-and-a-half hour drive from Ani, thus strengthening the rationale for their relationship to Ani. The group documented the sites using photography, historical and art historical analyses, and by comparing observations about current conditions. Assessing risk was also a high priority for several of the workshop participants, as many of the sites are in urgent need of intervention if they are going to survive.

The group was also able to visit Mren Cathedral, a 2014 World Monuments Watch site dating from the seventh century. Due to the late hour of arrival to the village near Mren, the group’s only option was to hire a local villager to drive us to the site in his tractor. Hurtling toward Mren Cathedral at dusk, there was a palpable sense of group excitement as we neared what for many is the most remarkable structure in the region. The only disappointment was to see how precariously unstable Mren Cathedral now is, with a collapsed southern façade, and a number of other key points that have been identified as structurally compromised. Watch listing is intended to galvanize collaborative support from both Turkish and Armenian communities, as well as to raise international awareness about the significance of, and threats to, the site.

The final day of the workshop concluded with a wrap-up meeting to consolidate the week’s findings and propose next steps, and WMF has now begun developing a report about the workshop. The findings and recommendations will likely focus on site surveys, risk assessments, and the potential benefits that local communities may accrue by preserving their heritage.

The concept for the workshop grew out of an interest from ICOMOS Armenia and the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) to see greater international involvement in WMF’s work at Ani. After careful consideration, the workshop seemed the best vehicle for bringing greater collaboration and expertise to the project and extending it to areas that were not receiving attention. Although the Norwegian Embassy in Turkey funded the workshop, NIKU took the lead in organizing the event. WMF, the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations at Koc University, and Anadolu Kültür worked closely with NIKU to develop the agenda for the workshop. WMF looks forward to how the workshop may set a research and conservation agenda for the region in the coming years.