Turkey Cultural Heritage Map

As part of its project “Revealing and Advocating Multicultural Heritage of Anatolia” that started in 2015, Hrant Dink Foundation created an inventory of monasteries, churches, schools, synagogues, hospitals, orphanages and cemeteries and collected and recorded data regarding these buildings. The project is aimed at developing an alternative model that can set an example for other projects that are geared towards protecting and renewing cultural assets in today’s Turkey. The project is supported by the EU Ministry, Open Society Foundation and Chrest Foundation.

Since the first months of 2014, the project team has conducted research to create an inventory with the help of several sources. In the first stage of the project, buildings that belong to Armenian people were identified using the list of Armenian churches and monasteries that was prepared between 1912 and 1913 by the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul to be submitted to the Ministry of Justice and Religion (Adliye ve Mezahib Nezareti), archives of Agos Newspaper; and postcards that were compiled by Osman Köker. In the first year, the research, which focused on buildings that belong to the Armenian culture, has later on been expanded to include the Greek, Jewish and Assyrian cultural heritage. Church books were the most useful sources. The team also worked on the Ottoman Archives of the Prime Minister’s Office. (Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi).

Continuing to work on cultural heritage since its foundation, the Hrant Dink Foundation carries out the Turkey Cultural Heritage Map and Adaptive and Creative Reuse of Sites of Memories projects. As a result of these efforts, books titled Ermeni ve Rum Kültür Varlıklarıyla Kayseri (2016), (Kayseri with Its Armenian and Greek Cultural Heritage) 2012 Beyannamesi: İstanbul Ermeni Vakıflarının El Konan Mülkleri (2012), (2010 Declaration: The Seized Properties of Armenian Foundations), Habap Çeşmeleri (2012) (Habap Fountains), “Batılılaşan İstanbul’un Ermeni Mimarları (2016)” (Armenian Architects of Istanbul in the Era of Westernization) “Ermeni Kültür Varlıklarıyla Sivas (2018)” (Sivas with Its Armenian Cultural Heritage), “Ermeni Kültür Varlıklarıyla Adana (2018)” (Adana with Its Armenian Heritage) ve “Ermeni Kültür Varlıklarıyla Develi (2018)” (Develi with Its Armenian Heritage) were published from the foundation’s same-title publishing house. The Turkey Cultural Heritage Map is regularly updated with data derived from the research and inventory studies conducted during the project.

Scope and Purpose

Turkey Cultural Heritage Map is an interactive map created as part of the Revealing and Advocating Multicultural Heritage of Anatolia project carried out by the Hrant Dink Foundation. The map features Armenian, Greek, Assyrian and Jewish places of worship, schools, hospitals, and cemeteries. The data compiled during the inventory study is added to an open-access online map and is open to everyone’s contributions. The map features a total of 9500 buildings that include around 4500 buildings that belong to Armenians and 4000 to Greeks, 700 to Assyrians and 300 to Jews. The inventory has still standing public architectural buildings that belong to minorities, destroyed, unprotected buildings that are used as warehouses or barns, and those transformed into mosques.

The main goal of the project is to raise awareness on the multiplicity of the cultural heritage in Anatolia and highlight the high number of places that need protection. The working team states that even the registered buildings are in ruins and are without protection and open to the attacks of treasure hunters. Moreover, even though there are cultural heritage protection councils in every region of Turkey, their inventories are incomplete and do not contain a high number of buildings. For example, in Kayseri, there are 30 to 35 registered buildings, but the Foundation’s data shows that the city has 130 structures.

Drawing attention to the fact that historical buildings are reproduced collectively as parts of a living collective memory, the working team says that “Our aim is not to create a museum that will turn into a neglected and broken-down building and is abstracted from its context. We don’t fight for this. We think that we should decide on what to fight for together with the people who are in contact with this building.” Besides, adding that historiography can transform into something else with creative methods in the field of collective memory studies, project coordinator Vakahn expresses that traditional methods are not enough, and memorialization efforts should be multilayered and interactive and create environments where people are in contact with each other in line with the multilayered and complex social reality. That’s why the project team put a lot of emphasis on making this a living, interactive map. Updated with data derived from field visits, the Turkey Cultural Heritage Map also contains Adana, Sivas, Develi memory tours launched with the theme “A walk through forgotten streets”, 360-degree (panoramic) photographs, and excerpts from oral history interviews. Project coordinator Vahakn Keşişyan says that the interactive map is open to everyone’s contributions. Its visitors can share their sources. Users can email information and photographs on an unlisted building. All of these are saved as data by the project team and the map is updated accordingly.

The reference date for the selection of Armenian cultural heritage was set as AD 301, which is when Armenians officially accepted Christianity as a state religion. This date is AD 70 for the selection of Jewish cultural heritage in Turkey, which corresponds to the second big migration of Jews to Mediterranean. Assyrian inventory starts with AD 37 when they accepted Christianity – this date includes the separation of “Eastern and Western Churches” that indicate geographical differences. For the Greek cultural heritage, along with Republican and Ottoman periods, Byzantium rule stands as the reference point. This period starts with AD 330 which is when the Eastern Roman Empire officially separated its capital and moved it to Istanbul and began giving privileges to Christianity.


The map has drawn the attention of people from Turkey and abroad. Sometimes users ask questions related to their locations and contribute to the map. The group that benefits the most from the map are researchers.

The Hrant Dink Foundation continues to work in light of the Turkey Cultural Heritage Map. With KarDes (multicultural mobile application) prepared in the framework of the Cultural Heritage Project, they aim to render visible Istanbul’s multilayered and multicultural fabric with memory tours. Inspired by previous works of the Foundation, the application enables its users to tour Istanbul’s old neighborhoods and discover the city’s cultural legacy inventory. Thanks to these tours supported by oral history interviews, users will have the opportunity to learn about a neighborhood through the voices of people who have lived there. Moreover, the application will also include the Istanbul inventory of the Turkey Cultural Heritage Map. Thus, users will also have access to the cultural heritage inventory of their locations.

The Foundation works in coordination with local municipalities and non-governmental organizations to disseminate the project. The content developed in this project is also shared with the local municipalities of cities where fieldwork was conducted.


Talking about the difficulties during the inventory process, the project team expressed that they had to visit the Center for Asia Minor Studies in Greece for Greek sources and the Mesopotamia Library in Sweden for Assyrian sources. Another issue that posed a serious difficulty for the team was the names of the places: We worked with the current provincial borders. We conducted another study on the old provincial borders as seen in the archives. Comparing the old names with the new ones was difficult.”

The team said that they can access accurate information up to the 1920s, but after that, this becomes impossible. The main reason behind the difficulties concerning the sources can be summarized as the lack of historical information because of the absence of institutions and sources that would provide continuity. The fact that minorities do not have a joint information center or memory center is another reason why it is hard to find sources in languages other than Turkish. For example, the library that belonged to the Greek Literature Association was taken away from the association and a serious bulk of historical information has been lost. Additionally, because churches and public buildings are not followed up properly, information regarding that period are lost easily.

One of the main difficulties in such commemoration efforts is the problem of how to classify cultural heritage. “Types of buildings can be multifunctional or[buildings] can be used for different purposes in different periods. Or if we think about the issue of appropriation. What are the conditions for calling a building an Armenian building? Does it mean having an Armenian architect? Or being built by Armenian builders? Or being built in an Armenian village? Or being used by Armenians? There are examples of buildings that are used as synagogues but are rentals and not owned by a Jewish foundation. Would you call it part of the Jewish heritage or not?”

Coordinates of the buildings that are on the map are not precise most of the time. One of the reasons for this is a practical one: the lack of field visits for all the regions. Another reason is to prevent the data on the map from being used by treasure hunters. On the other hand, even though traces of treasure hunting were seen during field visits, the team says that most of the time it is hard to understand who did the destruction and for what reasons. “Unfortunately, we know that archeological excavations or renovation or preservation efforts may sometimes cause large scale destruction.”