Armenia’s nuclear power plant is dangerous. Time to close it.

The Bulletin
March 5 2021

By Brenda Shaffer | March 5, 2021

 Armenia's Metsamor nuclear power plant cooling towers. Credit: Adam Jones via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 2.0.

In late 2020, the Armenian government announced that its Metsamor nuclear power plant would close for five months in 2021 to attempt significant upgrades. Soon after, the EU urged Armenia to make the closure permanent since the plant “cannot be updated to fully meet internationally accepted safety standards.” A major nuclear or radiation accident at Metsamor would not only affect the people of Armenia, but citizens in neighboring Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, and southern Europe. Besides, Armenia can meet its energy needs without Metsamor’s output, especially as it exports to Iran over half of the plant’s electricity. Further, thermal plants and renewable sources could replace what is used domestically. Metsamor does not even help Armenia achieve its declared goal of energy independence, as Russia–Armenia’s main energy supplier–provides the country with most of its natural gas, along with nuclear fuel and specialized technicians for the plant. But none of these arguments have swayed Armenia to close Metsamor in the past.

Is there an argument that could work now?

The EU might urge Armenia to consider a closure in light of recent developments. Post-war road, railway, and energy-development plans should increase trade and transportation linkages in the South Caucasus region after the recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The new infrastructure and financing provide Armenia with a fresh opportunity to tap newer, safer, and more diverse energy supplies. By closing Metsamor, Armenia would not only contribute to the safety of its own citizens and those in neighboring countries but strengthen peace in the South Caucasus.

Metsamor nuclear power plant. Metsamor is located in a major seismic zone close to Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, and near Armenia’s border with Turkey. The original, Soviet-built plant included two 400 megawatt reactors. Unit 1 began commercial operation in 1977. Both units were closed by the Soviet authorities in 1989, following the Chernobyl accident and the massive Spitak earthquake in Armenia in 1988, which killed over 25,000 people. In 1995, following Armenia’s independence, Metsamor Unit 2 was restarted at 375 megawatts electrical with Russian funding and technical support. The plant’s original operating license was supposed to end in 2016, but Yerevan extended it to 2021, and late in 2020 announced its intent to extend the plant’s operation even longer. Unit 1 has remained closed.

Metsamor is one of five of the last operating Soviet-era reactors without a containment vessel, which is a requirement of all modern reactors. (The other reactors without containment vessels are located in Russia.) Nuclear fuel for the Metsamor plant is flown in from Russia, with no special announcements to the Armenian public or regional aviation authorities. In contrast, most nuclear fuel is delivered in the world by sea or rail to minimize the impact of potential accidents. Since the restart of Metsamor Unit 2, the reactor’s spent nuclear fuel has remained on site. Then-Armenian Deputy of Energy Areg Galstyan stated in 2004 that details on the air shipments of the nuclear fuel were kept secret to “avoid alarming the people.”

 Map of Armenia. Credit: The World Factbook 2021. Central Intelligence Agency.

Since its re-launch in 1995, Metsamor has had multiple safety upgrades and also dozens of low-level safety incidents, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Hakob Vardanyan, Armenia’s deputy minister of territorial administration and infrastructure, who oversees the energy sector, explained that upgrade work at Metsamor had fallen behind schedule because Armenian workers have an “acute lack of experience” in nuclear plant construction and repair.

A nuclear or radiation accident at Metsamor would not only affect the majority of the population of Armenia due to its close proximity to the capital, but also citizens in many nearby countries. Further, an accident or leak at the plant, which is located on the Metsamor River, which feeds into to Araz River, would create damage downriver in Azerbaijan and Iran.

EU efforts to close Metsamor. Since the late 1990s, the EU has repeatedly encouraged Armenia to close Metsamor as part of a program aimed at shutting down nuclear power plants it has viewed as dangerous, including some located in the EU. Indeed, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia agreed to shut down their plants as a condition of joining the EU.

RELATED:
Koch-funded climate denial at George Washington University must end now!

Armenia had agreed to close Metsamor by 2004 as part of a 1998 EU agreement. The EU had even supplied Armenia with funds to close the plant and find substitute energy supplies. However, Armenia did not use the funds to transition its energy sector, leading the EU to freeze the loans in 2005. Around that time, Armenian Head of the EU Delegation Alexis Louber underscored the need for closure when he said, “(N)uclear plants should not be built in highly active seismic zones. This plant is a danger to the entire region … we wanted to close it as quickly as possible.”

Likewise, subsequent formal cooperation agreements between the EU and Armenia, including Armenia’s action plan for the European Union Neighborhood Policy in 2006 and the EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement in 2017, have planks on closing and decommissioning Metsamor. The European Union Neighborhood Policy even provided technical assistance for decommissioning and managing radioactive waste. Prior to signing that policy, Armenian Minister of Trade and Economic Development Karen Chshmaritian made clear that Metsamor’s closure was a precondition for deepening Armenia’s links with the EU. Armenia signed the agreement and subsequently adopted a formal decommissioning plan in 2007. Yet Metsamor has remained operational.

In almost every official report related to the European Union Neighborhood Policy implementation, the EU  emphasized that it wanted Armenia to close Metsamor. For example, the 2011 European Union Neighborhood Policy Country Progress Report-Armenia states, “The EU continues to request the closure of Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant as soon as possible, as it cannot be upgraded to meet internationally recognized nuclear safety standards.”

The next major agreement between the EU and Armenia was the 2017 EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement. This agreement states that both sides will cooperate on “the closure and safe decommissioning of Metsamor nuclear power plant and the early adoption of a road map or action plan to that effect, taking into consideration the need for its replacement with new capacity to ensure the energy security of the Republic of Armenia and conditions for sustainable development.”

Meanwhile, as Armenia signed various agreements with the EU to close and decommission the plant, it also negotiated other agreements with Russia to extend the reactor’s life. Then in March 2014, the Armenian government formally extended Metsamor’s operation. Later, while negotiating the 2017 Partnership Agreement mentioned earlier, then-President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan stated that the agreement with the EU had not required Metsamor’s closure, despite the explicit commitment in the agreement.

Fast forward to December 2020, when the European Commission reaffirmed the EU position: “The nuclear power plant located in Metsamor cannot be upgraded to fully meet internationally accepted nuclear safety standards, and therefore requires an early closer and safe decommissioning. It is necessary to rapidly adopt a roadmap or action plan to address this, taking into consideration the need to ensure Armenia’s energy security and conditions for sustainable development.”

Armenia’s energy security allows Metsamor’s closure. Armenia has a unique energy market with relatively small consumption of electricity and a large proportion of its electricity exported, mostly to Iran. Armenia has several options for reducing its electricity needs and finding substitutes for Metsamor’s output, meaning that Armenia could close its nuclear power plant and still provide reliable energy for its population.

Most energy in Armenia is used for residential purposes and transportation, with only 15 percent consumed by industry. Armenians primarily use natural gas, which accounts for 65 percent of the country’s energy consumption. Armenia’s relatively mild summers mean that relatively little energy is needed for cooling. As a result, the country’s per-person electricity consumption is less than half that of Europe’s.

RELATED:
Bulletin Virtual Program — Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

Armenia could provide reliably for its energy needs without the output from its nuclear power plant. Today, Armenia exports over half of Metsamor’s electricity to neighboring Iran. If these exports were ended, the remaining domestic needs could be met by building one additional thermal-powered electricity plant.

Armenian officials point to energy independence as a key motivation for Metsamor’s ongoing operation. They categorize its output as domestically produced energy, without acknowledging that Russia supplies all of its fuel or that the plant’s most complicated work is performed by Russian specialists under the direction of Russian state entities. Since Armenia also imports more than 80 percent of its natural gas from Russia, and the Russian energy corporation Gazprom owns Armenia’s gas network, keeping Metsamor open actually represents further dependence on Moscow, rather than less. In fact, Armenia’s energy security could be improved by diversifying its energy suppliers and supplies. A new thermal plant could have dual-fuel capacity, enabling a quick transfer to liquid fuel (such as heavy oil or diesel) or to coal, thereby reducing its dependence on natural gas. Armenia could then stockpile back-up fuel or coal and quickly transfer to the stored energy without major disruption to electricity supplies. Armenia also has the ability to increase its hydroelectric generation.

Armenia can significantly lower its energy consumption through greater energy efficiency. Moreover, Armenia’s energy demand will decrease in 2021 because it lost control of territories in neighboring Azerbaijan in the 2020 war, where it had provided electricity and gas until late 2020.

Regional peace initiatives enable new energy trade. Armenia plans to retain and upgrade its nuclear power plant, despite commitments to the EU to close it. The Armenian Energy Sector Development Strategic Program to 2040 states that “the government will stay committed to the policy to maintain nuclear power plant in the country’s generation mix.” Within Armenia, there is little public opposition to the plant, despite its lack of modern safety measures and proximity to a third of the country’s population. Indeed, Armenian officials frequently note their national pride at being the only country in the South Caucasus to operate a nuclear power plant. Financial factors also likely play a role. The main costs in nuclear power plants lie in their construction and decommissioning, while operating costs, including fuel, are relatively low. Russia also grants loans to Armenia to cover many of the costs.

During the five months of 2021 in which Metsamor is scheduled to shut down, the EU might seize the opportunity to remind Armenia of its commitments to close the plant altogether. Instead of investing in upgrades, Armenia could put the funds towards building an additional thermal plant. This would safeguard people throughout the region and strengthen the post-war peace process that includes new railway and road linkages and potentially new energy trade. Such an effort would emphasize regional cooperation, including among representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan

With new roads, new railways, and possibly new energy pipelines in the region, Armenia would be able to diversify its energy supplies. For instance, the planned new rail connections would enable Armenia to import fuel and coal that could be stockpiled as backup to its natural-gas-fired generation. With this increased supply and source diversification, Armenia would actually improve its energy security. In the end, closing Metsamor could improve the physical security of Armenians and their European neighbors while improving Armenia’s energy security.

At a minimum, the EU should require that Armenia install an early warning system that would notify its neighbors and EU headquarters in Brussels of leaks or accidents at the Metsamor plant. The EU, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group, the US State Department, and the US embassy in Yerevan could sponsor and support this process.

Following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany and other key EU states shut down their nuclear power production. Also, the EU has succeeded in closing dangerous Soviet era plants among its new members. However, EU citizens remain in danger when problematic plants in their neighborhood remain operational. The EU now has an opportunity to remove one of these dangers while strengthening regional cooperation, but only if it convinces Armenia to scrap plans to repair Metsamor in favor of shutting it down altogether.

 

 

Armenia’s nuclear power plant is dangerous. Time to close it.

The Bulletin
March 5 2021

By Brenda Shaffer | March 5, 2021

 Armenia's Metsamor nuclear power plant cooling towers. Credit: Adam Jones via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 2.0.

In late 2020, the Armenian government announced that its Metsamor nuclear power plant would close for five months in 2021 to attempt significant upgrades. Soon after, the EU urged Armenia to make the closure permanent since the plant “cannot be updated to fully meet internationally accepted safety standards.” A major nuclear or radiation accident at Metsamor would not only affect the people of Armenia, but citizens in neighboring Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, and southern Europe. Besides, Armenia can meet its energy needs without Metsamor’s output, especially as it exports to Iran over half of the plant’s electricity. Further, thermal plants and renewable sources could replace what is used domestically. Metsamor does not even help Armenia achieve its declared goal of energy independence, as Russia–Armenia’s main energy supplier–provides the country with most of its natural gas, along with nuclear fuel and specialized technicians for the plant. But none of these arguments have swayed Armenia to close Metsamor in the past.

Is there an argument that could work now?

The EU might urge Armenia to consider a closure in light of recent developments. Post-war road, railway, and energy-development plans should increase trade and transportation linkages in the South Caucasus region after the recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The new infrastructure and financing provide Armenia with a fresh opportunity to tap newer, safer, and more diverse energy supplies. By closing Metsamor, Armenia would not only contribute to the safety of its own citizens and those in neighboring countries but strengthen peace in the South Caucasus.

Metsamor nuclear power plant. Metsamor is located in a major seismic zone close to Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, and near Armenia’s border with Turkey. The original, Soviet-built plant included two 400 megawatt reactors. Unit 1 began commercial operation in 1977. Both units were closed by the Soviet authorities in 1989, following the Chernobyl accident and the massive Spitak earthquake in Armenia in 1988, which killed over 25,000 people. In 1995, following Armenia’s independence, Metsamor Unit 2 was restarted at 375 megawatts electrical with Russian funding and technical support. The plant’s original operating license was supposed to end in 2016, but Yerevan extended it to 2021, and late in 2020 announced its intent to extend the plant’s operation even longer. Unit 1 has remained closed.

Metsamor is one of five of the last operating Soviet-era reactors without a containment vessel, which is a requirement of all modern reactors. (The other reactors without containment vessels are located in Russia.) Nuclear fuel for the Metsamor plant is flown in from Russia, with no special announcements to the Armenian public or regional aviation authorities. In contrast, most nuclear fuel is delivered in the world by sea or rail to minimize the impact of potential accidents. Since the restart of Metsamor Unit 2, the reactor’s spent nuclear fuel has remained on site. Then-Armenian Deputy of Energy Areg Galstyan stated in 2004 that details on the air shipments of the nuclear fuel were kept secret to “avoid alarming the people.”

 Map of Armenia. Credit: The World Factbook 2021. Central Intelligence Agency.

Since its re-launch in 1995, Metsamor has had multiple safety upgrades and also dozens of low-level safety incidents, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Hakob Vardanyan, Armenia’s deputy minister of territorial administration and infrastructure, who oversees the energy sector, explained that upgrade work at Metsamor had fallen behind schedule because Armenian workers have an “acute lack of experience” in nuclear plant construction and repair.

A nuclear or radiation accident at Metsamor would not only affect the majority of the population of Armenia due to its close proximity to the capital, but also citizens in many nearby countries. Further, an accident or leak at the plant, which is located on the Metsamor River, which feeds into to Araz River, would create damage downriver in Azerbaijan and Iran.

EU efforts to close Metsamor. Since the late 1990s, the EU has repeatedly encouraged Armenia to close Metsamor as part of a program aimed at shutting down nuclear power plants it has viewed as dangerous, including some located in the EU. Indeed, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia agreed to shut down their plants as a condition of joining the EU.

RELATED:
Koch-funded climate denial at George Washington University must end now!

Armenia had agreed to close Metsamor by 2004 as part of a 1998 EU agreement. The EU had even supplied Armenia with funds to close the plant and find substitute energy supplies. However, Armenia did not use the funds to transition its energy sector, leading the EU to freeze the loans in 2005. Around that time, Armenian Head of the EU Delegation Alexis Louber underscored the need for closure when he said, “(N)uclear plants should not be built in highly active seismic zones. This plant is a danger to the entire region … we wanted to close it as quickly as possible.”

Likewise, subsequent formal cooperation agreements between the EU and Armenia, including Armenia’s action plan for the European Union Neighborhood Policy in 2006 and the EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement in 2017, have planks on closing and decommissioning Metsamor. The European Union Neighborhood Policy even provided technical assistance for decommissioning and managing radioactive waste. Prior to signing that policy, Armenian Minister of Trade and Economic Development Karen Chshmaritian made clear that Metsamor’s closure was a precondition for deepening Armenia’s links with the EU. Armenia signed the agreement and subsequently adopted a formal decommissioning plan in 2007. Yet Metsamor has remained operational.

In almost every official report related to the European Union Neighborhood Policy implementation, the EU  emphasized that it wanted Armenia to close Metsamor. For example, the 2011 European Union Neighborhood Policy Country Progress Report-Armenia states, “The EU continues to request the closure of Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant as soon as possible, as it cannot be upgraded to meet internationally recognized nuclear safety standards.”

The next major agreement between the EU and Armenia was the 2017 EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement. This agreement states that both sides will cooperate on “the closure and safe decommissioning of Metsamor nuclear power plant and the early adoption of a road map or action plan to that effect, taking into consideration the need for its replacement with new capacity to ensure the energy security of the Republic of Armenia and conditions for sustainable development.”

Meanwhile, as Armenia signed various agreements with the EU to close and decommission the plant, it also negotiated other agreements with Russia to extend the reactor’s life. Then in March 2014, the Armenian government formally extended Metsamor’s operation. Later, while negotiating the 2017 Partnership Agreement mentioned earlier, then-President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan stated that the agreement with the EU had not required Metsamor’s closure, despite the explicit commitment in the agreement.

Fast forward to December 2020, when the European Commission reaffirmed the EU position: “The nuclear power plant located in Metsamor cannot be upgraded to fully meet internationally accepted nuclear safety standards, and therefore requires an early closer and safe decommissioning. It is necessary to rapidly adopt a roadmap or action plan to address this, taking into consideration the need to ensure Armenia’s energy security and conditions for sustainable development.”

Armenia’s energy security allows Metsamor’s closure. Armenia has a unique energy market with relatively small consumption of electricity and a large proportion of its electricity exported, mostly to Iran. Armenia has several options for reducing its electricity needs and finding substitutes for Metsamor’s output, meaning that Armenia could close its nuclear power plant and still provide reliable energy for its population.

Most energy in Armenia is used for residential purposes and transportation, with only 15 percent consumed by industry. Armenians primarily use natural gas, which accounts for 65 percent of the country’s energy consumption. Armenia’s relatively mild summers mean that relatively little energy is needed for cooling. As a result, the country’s per-person electricity consumption is less than half that of Europe’s.

RELATED:
Bulletin Virtual Program — Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

Armenia could provide reliably for its energy needs without the output from its nuclear power plant. Today, Armenia exports over half of Metsamor’s electricity to neighboring Iran. If these exports were ended, the remaining domestic needs could be met by building one additional thermal-powered electricity plant.

Armenian officials point to energy independence as a key motivation for Metsamor’s ongoing operation. They categorize its output as domestically produced energy, without acknowledging that Russia supplies all of its fuel or that the plant’s most complicated work is performed by Russian specialists under the direction of Russian state entities. Since Armenia also imports more than 80 percent of its natural gas from Russia, and the Russian energy corporation Gazprom owns Armenia’s gas network, keeping Metsamor open actually represents further dependence on Moscow, rather than less. In fact, Armenia’s energy security could be improved by diversifying its energy suppliers and supplies. A new thermal plant could have dual-fuel capacity, enabling a quick transfer to liquid fuel (such as heavy oil or diesel) or to coal, thereby reducing its dependence on natural gas. Armenia could then stockpile back-up fuel or coal and quickly transfer to the stored energy without major disruption to electricity supplies. Armenia also has the ability to increase its hydroelectric generation.

Armenia can significantly lower its energy consumption through greater energy efficiency. Moreover, Armenia’s energy demand will decrease in 2021 because it lost control of territories in neighboring Azerbaijan in the 2020 war, where it had provided electricity and gas until late 2020.

Regional peace initiatives enable new energy trade. Armenia plans to retain and upgrade its nuclear power plant, despite commitments to the EU to close it. The Armenian Energy Sector Development Strategic Program to 2040 states that “the government will stay committed to the policy to maintain nuclear power plant in the country’s generation mix.” Within Armenia, there is little public opposition to the plant, despite its lack of modern safety measures and proximity to a third of the country’s population. Indeed, Armenian officials frequently note their national pride at being the only country in the South Caucasus to operate a nuclear power plant. Financial factors also likely play a role. The main costs in nuclear power plants lie in their construction and decommissioning, while operating costs, including fuel, are relatively low. Russia also grants loans to Armenia to cover many of the costs.

During the five months of 2021 in which Metsamor is scheduled to shut down, the EU might seize the opportunity to remind Armenia of its commitments to close the plant altogether. Instead of investing in upgrades, Armenia could put the funds towards building an additional thermal plant. This would safeguard people throughout the region and strengthen the post-war peace process that includes new railway and road linkages and potentially new energy trade. Such an effort would emphasize regional cooperation, including among representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan

With new roads, new railways, and possibly new energy pipelines in the region, Armenia would be able to diversify its energy supplies. For instance, the planned new rail connections would enable Armenia to import fuel and coal that could be stockpiled as backup to its natural-gas-fired generation. With this increased supply and source diversification, Armenia would actually improve its energy security. In the end, closing Metsamor could improve the physical security of Armenians and their European neighbors while improving Armenia’s energy security.

At a minimum, the EU should require that Armenia install an early warning system that would notify its neighbors and EU headquarters in Brussels of leaks or accidents at the Metsamor plant. The EU, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group, the US State Department, and the US embassy in Yerevan could sponsor and support this process.

Following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany and other key EU states shut down their nuclear power production. Also, the EU has succeeded in closing dangerous Soviet era plants among its new members. However, EU citizens remain in danger when problematic plants in their neighborhood remain operational. The EU now has an opportunity to remove one of these dangers while strengthening regional cooperation, but only if it convinces Armenia to scrap plans to repair Metsamor in favor of shutting it down altogether.

 

 

Armenia’s nuclear power plant is dangerous. Time to close it.

The Bulletin
March 5 2021

By Brenda Shaffer | March 5, 2021

 Armenia's Metsamor nuclear power plant cooling towers. Credit: Adam Jones via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 2.0.

In late 2020, the Armenian government announced that its Metsamor nuclear power plant would close for five months in 2021 to attempt significant upgrades. Soon after, the EU urged Armenia to make the closure permanent since the plant “cannot be updated to fully meet internationally accepted safety standards.” A major nuclear or radiation accident at Metsamor would not only affect the people of Armenia, but citizens in neighboring Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, and southern Europe. Besides, Armenia can meet its energy needs without Metsamor’s output, especially as it exports to Iran over half of the plant’s electricity. Further, thermal plants and renewable sources could replace what is used domestically. Metsamor does not even help Armenia achieve its declared goal of energy independence, as Russia–Armenia’s main energy supplier–provides the country with most of its natural gas, along with nuclear fuel and specialized technicians for the plant. But none of these arguments have swayed Armenia to close Metsamor in the past.

Is there an argument that could work now?

The EU might urge Armenia to consider a closure in light of recent developments. Post-war road, railway, and energy-development plans should increase trade and transportation linkages in the South Caucasus region after the recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The new infrastructure and financing provide Armenia with a fresh opportunity to tap newer, safer, and more diverse energy supplies. By closing Metsamor, Armenia would not only contribute to the safety of its own citizens and those in neighboring countries but strengthen peace in the South Caucasus.

Metsamor nuclear power plant. Metsamor is located in a major seismic zone close to Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, and near Armenia’s border with Turkey. The original, Soviet-built plant included two 400 megawatt reactors. Unit 1 began commercial operation in 1977. Both units were closed by the Soviet authorities in 1989, following the Chernobyl accident and the massive Spitak earthquake in Armenia in 1988, which killed over 25,000 people. In 1995, following Armenia’s independence, Metsamor Unit 2 was restarted at 375 megawatts electrical with Russian funding and technical support. The plant’s original operating license was supposed to end in 2016, but Yerevan extended it to 2021, and late in 2020 announced its intent to extend the plant’s operation even longer. Unit 1 has remained closed.

Metsamor is one of five of the last operating Soviet-era reactors without a containment vessel, which is a requirement of all modern reactors. (The other reactors without containment vessels are located in Russia.) Nuclear fuel for the Metsamor plant is flown in from Russia, with no special announcements to the Armenian public or regional aviation authorities. In contrast, most nuclear fuel is delivered in the world by sea or rail to minimize the impact of potential accidents. Since the restart of Metsamor Unit 2, the reactor’s spent nuclear fuel has remained on site. Then-Armenian Deputy of Energy Areg Galstyan stated in 2004 that details on the air shipments of the nuclear fuel were kept secret to “avoid alarming the people.”

 Map of Armenia. Credit: The World Factbook 2021. Central Intelligence Agency.

Since its re-launch in 1995, Metsamor has had multiple safety upgrades and also dozens of low-level safety incidents, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Hakob Vardanyan, Armenia’s deputy minister of territorial administration and infrastructure, who oversees the energy sector, explained that upgrade work at Metsamor had fallen behind schedule because Armenian workers have an “acute lack of experience” in nuclear plant construction and repair.

A nuclear or radiation accident at Metsamor would not only affect the majority of the population of Armenia due to its close proximity to the capital, but also citizens in many nearby countries. Further, an accident or leak at the plant, which is located on the Metsamor River, which feeds into to Araz River, would create damage downriver in Azerbaijan and Iran.

EU efforts to close Metsamor. Since the late 1990s, the EU has repeatedly encouraged Armenia to close Metsamor as part of a program aimed at shutting down nuclear power plants it has viewed as dangerous, including some located in the EU. Indeed, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia agreed to shut down their plants as a condition of joining the EU.

RELATED:
Koch-funded climate denial at George Washington University must end now!

Armenia had agreed to close Metsamor by 2004 as part of a 1998 EU agreement. The EU had even supplied Armenia with funds to close the plant and find substitute energy supplies. However, Armenia did not use the funds to transition its energy sector, leading the EU to freeze the loans in 2005. Around that time, Armenian Head of the EU Delegation Alexis Louber underscored the need for closure when he said, “(N)uclear plants should not be built in highly active seismic zones. This plant is a danger to the entire region … we wanted to close it as quickly as possible.”

Likewise, subsequent formal cooperation agreements between the EU and Armenia, including Armenia’s action plan for the European Union Neighborhood Policy in 2006 and the EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement in 2017, have planks on closing and decommissioning Metsamor. The European Union Neighborhood Policy even provided technical assistance for decommissioning and managing radioactive waste. Prior to signing that policy, Armenian Minister of Trade and Economic Development Karen Chshmaritian made clear that Metsamor’s closure was a precondition for deepening Armenia’s links with the EU. Armenia signed the agreement and subsequently adopted a formal decommissioning plan in 2007. Yet Metsamor has remained operational.

In almost every official report related to the European Union Neighborhood Policy implementation, the EU  emphasized that it wanted Armenia to close Metsamor. For example, the 2011 European Union Neighborhood Policy Country Progress Report-Armenia states, “The EU continues to request the closure of Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant as soon as possible, as it cannot be upgraded to meet internationally recognized nuclear safety standards.”

The next major agreement between the EU and Armenia was the 2017 EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement. This agreement states that both sides will cooperate on “the closure and safe decommissioning of Metsamor nuclear power plant and the early adoption of a road map or action plan to that effect, taking into consideration the need for its replacement with new capacity to ensure the energy security of the Republic of Armenia and conditions for sustainable development.”

Meanwhile, as Armenia signed various agreements with the EU to close and decommission the plant, it also negotiated other agreements with Russia to extend the reactor’s life. Then in March 2014, the Armenian government formally extended Metsamor’s operation. Later, while negotiating the 2017 Partnership Agreement mentioned earlier, then-President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan stated that the agreement with the EU had not required Metsamor’s closure, despite the explicit commitment in the agreement.

Fast forward to December 2020, when the European Commission reaffirmed the EU position: “The nuclear power plant located in Metsamor cannot be upgraded to fully meet internationally accepted nuclear safety standards, and therefore requires an early closer and safe decommissioning. It is necessary to rapidly adopt a roadmap or action plan to address this, taking into consideration the need to ensure Armenia’s energy security and conditions for sustainable development.”

Armenia’s energy security allows Metsamor’s closure. Armenia has a unique energy market with relatively small consumption of electricity and a large proportion of its electricity exported, mostly to Iran. Armenia has several options for reducing its electricity needs and finding substitutes for Metsamor’s output, meaning that Armenia could close its nuclear power plant and still provide reliable energy for its population.

Most energy in Armenia is used for residential purposes and transportation, with only 15 percent consumed by industry. Armenians primarily use natural gas, which accounts for 65 percent of the country’s energy consumption. Armenia’s relatively mild summers mean that relatively little energy is needed for cooling. As a result, the country’s per-person electricity consumption is less than half that of Europe’s.

RELATED:
Bulletin Virtual Program — Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

Armenia could provide reliably for its energy needs without the output from its nuclear power plant. Today, Armenia exports over half of Metsamor’s electricity to neighboring Iran. If these exports were ended, the remaining domestic needs could be met by building one additional thermal-powered electricity plant.

Armenian officials point to energy independence as a key motivation for Metsamor’s ongoing operation. They categorize its output as domestically produced energy, without acknowledging that Russia supplies all of its fuel or that the plant’s most complicated work is performed by Russian specialists under the direction of Russian state entities. Since Armenia also imports more than 80 percent of its natural gas from Russia, and the Russian energy corporation Gazprom owns Armenia’s gas network, keeping Metsamor open actually represents further dependence on Moscow, rather than less. In fact, Armenia’s energy security could be improved by diversifying its energy suppliers and supplies. A new thermal plant could have dual-fuel capacity, enabling a quick transfer to liquid fuel (such as heavy oil or diesel) or to coal, thereby reducing its dependence on natural gas. Armenia could then stockpile back-up fuel or coal and quickly transfer to the stored energy without major disruption to electricity supplies. Armenia also has the ability to increase its hydroelectric generation.

Armenia can significantly lower its energy consumption through greater energy efficiency. Moreover, Armenia’s energy demand will decrease in 2021 because it lost control of territories in neighboring Azerbaijan in the 2020 war, where it had provided electricity and gas until late 2020.

Regional peace initiatives enable new energy trade. Armenia plans to retain and upgrade its nuclear power plant, despite commitments to the EU to close it. The Armenian Energy Sector Development Strategic Program to 2040 states that “the government will stay committed to the policy to maintain nuclear power plant in the country’s generation mix.” Within Armenia, there is little public opposition to the plant, despite its lack of modern safety measures and proximity to a third of the country’s population. Indeed, Armenian officials frequently note their national pride at being the only country in the South Caucasus to operate a nuclear power plant. Financial factors also likely play a role. The main costs in nuclear power plants lie in their construction and decommissioning, while operating costs, including fuel, are relatively low. Russia also grants loans to Armenia to cover many of the costs.

During the five months of 2021 in which Metsamor is scheduled to shut down, the EU might seize the opportunity to remind Armenia of its commitments to close the plant altogether. Instead of investing in upgrades, Armenia could put the funds towards building an additional thermal plant. This would safeguard people throughout the region and strengthen the post-war peace process that includes new railway and road linkages and potentially new energy trade. Such an effort would emphasize regional cooperation, including among representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan

With new roads, new railways, and possibly new energy pipelines in the region, Armenia would be able to diversify its energy supplies. For instance, the planned new rail connections would enable Armenia to import fuel and coal that could be stockpiled as backup to its natural-gas-fired generation. With this increased supply and source diversification, Armenia would actually improve its energy security. In the end, closing Metsamor could improve the physical security of Armenians and their European neighbors while improving Armenia’s energy security.

At a minimum, the EU should require that Armenia install an early warning system that would notify its neighbors and EU headquarters in Brussels of leaks or accidents at the Metsamor plant. The EU, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group, the US State Department, and the US embassy in Yerevan could sponsor and support this process.

Following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany and other key EU states shut down their nuclear power production. Also, the EU has succeeded in closing dangerous Soviet era plants among its new members. However, EU citizens remain in danger when problematic plants in their neighborhood remain operational. The EU now has an opportunity to remove one of these dangers while strengthening regional cooperation, but only if it convinces Armenia to scrap plans to repair Metsamor in favor of shutting it down altogether.

 

 

Turkey Justifies Genocide Against Armenian Christians In Latest Report: ICC

Christianity Daily
March 5 2021
The Turkish Government released last Wednesday a 290-page document that justifies the genocide they committed against the Armenian Christians last year during the Nagorno-Karabakh's Fourty-Four Day War.

The document, entitled "Victory In Nagorno-Karabakh After 44 Days: The Token Of The Turkey-Azerbaijan Brotherhood," stated that the Turkish Government remained "within the boundaries of legitimacy, not targeting civilians and civilian settlements" even though, as per International Chrisian Concern, they used extensively strong Turkish-Azeri forces who targeted the settlements of civilians. This does not include the hiring of Syrian jihadist mercenaries to kill Christians.

The Turkish Government was said to have used cluster munitions and white phosporus gas during the war and even celebrated the tactics they used last December 10 through a victory parade.

According to International Christian Concern, the document is meant to "distract" people from the real issue, which is "committing genocide against Christians."

"This report by Turkey, particularly given its length, is meant to overwhelm and distract us from the real issue at hand. Which is that Turkey, a NATO ally, is committing genocide against Christians," declared International Christian Concern Middle East Regional Manager Claire Evans in their organization's website.

The International Christian Concern reported that the said document has a very lengthy historical analysis of what transpired during the war to "justify its actions." They said that the historical analysis can only set the context of the what happened but would not be able to justify any human rights abuses the Turkish Government has done in the past and present. Accordingly, International Christian Concern said that this is a technique of the Turkish Government of "erasing the collective memory of Christianity as an excuse not to pursue religious freedom protections for the local communities."

"This report shows the depth to which Turkey will message its narrative. It cannot be contradicted by those on the ground who are living the consequences of Turkey's actions, without risking their personal lives and safety," Evans added, "It is absurd that Turkey can so blatantly acknowledge its role in igniting a war, in using the language of genocide to win it, and yet still have an internationally recognized peace-keeping role over newly conquered territories."

In "The Anatomy Of Genocide; Karabakh's Forty-Four Day War," prepared and released by International Christian Concern last January, a background on the war is given alongside advocacy recommendations and the history of Nagorno-Karabakh. The war broke on September 27, 2020 in South Caucasus, Turkey and lasted for forty-four days until Russia stepped in. Footages of the war crimes were published by the Azeri and paid Turkish Syrian mercenaries.

International Christian Concern explained that the dynamics of the war was deeply complex but had strong implications on religious freedom since it is basically set to "erase Christianity from the historical memory of Karabakh." It also aimed to "dehumanize local residents" by "dismantling their identity" and by "using a variety of impression management maneuvers to limit the ability of international observers to name the war" for the "genocide" that it is.

 

Turkey Justifies Genocide Against Armenian Christians In Latest Report: ICC

Christianity Daily
March 5 2021
The Turkish Government released last Wednesday a 290-page document that justifies the genocide they committed against the Armenian Christians last year during the Nagorno-Karabakh's Fourty-Four Day War.

The document, entitled "Victory In Nagorno-Karabakh After 44 Days: The Token Of The Turkey-Azerbaijan Brotherhood," stated that the Turkish Government remained "within the boundaries of legitimacy, not targeting civilians and civilian settlements" even though, as per International Chrisian Concern, they used extensively strong Turkish-Azeri forces who targeted the settlements of civilians. This does not include the hiring of Syrian jihadist mercenaries to kill Christians.

The Turkish Government was said to have used cluster munitions and white phosporus gas during the war and even celebrated the tactics they used last December 10 through a victory parade.

According to International Christian Concern, the document is meant to "distract" people from the real issue, which is "committing genocide against Christians."

"This report by Turkey, particularly given its length, is meant to overwhelm and distract us from the real issue at hand. Which is that Turkey, a NATO ally, is committing genocide against Christians," declared International Christian Concern Middle East Regional Manager Claire Evans in their organization's website.

The International Christian Concern reported that the said document has a very lengthy historical analysis of what transpired during the war to "justify its actions." They said that the historical analysis can only set the context of the what happened but would not be able to justify any human rights abuses the Turkish Government has done in the past and present. Accordingly, International Christian Concern said that this is a technique of the Turkish Government of "erasing the collective memory of Christianity as an excuse not to pursue religious freedom protections for the local communities."

"This report shows the depth to which Turkey will message its narrative. It cannot be contradicted by those on the ground who are living the consequences of Turkey's actions, without risking their personal lives and safety," Evans added, "It is absurd that Turkey can so blatantly acknowledge its role in igniting a war, in using the language of genocide to win it, and yet still have an internationally recognized peace-keeping role over newly conquered territories."

In "The Anatomy Of Genocide; Karabakh's Forty-Four Day War," prepared and released by International Christian Concern last January, a background on the war is given alongside advocacy recommendations and the history of Nagorno-Karabakh. The war broke on September 27, 2020 in South Caucasus, Turkey and lasted for forty-four days until Russia stepped in. Footages of the war crimes were published by the Azeri and paid Turkish Syrian mercenaries.

International Christian Concern explained that the dynamics of the war was deeply complex but had strong implications on religious freedom since it is basically set to "erase Christianity from the historical memory of Karabakh." It also aimed to "dehumanize local residents" by "dismantling their identity" and by "using a variety of impression management maneuvers to limit the ability of international observers to name the war" for the "genocide" that it is.

 

Turkey Justifies Genocide Against Armenian Christians In Latest Report: ICC

Christianity Daily
March 5 2021
The Turkish Government released last Wednesday a 290-page document that justifies the genocide they committed against the Armenian Christians last year during the Nagorno-Karabakh's Fourty-Four Day War.

The document, entitled "Victory In Nagorno-Karabakh After 44 Days: The Token Of The Turkey-Azerbaijan Brotherhood," stated that the Turkish Government remained "within the boundaries of legitimacy, not targeting civilians and civilian settlements" even though, as per International Chrisian Concern, they used extensively strong Turkish-Azeri forces who targeted the settlements of civilians. This does not include the hiring of Syrian jihadist mercenaries to kill Christians.

The Turkish Government was said to have used cluster munitions and white phosporus gas during the war and even celebrated the tactics they used last December 10 through a victory parade.

According to International Christian Concern, the document is meant to "distract" people from the real issue, which is "committing genocide against Christians."

"This report by Turkey, particularly given its length, is meant to overwhelm and distract us from the real issue at hand. Which is that Turkey, a NATO ally, is committing genocide against Christians," declared International Christian Concern Middle East Regional Manager Claire Evans in their organization's website.

The International Christian Concern reported that the said document has a very lengthy historical analysis of what transpired during the war to "justify its actions." They said that the historical analysis can only set the context of the what happened but would not be able to justify any human rights abuses the Turkish Government has done in the past and present. Accordingly, International Christian Concern said that this is a technique of the Turkish Government of "erasing the collective memory of Christianity as an excuse not to pursue religious freedom protections for the local communities."

"This report shows the depth to which Turkey will message its narrative. It cannot be contradicted by those on the ground who are living the consequences of Turkey's actions, without risking their personal lives and safety," Evans added, "It is absurd that Turkey can so blatantly acknowledge its role in igniting a war, in using the language of genocide to win it, and yet still have an internationally recognized peace-keeping role over newly conquered territories."

In "The Anatomy Of Genocide; Karabakh's Forty-Four Day War," prepared and released by International Christian Concern last January, a background on the war is given alongside advocacy recommendations and the history of Nagorno-Karabakh. The war broke on September 27, 2020 in South Caucasus, Turkey and lasted for forty-four days until Russia stepped in. Footages of the war crimes were published by the Azeri and paid Turkish Syrian mercenaries.

International Christian Concern explained that the dynamics of the war was deeply complex but had strong implications on religious freedom since it is basically set to "erase Christianity from the historical memory of Karabakh." It also aimed to "dehumanize local residents" by "dismantling their identity" and by "using a variety of impression management maneuvers to limit the ability of international observers to name the war" for the "genocide" that it is.

 

Azerbaijani press: US experts visit war-torn areas of Azerbaijan’s Tartar (PHOTOS)

BAKU, Azerbaijan, March 5

By Jeyhun Alakbarov Trend:

Employees of the US International Conflict Resolution Center have visited Azerbaijan’s Tartar district liberated from the Armenian occupation, Trend reports.

Christopher Chambers, a board member, and Austin Clayton, a researcher, inspected houses in Tartar shelled by Armenia during the Second Karabakh War, witnessing the aftermath of Armenia's vandalism.

During the 44-day Second Karabakh War of Azerbaijan, as a result of the aggression of the Armenian Armed Forces, the damage caused to the district’s population amounted to 63.6 million manat ($37.4 million).

Azerbaijani press: US experts visit war-torn areas of Azerbaijan’s Tartar (PHOTOS)

BAKU, Azerbaijan, March 5

By Jeyhun Alakbarov Trend:

Employees of the US International Conflict Resolution Center have visited Azerbaijan’s Tartar district liberated from the Armenian occupation, Trend reports.

Christopher Chambers, a board member, and Austin Clayton, a researcher, inspected houses in Tartar shelled by Armenia during the Second Karabakh War, witnessing the aftermath of Armenia's vandalism.

During the 44-day Second Karabakh War of Azerbaijan, as a result of the aggression of the Armenian Armed Forces, the damage caused to the district’s population amounted to 63.6 million manat ($37.4 million).

Turkish press: 7 must-see UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey

An ancient archway at UNESCO world heritage site Pergamon in Izmir, western Turkey. (Shutterstock Photo)

At the beginning of 2020, I set a personal travel target to visit all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey. So far, I have crossed 11 out of 18 off my list. You can check out our "World Heritage in Turkey" series to see how many you've seen so far as well!

Turkey’s cultural and historical diversity is stunning to many. Every square inch of this land, known also as the “cradle of civilizations,” abounds with history. You look around and easily come across ancient Greek ruins in one direction, the remains of an ancient Roman city in another direction all while being surrounded by glorious Ottoman structures. Throughout the past centuries, many kingdoms and empires fought for the rulership of Asia Minor. The Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Anatolian Beyliks and Ottomans are only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to these historic settlers, countless figures and empires reigned over Anatolia.

A city dedicated to the Goddess of love and beauty: Aphrodite

Aphrodisias is one of the most well-preserved ancient cities in Turkey. It is located in the town of Karacasu, a part of the Western (Aegean) Turkish province of Aydın.

The oldest artifacts unearthed in Aphrodisias show that the earliest human activity in the area dates back to 5000 B.C. The lush valley, cut by the Dandalaz River, upon which Aphrodisias was built was settled by the ancient Greeks in the sixth century B.C. By the second century B.C., when the city received the name Aphrodisias, it was one of the most important cities in the Carian Province of the Roman Empire.

Besides its marvelous intact ruins and massive size, Aphrodisias also boasts one of the best-preserved stadiums of the ancient Greek world, with a seating capacity of 30,000.

It became the center for the cult of Aphrodite, for whose worship the Temple of Aphrodite was constructed. A magnificent sculpture of Aphrodite stood within this temple sanctuary that attracted people from all over Ancient Greece.

You’ll also find Aphrodisias has an abundance of meticulously carved artisanal sculptures that were produced in the Sculpture School within the ancient city. Sculptors in Aphrodisias were highly advanced given the abundance of marble reserves around the city. These reserves made the city relatively wealthy, which is reflected in all the monuments, sculptures and other works that are still gloriously standing. Most of these date back as early as the first century B.C., defying the centuries and disruptive natural elements.

Before commencing your visit, I highly recommend you to stop by the Aphrodisias Museum, located inside the ancient city, which has one of the most impressive collections of artifacts unearthed during the excavations in Aphrodisias.

Compared to other heritage sites on this list, Aphrodisias is relatively undiscovered among tourists, yet at a time that socializing is limited by the COVID-19 pandemic, you can benefit from the unpopularity of this site and safely visit it.

You can visit Aphrodisias from 10 a.m. to 7 pm in summer and from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in winter. The entrance is TL 30 ($4) per person.

The city of 1001 churches

Inside the Grand Cathedral of Ani. (Photo by Argun Konuk)

The ancient city of Ani is situated in the easternmost Turkish city of Kars, adjacent to the Turkish-Armenian border.

Rising to prominence around the fifth century A.D., Ani served as the capital of Medieval Armenia for centuries, starting with the Armenian Kamsarakan Dynasty. At its peak, Ani had a population as high as 100,000 and was one of the main hubs for trade and art in Anatolia, having control over a branch of the Silk Road.

Starting with the Armenians, followed by the Byzantines, then the Safavids and later the Ottomans, many forefathers of Anatolia ruled Ani, which resulted in Ani’s characteristic amalgamation of cultures, languages and religions.

When visiting Ani, you’ll immediately be confronted by the long-stretching city wall. Walking around the vast highland Ani is located on can take a few hours, and you’ll be surrounded by breath-taking nature through-out, as well as views of Armenia across the river that borders the city.

You can visit Ani from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in summer and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in winter. The entrance is TL 15 per person.

The capital of the Hittite Empire

Located in the province of Çorum in Central Anatolia, Hattuşa (often called the Boğazkale Archeological Site) was the capital city of the Hittite Empire. Hattuşa is primarily known for its advanced city planning and beautifully carved ornaments on the Royal Gate, the Lion Gate and the two sphinxes on the Sphinx Gate that are now found at Boğazkale Museum nearby. Also not to be missed is the open-air museum of Yazılıkaya (not to be confused with the Phrygian monument of Yazılıkaya in the province of Eskişehir I talked about in an earlier article) with its well-preserved rock art.

Hattuşa is modern and visitor-friendly, with asphalt roads allowing you to easily visit all the sites across the vast city by car.

Hattuşa makes for a perfect day trip spot for Ankarans. The city is located 200 kilometers (124 miles) away from Ankara and takes approximately two hours 20 minutes (one way) to drive to.

You can visit Hattuşa from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in summer and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in winter. The entrance fee is TL 10 per person.

A view of the ancient city of Çatalhöyük and archaeological excavations. (Shutterstock Photo)

One of the oldest settlements in human history

Çatalhöyük was a fairly large Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement and is considered to be one of the oldest in human history, dating back to over 9400 years ago. It is also considered by many to be the oldest village or town ever discovered. It is located in the town of Çumra, in the province of Konya.

Excavations conducted in Çatalhöyük shed light on the social and economic life in pre-historic ages. These excavations also revealed that there were no streets in Çatalhöyük and that dwellings were built closely abutting each other like a honeycomb. They typically buried the dead under the floor of these houses and kept the rooms relatively clean, which was interesting to archeologists who found no evidence of littering. Up to 8000 occupied this huge town at its peak, and it remains a remarkably well-preserved site to this today.

You can visit Çatalhöyük from 10 am to 7 pm in summer and from 9 am to 7 pm in winter. Entrance is free of charge.

The Göbeklitepe Temple. (Photo by Argun Konuk)

Point zero in history

Göbeklitepe is Turkey’s latest addition to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Outdating Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza by 7500 years, Göbeklitepe boasts the oldest known temple in history. Apart from illuminating our collective knowledge of the history of religion, the dynamics of a hunter-gatherer society and prehistoric art and agriculture, Göbeklitepe stands out with its massive t-shaped pillars that surround the temple.

This groundbreaking historical site is in the suburbs of Şanlıurfa province (or Urfa in short) in southeast Turkey.

If you are lucky enough, you may meet Mahmut Yıldız during your visit to Göbeklitepe. He is the owner of the land where Göbeklitepe was discovered and the person who made its initial discovery. If he is there, do not be shy and go to talk to him. Mr. Yıldız is a very friendly and talkative person who will tell you his story of stumbling upon Göbeklitepe.

You can visit Göbeklitepe from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer (April 1-Oct. 24) and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in winter (Oct. 24-April 1). The entrance is TL 45 per person.

The Celsus Library in Ephesus, Izmir. (Shutterstock Photo)

The pearl of western Turkey

The ancient city of Ephesus (Efes in Turkish) is undoubtedly the most renowned historical attraction in Turkey and is situated in the colorful seaside city of Izmir on the west coast of the country. Added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites List in 2015, Ephesus attracts thousands of visitors every day from around the world and, in 2019, with approximately 2 million visitors, it was the most visited ancient city in Turkey.

The House of Virgin Mary. (Photo by Argun Konuk)

The Artemis Temple, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is located in Ephesus. Unfortunately, except for a single column and a few marble blocks, the temple has not survived the years. The façade of the Library of Celsus, one of the most impressive constructions of the ancient world, once housing over 12,000 scrolls, can also be found here. The intricate design on the ceiling of the façade and in the sculptures that guard it astounds visitors. The House of the Virgin Mary and Grotto of the Seven Sleepers are two other attractions that should be seen.

You can visit Ephesus from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in summer and from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in winter. The entrance is TL 100 per person.

Please note that since the tourism organization of the House of the Virgin Mary is run by the municipality of Selçuk, the Museum Pass is not valid here. (Click here for the visiting hours.)

The Acropolis houses some of the most important remains of Pergamon. (Shutterstock Photo)

The birthplace of parchment paper and one of the oldest healing centers of the ancient world

The colonnaded street in front of the Asclepion theater. (Photo by Argun Konuk)

Located in the colorful district of Bergama, famous for its numerous well-preserved historical sites and unique cuisine, Pergamon is among the top must-see attractions in western Turkey. It has two main ancient sites for visitors to see, The Acropolis of Pergamon and the Ancient City of Asclepion (or Asklepion).

Founded in the third century B.C. by the Hellenistic Attalid dynasty, Pergamon served as the capital city of the kingdom for 15 decades. In subsequent centuries, the ruling powers in Pergamon changed often, yet the city remained one of the most important political, economic and cultural centers in Asia Minor (an archaic name for Anatolia).

Today, the ruins of the important structures of Pergamon, which include the Zeus Altar, gymnasium, the library of Pergamon (which once held a huge collection of 200,000 scrolls), the temple of Athena and the theater (credited as being the steepest theater of the ancient world, built on the western cliff of the acropolis) are some of the notable spots. The Acropolis is located on top of the cliffside, overlooking Bergama, however, visitors can easily access it using cable cars that run from the city center to the ancient city and back.

A quick piece of trivia: parchment paper, made using processed animal skins, was discovered in Pergamon in the second century B.C. as an alternative to when papyrus paper from Egypt was banned. The name parchment was given semi-eponymously, based on the name of the ancient city of Pergamon.

The second main site in the area is the ancient settlement of Asclepion, which is situated in a fertile valley that is adjacent to the base of the hill where the ruins of Pergamon are found.

Asclepion was built in honor of the God of Medicine in ancient Greece, Asclepius, in the fourth century B.C. It served as one of the prime healing and medicine centers in the ancient world for centuries. It is said that, back in the ancient Greek and Roman eras, people flocked to Asclepion to get treated for various physical and mental illnesses. Treatment methods such as sleep therapy, cupping, dream readings by priests and other experimental techniques were applied to find remedies for patients in Asclepius.

Bergama makes for a busy yet exciting day for tourists. It is one of the most recommended sites to visit in Turkey today.

The locations of the mentioned UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey. (Infographic by Daily Sabah)

You can visit Pergamon from 8:30 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. in summer and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in winter. The entrance is TL 50 per person.

You can visit Asclepion from 8:30 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. in summer and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in winter. The entrance is TL 45 per person.

*Visiting hours of the sites: summer period (April 1-Oct. 1) – winter period (Oct. 1-April 1)

*Museum Pass is valid at all the sites mentioned above.

Turkish press: 7 must-see UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey

An ancient archway at UNESCO world heritage site Pergamon in Izmir, western Turkey. (Shutterstock Photo)

At the beginning of 2020, I set a personal travel target to visit all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey. So far, I have crossed 11 out of 18 off my list. You can check out our "World Heritage in Turkey" series to see how many you've seen so far as well!

Turkey’s cultural and historical diversity is stunning to many. Every square inch of this land, known also as the “cradle of civilizations,” abounds with history. You look around and easily come across ancient Greek ruins in one direction, the remains of an ancient Roman city in another direction all while being surrounded by glorious Ottoman structures. Throughout the past centuries, many kingdoms and empires fought for the rulership of Asia Minor. The Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Anatolian Beyliks and Ottomans are only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to these historic settlers, countless figures and empires reigned over Anatolia.

A city dedicated to the Goddess of love and beauty: Aphrodite

Aphrodisias is one of the most well-preserved ancient cities in Turkey. It is located in the town of Karacasu, a part of the Western (Aegean) Turkish province of Aydın.

The oldest artifacts unearthed in Aphrodisias show that the earliest human activity in the area dates back to 5000 B.C. The lush valley, cut by the Dandalaz River, upon which Aphrodisias was built was settled by the ancient Greeks in the sixth century B.C. By the second century B.C., when the city received the name Aphrodisias, it was one of the most important cities in the Carian Province of the Roman Empire.

Besides its marvelous intact ruins and massive size, Aphrodisias also boasts one of the best-preserved stadiums of the ancient Greek world, with a seating capacity of 30,000.

It became the center for the cult of Aphrodite, for whose worship the Temple of Aphrodite was constructed. A magnificent sculpture of Aphrodite stood within this temple sanctuary that attracted people from all over Ancient Greece.

You’ll also find Aphrodisias has an abundance of meticulously carved artisanal sculptures that were produced in the Sculpture School within the ancient city. Sculptors in Aphrodisias were highly advanced given the abundance of marble reserves around the city. These reserves made the city relatively wealthy, which is reflected in all the monuments, sculptures and other works that are still gloriously standing. Most of these date back as early as the first century B.C., defying the centuries and disruptive natural elements.

Before commencing your visit, I highly recommend you to stop by the Aphrodisias Museum, located inside the ancient city, which has one of the most impressive collections of artifacts unearthed during the excavations in Aphrodisias.

Compared to other heritage sites on this list, Aphrodisias is relatively undiscovered among tourists, yet at a time that socializing is limited by the COVID-19 pandemic, you can benefit from the unpopularity of this site and safely visit it.

You can visit Aphrodisias from 10 a.m. to 7 pm in summer and from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in winter. The entrance is TL 30 ($4) per person.

The city of 1001 churches

Inside the Grand Cathedral of Ani. (Photo by Argun Konuk)

The ancient city of Ani is situated in the easternmost Turkish city of Kars, adjacent to the Turkish-Armenian border.

Rising to prominence around the fifth century A.D., Ani served as the capital of Medieval Armenia for centuries, starting with the Armenian Kamsarakan Dynasty. At its peak, Ani had a population as high as 100,000 and was one of the main hubs for trade and art in Anatolia, having control over a branch of the Silk Road.

Starting with the Armenians, followed by the Byzantines, then the Safavids and later the Ottomans, many forefathers of Anatolia ruled Ani, which resulted in Ani’s characteristic amalgamation of cultures, languages and religions.

When visiting Ani, you’ll immediately be confronted by the long-stretching city wall. Walking around the vast highland Ani is located on can take a few hours, and you’ll be surrounded by breath-taking nature through-out, as well as views of Armenia across the river that borders the city.

You can visit Ani from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in summer and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in winter. The entrance is TL 15 per person.

The capital of the Hittite Empire

Located in the province of Çorum in Central Anatolia, Hattuşa (often called the Boğazkale Archeological Site) was the capital city of the Hittite Empire. Hattuşa is primarily known for its advanced city planning and beautifully carved ornaments on the Royal Gate, the Lion Gate and the two sphinxes on the Sphinx Gate that are now found at Boğazkale Museum nearby. Also not to be missed is the open-air museum of Yazılıkaya (not to be confused with the Phrygian monument of Yazılıkaya in the province of Eskişehir I talked about in an earlier article) with its well-preserved rock art.

Hattuşa is modern and visitor-friendly, with asphalt roads allowing you to easily visit all the sites across the vast city by car.

Hattuşa makes for a perfect day trip spot for Ankarans. The city is located 200 kilometers (124 miles) away from Ankara and takes approximately two hours 20 minutes (one way) to drive to.

You can visit Hattuşa from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in summer and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in winter. The entrance fee is TL 10 per person.

A view of the ancient city of Çatalhöyük and archaeological excavations. (Shutterstock Photo)

One of the oldest settlements in human history

Çatalhöyük was a fairly large Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement and is considered to be one of the oldest in human history, dating back to over 9400 years ago. It is also considered by many to be the oldest village or town ever discovered. It is located in the town of Çumra, in the province of Konya.

Excavations conducted in Çatalhöyük shed light on the social and economic life in pre-historic ages. These excavations also revealed that there were no streets in Çatalhöyük and that dwellings were built closely abutting each other like a honeycomb. They typically buried the dead under the floor of these houses and kept the rooms relatively clean, which was interesting to archeologists who found no evidence of littering. Up to 8000 occupied this huge town at its peak, and it remains a remarkably well-preserved site to this today.

You can visit Çatalhöyük from 10 am to 7 pm in summer and from 9 am to 7 pm in winter. Entrance is free of charge.

The Göbeklitepe Temple. (Photo by Argun Konuk)

Point zero in history

Göbeklitepe is Turkey’s latest addition to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Outdating Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza by 7500 years, Göbeklitepe boasts the oldest known temple in history. Apart from illuminating our collective knowledge of the history of religion, the dynamics of a hunter-gatherer society and prehistoric art and agriculture, Göbeklitepe stands out with its massive t-shaped pillars that surround the temple.

This groundbreaking historical site is in the suburbs of Şanlıurfa province (or Urfa in short) in southeast Turkey.

If you are lucky enough, you may meet Mahmut Yıldız during your visit to Göbeklitepe. He is the owner of the land where Göbeklitepe was discovered and the person who made its initial discovery. If he is there, do not be shy and go to talk to him. Mr. Yıldız is a very friendly and talkative person who will tell you his story of stumbling upon Göbeklitepe.

You can visit Göbeklitepe from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer (April 1-Oct. 24) and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in winter (Oct. 24-April 1). The entrance is TL 45 per person.

The Celsus Library in Ephesus, Izmir. (Shutterstock Photo)

The pearl of western Turkey

The ancient city of Ephesus (Efes in Turkish) is undoubtedly the most renowned historical attraction in Turkey and is situated in the colorful seaside city of Izmir on the west coast of the country. Added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites List in 2015, Ephesus attracts thousands of visitors every day from around the world and, in 2019, with approximately 2 million visitors, it was the most visited ancient city in Turkey.

The House of Virgin Mary. (Photo by Argun Konuk)

The Artemis Temple, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is located in Ephesus. Unfortunately, except for a single column and a few marble blocks, the temple has not survived the years. The façade of the Library of Celsus, one of the most impressive constructions of the ancient world, once housing over 12,000 scrolls, can also be found here. The intricate design on the ceiling of the façade and in the sculptures that guard it astounds visitors. The House of the Virgin Mary and Grotto of the Seven Sleepers are two other attractions that should be seen.

You can visit Ephesus from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in summer and from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in winter. The entrance is TL 100 per person.

Please note that since the tourism organization of the House of the Virgin Mary is run by the municipality of Selçuk, the Museum Pass is not valid here. (Click here for the visiting hours.)

The Acropolis houses some of the most important remains of Pergamon. (Shutterstock Photo)

The birthplace of parchment paper and one of the oldest healing centers of the ancient world

The colonnaded street in front of the Asclepion theater. (Photo by Argun Konuk)

Located in the colorful district of Bergama, famous for its numerous well-preserved historical sites and unique cuisine, Pergamon is among the top must-see attractions in western Turkey. It has two main ancient sites for visitors to see, The Acropolis of Pergamon and the Ancient City of Asclepion (or Asklepion).

Founded in the third century B.C. by the Hellenistic Attalid dynasty, Pergamon served as the capital city of the kingdom for 15 decades. In subsequent centuries, the ruling powers in Pergamon changed often, yet the city remained one of the most important political, economic and cultural centers in Asia Minor (an archaic name for Anatolia).

Today, the ruins of the important structures of Pergamon, which include the Zeus Altar, gymnasium, the library of Pergamon (which once held a huge collection of 200,000 scrolls), the temple of Athena and the theater (credited as being the steepest theater of the ancient world, built on the western cliff of the acropolis) are some of the notable spots. The Acropolis is located on top of the cliffside, overlooking Bergama, however, visitors can easily access it using cable cars that run from the city center to the ancient city and back.

A quick piece of trivia: parchment paper, made using processed animal skins, was discovered in Pergamon in the second century B.C. as an alternative to when papyrus paper from Egypt was banned. The name parchment was given semi-eponymously, based on the name of the ancient city of Pergamon.

The second main site in the area is the ancient settlement of Asclepion, which is situated in a fertile valley that is adjacent to the base of the hill where the ruins of Pergamon are found.

Asclepion was built in honor of the God of Medicine in ancient Greece, Asclepius, in the fourth century B.C. It served as one of the prime healing and medicine centers in the ancient world for centuries. It is said that, back in the ancient Greek and Roman eras, people flocked to Asclepion to get treated for various physical and mental illnesses. Treatment methods such as sleep therapy, cupping, dream readings by priests and other experimental techniques were applied to find remedies for patients in Asclepius.

Bergama makes for a busy yet exciting day for tourists. It is one of the most recommended sites to visit in Turkey today.

The locations of the mentioned UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey. (Infographic by Daily Sabah)

You can visit Pergamon from 8:30 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. in summer and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in winter. The entrance is TL 50 per person.

You can visit Asclepion from 8:30 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. in summer and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in winter. The entrance is TL 45 per person.

*Visiting hours of the sites: summer period (April 1-Oct. 1) – winter period (Oct. 1-April 1)

*Museum Pass is valid at all the sites mentioned above.