Friday, June 5, 2009

Lake Kuyucuk of Kars has become Turkey’s 2009 European Destination of Excellence (EDEN)

The honour of being Turkey’s EDEN has passed across the country from Edirne to Kars

Kars’ Lake Kuyucuk Wildlife Reserve, a haven for tens of thousands of birds of 207 species and rising, the first RAMSAR candidate site of eastern Turkey, and where conservationists have built the first island ever created in Turkey for wildlife, has won the first place in Turkey in the European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN) tourism competition ( organized by the European Commission, in collaboration with Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Following KuzeyDoğa Society’s application in March 2009, Lake Kuyucuk and other finalists went through a rigorous selection process. On June 1, 2009, Lake Kuyucuk was chosen the winner, and Kars province became Turkey’s 2009 European Destination of Excellence. This award, which has no monetary value, will provide worldwide publicity and promotion of Lake Kuyucuk and Kars, highlight the region as a center of nature tourism, and help raise the tourism revenue of Kars and neighbouring provinces, especially the villages and towns around Lake Kuyucuk.

Last year the theme of the competition was “Tourism and Intangible Heritage”. The Edirne province, which borders Greece, won the competition with its famous Kırkpınar traditional olive oil wrestling festival. This year, the honour of being the European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) passed across the country from Edirne to Kars. With this, the Kars province, which borders Armenia, has become the easternmost Destination of Excellence in Europe. By choosing Kars as its 2009 EDEN, Turkey has taken a crucial step to promote a part of Turkey that is little-known, and is home to unique and fascinating nature, wildlife, history, culture, cuisine, and geography.

The application by KuzeyDoğa Society was done in collaboration with the Kars Governorship, Arpaçay District Governorship, Kars Directorate of Culture and Tourism, and Kars Directorate of Environment and Forestry, with the aim of improving and promoting sustainable nature tourism at Lake Kuyucuk and around Kars. The 2009 theme of the competition was “Tourism and Protected Areas”, for which Lake Kuyucuk Wildlife Reserve, a Key Biodiversity Area and eastern Turkey’s first Ramsar candidate, is uniquely suited. The competition aims to promote protected areas and their surroundings where an economically viable tourism product can be developed using the protected area as an asset, all the while respecting its protected environment and meeting the needs of local residents and visitors.

By awarding up to 34 destinations of excellence throughout Europe, the European Commission’s specific aims are to:

-enhance visibility of the emerging European tourist destinations of excellence, especially the lesser known,
-create awareness of Europe's tourist diversity and quality,
-promote all European countries and regions,
-help de-congestion, combat seasonality, rebalance the tourist flows towards the non- traditional destinations,
-awarding sustainable forms of tourism,
-create a platform for the exchange of good practices,
-promote networking between awarded destinations which could persuade other destinations to -adopt sustainable tourism development models.

Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism collected applications throughout Turkey and nominated Lake Kuyucuk as one of the four finalist sites after the initial screening. Lake Kuyucuk wildlife reserve competed with the finalists Yedigöller National Park and Abant Lake Nature Park (Bolu), Gideros Bay Natural Site (Cide/Kastamonu), and Uluabat Lake Wetland Area (Uluabat Lake/Bursa).

These four finalist sites were visited by the expert selection committe of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The committee came to Kars during May 12-14 2009, visited Lake Kuyucuk and other nature tourism attractions in the region with the KuzeyDoğa team, and was impressed with the full support of Kars administrators for the conservation of Lake Kuyucuk. By coincidence, the committee arrived at Lake Kuyucuk the day when Turkey’s first man-made island for wildlife conservation was cut off from the mainland. The committee was impressed with the unprecedented support of the Kars governor Mehmet Ufuk Erden for nature conservation and with KuzeyDoğa Society’s regional work on conservation, wetland restoration, ecological research, environmental education, and community-based bio-cultural tourism.

Kars province will now be presented to the European Commission as Turkey’s 2009 European Destination of Excellence. European Commission will promote the EDEN sites throughout Europe, encourage European tourists to go and visit these sites, establish a network between the winner sites of each country and present them the European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN) awards by organizing a ceremony at the European Tourism Forum.

Dr. Çağan Şekercioğlu, the president of KuzeyDoğa Society, stated the following:

“Our nature conservation and nature tourism activities that started with the Kars-Iğdır Biodiversity Project in 2003 gained steam with the establishment of KuzeyDoğa Society, the increasing support of the Kars governor Mr. Mehmet Ufuk Erden and the October 2008 visit to Kuyucuk Lake by Mr. Ertuğrul Günay, the Culture and Tourism Minister of Turkey. This award is a historical achievement for Lake Kuyucuk, for Kars, and for nature tourism in the entire region. Last year, the Lake Kuyucuk Project has received from HRH Princess Anne the Whitley Gold Award, United Kingdom’s most prestigious grassroots conservation honor. Our aims are to help conserve the region’s nature and wildlife by working with local people and raising their income through sustainable nature tourism. The honor of being a European Destination of Excellence will increase tourism and local benefits. However, increased tourism and its benefits must be regulated carefully with a sustainable tourism strategy in order to prevent the negative impacts of mass tourism around Lake Kuyucuk and the Kars region. Kuyucuk Lake can be packed with thousands of geese and we do not want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg of nature tourism. Lake Kuyucuk’s recent nomination as the first Ramsar site in eastern Turkey due to its global importance as a wetland was the most important factor in winning this award, which provides a great example of the symbiosis between nature conservation and nature tourism. Lake Kuyucuk’s Ramsar candidacy and its Ramsar boundaries were approved by the National Wetland Commission on April 2, 2009. It is extremely important that the Turkish government sends Lake Kuyucuk’s Ramsar application to the International Ramsar Secreteriat urgently, as the international recognition of Kuyucuk’s Ramsar status will lead to better conservation and will also increase the benefits of the EDEN honor for Lake Kuyucuk, Kars, and Turkey. As the president of KuzeyDoğa Society, we thank the Kars governor, Arpaçay and Akyaka district governorships, Kafkas University, Kars Directorates of Culture & Tourism and Environment & Forestry, and most importantly, the people of Kuyucuk, Duraklı and Carcıoğlu villages. This success is the culmination of years of teamwork with all stakeholders.”

What is European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN)?

EDEN is the acronym for European Destinations of Excellence, a project promoting sustainable tourism development models across the European Union ( The project is based on national competitions that take place every year and result in the selection of a tourist “destination of excellence” for each participating country. Through the selection of destinations, EDEN effectively achieves the objective of drawing attention to the values, diversity and common features of European tourist destinations. It enhances the visibility of emerging European destinations, creates a platform for sharing good practices across Europe and promotes networking between awarded destinations.

This European quest for excellence in tourism is developed around an annual theme, chosen by the Commission together with the relevant national tourism bodies. This theme functions as a leitmotif: so far, rural tourism, intangible heritage and protected areas have been the main EDEN themes.

The key feature of the selected destinations is their commitment to social, cultural and environmental sustainability. The recipients of the award are emerging; little known European destinations located in the 27 Member States and candidate countries. The EDEN project helps to spread the sustainable practices used in the chosen destinations across the Union and to turn these places into all-year-round venues. The process thus aims to help de-congest over-visited tourist destinations.

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