An important step has been taken to identify and protect the underwater cultural heritage of Northern Cyprus.
The first underwater research organization of the TRNC will be established with the project to be carried out jointly by the Ministry of Tourism and Environment and the Centre of Archeological Cultural Heritage and Conservation.
Minister of Tourism and Environment, Fikri Ataoğlu, said that the diving areas in the country will be determined by rules and that after the studies, it is aimed to establish an underwater museum in Famagusta.
Research, documentation and conservation work on the archaeological values and cultural assets of recent history were initiated in the TRNC.
This project, which will be carried out jointly with the Ministry of Tourism and Environment, the Department of Antiquities and Museums and the Centre for Archaeological Cultural Heritage and Conservation of the International Cyprus University (CIU), will be the first time that such a comprehensive scientific study will be conducted in the territorial waters of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Head of the Centre for Cultural Heritage and Conservation of CIU Assoc. Dr. Müge Şevketoğlu, a team of archaeologists and conservationists began to collect research results under the name of the archive of TRNC underwater cultural heritage.
The first studies were done in Famagusta. Here, a shipwreck, as well as water-based residual were found, such as amphorae, stone anchors and wooden ship remains, various ceramic samples, mill stones and cut stones and copper ingots were also detected.
The richness of the underwater finds in the country, the expansion of sea diving and tourism and the increase of the denunciations on these areas, the Ministry of Tourism and Environment and the Directorate of Antiquities and Museums decided to establish the first underwater research organisation of the TRNC.
In this context, in order to increase the qualifications of the personnel who will be employed with International Cyprus University and the underwater archaeological excavations and researches and to increase the qualifications of the current dive personnel, the training programs to be undertaken within the framework of the protocols signed between the two institutions will be increased in 2019.
Capacity building and in-service underwater training by ICU will be under the leadership of Dr. Müge Şevketoğlu. In the training program she will be giving training in the areas of underwater work, safety, measurement, documentation, photographing, detection and evaluation as well as excavation techniques and archaeology ethics rules.
There will be four different levels of training in underwater excavations in Turkey, which is a leader in underwater exploration, in major centres in Turkey.
Mr. Fuat Azimli, Director of the Department of Antiquities and Museums, announced that training will be given to the participants, and said “we aim to complete the in-service training activities of land and sea support until 2019 within the scope of these training activities, which are planned to be given to the qualified personnel who are working on our mainland surrounded by the sea. These training programs are planned to be continued in 2019 and also later years.”
As a result of the studies carried out in a region recently reported by a sensitive citizen, the ship’s wooden body, metal and ceramic works and marble-processed parts have been located. Fuat Azimli, noted that with the completion of the training program in this region, the first scientific underwater archaeology excavation in the TRNC will be carried out.
Prof. Dr. Fuat Azimli emphasized the Law on Antiquities in the TRNC, and it is an offence not to report findings under the water or on land without the permission of the Ministry, to not notify the Office of Antiquities and Museums which is the relevant authority, to document or to store information or to encourage work by others, without permission.
In the regions where research permission is granted, a scuba diving ban was introduced after consultation with the local police. Azimli said that dives without the permission of the researchers were forbidden and that this was illegal intervention in the field.
Fuat Azimli stated that the centre’s work was supported and that necessary steps were being taken to expand the staff requirements including materials.
Pembe Özen, the Conservationist of the Centre for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage of the Cultural Assets attached to the Department of Antiquities and Museums two years ago, pointed out that the active work of the centre contributed to the underwater work, and that conservationists and technicians should be involved in the conservation of the antiquities that should be removed from under the water as a last resort.
Minister of Tourism and Environment, Fikri Ataoğlu, made a statement on the subject and said that their aim is not to restrict the sport of diving, but to convey the message to those who do this sport by reminding them of the law and the penalty, which is heavy.
Ataoglu said that they can now dive at the permissible sea areas in the country, the necessity of restricting the dive sites to open areas for tourism is being discussed and the dive areas will be determined as open or closed to tourism.
He also expressed that the compromise to bring sensitivity to these issues will be the first step, regarding underwater cultural heritage, especially in the summer season with notices related to restrictions in various areas, which are thought to be necessary.
Minister Ataoglu, emphasised the need to protect the legacy of the underwater heritage, especially with amateur divers from abroad and from Southern Cyprus who should only dive in cooperation with local diving schools.
Ataoglu stated that the findings obtained from the underwater studies conducted jointly with the Ministry of Tourism and Environment and the Centre of Archeological Cultural Heritage and Conservation are being conserved in the Cultural Property Maintenance Centre and that the work is planned to be continued and an underwater museum will be established in the Famagusta area.