Last Updated on February 17, 2022 by Kurdish Heritage
About this monument
THE TOMBSTONES OF AHLAT (Kurdish: Kevirên Xelatê) are a collection of historic tombstones in multiple cemeteries in Northern Kurdistan’s Bidlîs Province, corresponding with Eastern Turkey’s Bitlis Province.
The surviving tombstones mostly date back to the 12th to 15th centuries, although there is evidence the cemeteries have existed since 900 BCE. In Turkey, the tombstones are officially classified as being Seljuk (Turkic), but this is blatant and unapologetic appropriation of culture and history: many of the surviving tombstones, including some of the oldest, actually belong to the Kurdish Ayyubid Period. Out of over 8000 tombstones, not a single one belongs to the Seljuk Turks. Turkey’s official UNESCO submission does not stray from this deceptive narrative, so it is unlikely this UNESCO submission will become permanently inscribed in the near future.
The Tombstones of Ahlat are mostly located at the following cemeteries:
- Harabe cemetery
- Suleyman cemetery
- Kırklar cemetery
- Kale cemetery
- Merkez cemetery
- Meydanlık cemetery
Each of Ahlat’s tombstones are a monument in their own right. The tombstones are meticulously carved and resemble Armenian Khachkar tombstones, which are carved steles bearing a cross. The main difference is that the tombstones of Ahlat are Islamic. However, it is likely that many of Ahlat’s Islamic tombstones were made by Armenians, whom made up a significant portion of the region’s historic population.
There is more to see in Ahlat. Some other notable monuments are:
- Ruined City Bridge (Kurdish: Pireya Xerabşarê)
- Roman Castle (Kurdish: Kela Romayî)
- Ruined City Castle (Kurdish: Kela Xerabşarê)
- Alexander Mosque (Kurdish: Mizgefta Îskender)
- Tomb of Khosrow and Kinar (Kurdish: Kumbeta Xosrov û Kinarê)
- Tomb of Lezgîn Beg (Kurdish: Kumbeta Lezgîn Beg)
The Tombstones of Ahlat are on UNESCO’s Tentative List and meet the following selection criteria:
(i) & (iii)
To be included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, historic or natural sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. These criteria are explained in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention which, besides the text of the Convention, is the main working tool on World Heritage.
UNESCO criteria can be cultural and/or natural; the first six criteria are cultural and applicable to historic sites such as architectural structures and archaeological sites. The last four criteria are applicable to natural sites, such as national parks. Sites that meet both cultural and natural criteria are called “mixed sites”, for example ancient rock paintings.
Before a historic or natural site is inscribed on UNESCO’s permanent list, it has to be included on a State Party’s Tentative List. State Parties will submit a historic or natural site for nomination and justify the site’s “outstanding universal value” based on the criteria they believe the site meets. Often times, they will compare the to-be-nominated site to sites already inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. A site has to be successfully tentatively listed before it can be inscribed on UNESCO’s (permanent) World Heritage List.
On Kurdish-Heritage.org, we list all the criteria a heritage site in Kurdistan or a Kurd-related heritage site outside of Kurdistan meets. We have added these criteria and UNESCO’s official (brief) explanation to the tabs on this page to make understanding and navigating between them a little bit easier.
to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;
to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);
to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.
Kurdistan is a geo-cultural region wherein the Kurdish people have historically formed a prominent majority population, and where Kurdish culture, language, and identity have historically been based. Contemporary use of “Kurdistan” refers to parts of Eastern- and South-Eastern Turkey (Northern Kurdistan), Northern Iraq (Southern Kurdistan), North-Western Iran (Eastern Kurdistan) and Northern Syria (Western Kurdistan) inhabited mainly by Kurds.
The Kurds have greatly shaped Middle-Eastern and European history, politics, and culture and have at times ruled over vast parts of the Middle-East, such as during the Kurdish Ayyubid Dynasty, immortalized in European and Middle-Eastern consciousness by its founder Sultan Saladin (Al-Nasir Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub al-Kurdi / Selahedînê Eyûbî).
Because of Kurdish migrations, Kurd-related heritage, including many UNESCO-listed monuments, can be found outside of the historic Kurdish homeland, in particular in Egypt and the Levant Region, where the Kurds built many defensive fortifications in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Currently, there are two autonomous Kurdish regions in the Middle-East. One is located in Northern Iraq and has full international recognition as an autonomous region. In fact, often being treated as a separate state altogether. This autonomous region is known by several names, including: “The Kurdistan Regional Government”, “The Kurdistan Region”, “Southern Kurdistan”, “Iraqi Kurdistan”, and “the KRG”. The other autonomous Kurdish region is younger and located in Northern Syria. This autonomous region is commonly known as Rojava, but also as Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).
This map is an estimation of UNESCO inscribed, tentatively listed, and eligible monuments within Kurdistan and of Kurd-related monuments outside of the historic Kurdish homeland. UNESCO monuments that are located within Kurdistan are not persé related to Kurds; Kurdistan is “the cradle of civilization”, and as such, many civilizations have left their marks there.
As of 19 September 2021;
there are 25 tentative UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 11 permanent UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the borders of Kurdistan. In addition, two (2) cities are listed within UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network. Furthermore, there are nine (9) Kurd-related tentative and eight (8) Kurd-related permanent UNESCO World Heritage Sites outside of Kurdistan (elsewhere in the Middle-East). In total: 34 tentative and 20 permanent UNESCO World Heritage Sites, plus two (2) cities, putting the total at 56. This does not include a vast sea of historic and natural sites that are eligible for UNESCO-inscription.
|Name||The Tombstones of Ahlat|
|Name (KURDISH: Kurmancî)||Kevirên Xelatê|
|Name (KURDISH: Soranî)||بەردی گۆڕەکانی ئەهلات|
|Place Name (KURDISH: Kurmancî)||Xelat|
|Place Name (KURDISH: Soranî)||خەلات|
|Date of Monument||12th to 15th centuries|
|Region||Northern Kurdistan (Bakurê Kurdistanê)|
|Province||Bitlis / Bidlîs|
|Type||UNESCO World Heritage Sites|
|Subtype||Tentative World Heritage Site|
|Subtype||Tombs and Shrines|
|Monument Status||Largely Intact / Partially Ruined|
|Dynasty / Period||Marwanid|
|Dynasty / Period||Ayyubid|
|UNESCO Status||Tentatively Listed|
|How does this monument relate to Kurds or Kurdistan?|
Many of Ahlat's tombstones and other historic monuments, including some of the oldest, belong the Kurdish Ayyubid Period.
Aside from that, Ahlat has a rich Kurdish history. It fell under the Kurdish Marwanid's rule in the 10th century.
Later, it became part of the Kurdish Ayyubid Sultante, which covered most of the Middle East.
Finally, Ahlat became part of the Kurdish Principality of Bitlis, which lasted until 1847.
Today, Ahlat has a mixed but Kurdish majority population. It is the 3rd largest city in the Kurdish majority province of Bitlis.
|Bibliography, Links & Further Reading|
|UNESCO Criteria||i (cultural), iii (cultural)|
|Date of Tentative Listing||2000-11-27|
|Last Kurdish-Heritage.org Update||2022-02-17|
|Photo Album||flickr | Tombstones of Ahlat (Kevirên Xelatê)|
|UNESCO.org Listing Page||UNESCO.org | The Tombstones of Ahlat the Urartian and Ottoman citadel|