So after a few weeks of being ignored by the Georgian National Museum (which is admittedly busy with massive internal reforms and as a result isn’t exactly capable of diverting attention to local historic preservation efforts), I was finally introduced to ICOMOS Georgia through an expat friend. ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites), is one of three professional associations/NGOs that serve as formal advisory bodies to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee–the other two being the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM).
The ICOMOS Georgia office is located on Betlemi Street (named for Upper and Lower Betlemi–Bethlehem–Cathedrals) in the historic district of Kldisubani (cliff-neighborhood). This means that I have a lovely but vigorous climb to work every day, past Gudiashvili Square and up the restored “street-stairs” to the upper Betlemi terraces.
According to the website, ICOMOS Georgia initiates and/or participates in the following activities:
- Collection and dissemination of information on international conservation principles, techniques and policies
- Preparation and implementation of pilot projects in the heritage conservation field
- Co-operation with international missions and experts in the evaluation of sites and assessment of projects (local expertise)
- Participation in and organisation of training programmes, seminars, conferences, etc. on national and international levels
- Collaboration with ICOMOS other National and International Scientific Committees, such as CIAV (Comite International sur l’Architecture Vernaculaire), CIVVIH (Comite International sur les Villes et Villages Historiques), CIARSPA (Comite International sur l’Analyse et Restauration des Structures du Patrimoine Architectural), and ISCOCT (International Scientific Committee on Cultural Tourism)
- Collaboration with other national bodies in the field of cultural heritage preservation, such as the Cultural Heritage Protection Department of Georgia, Architectural Heritage Conservation Centre, Fund for Protection of Cultural Heritage of Georgia, etc.
- Activities to raise public awareness on national and international levels
ICOMOS Georgia also became a part of the Regional Co-operation for Cultural Heritage Development (RCCHD), an initiative of the European Commission’s Eastern Partnership Culture Programme. The RCCHD forms a union of heritage professionals in Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Members develop workshops and conferences to share knowledge of conservation techniques and heritage policies, which may be underdeveloped or lacking in some regions.
I learned that ICOMOS was responsible for the revitalization of the Betlemi Quarter between 2004-2010, a massive effort that involved the establishment of homeowners’ unions, a development union, and craftsmen’s union, and tourist routes and literature. Several houses, as well as the Betlemi Church platform (overlooking downtown Tbilisi) and the street stairs, were preserved and repaired. Since then, the Betlemi unions host an annual neighborhood festival and the areas participating in the project look much better–although there is still more work to be done in terms of economic development and fending off demolitions.
My current role is to edit articles in English for the RCCHD e-magazine (inevitable gruntwork for a native English speaker in Georgia), collaborate with Tiflis Hamkari (a local union of Old Tbilisi history and architecture enthusiasts) on further development/translation of their publications, help organize conservation skills workshops or roundtables, contribute to a new website on all things Old Tbilisi, and potentially develop an architectural survey database modeled after the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), as well as a bilingual manual of architectural and conservation terms (depending on available funding). Glad to see that my undergrad degree in a seemingly obscure subject could find me rewarding work after all!