Golden Mountains of Altai

Altai, the Kara-Turek. Photo: Ilya Melnikov
Altai, the Kara-Turek. Photo: Ilya Melnikov

On October 6 experts from Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia, members of the Standing Environmental Committee of the Russian Geographical Society will meet at the Headquarters of the Society in Moscow to discuss the possibility of expanding the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Golden Mountains of Altai”.

Big Altai – a mountainous region in the territory of Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. It is famous for its rich cultural and natural heritage. It is believed that the first settlements appeared there almost a million years ago. Scythians, Turks, Uighurs, Yenisei Kyrgyz, Mongols – all these nations made a contribution in the cultural treasury of Altai. The Russian part of the region is called “Golden Mountains of Altai” and in 1998 it was included in the World Heritage List. The total area covers 1,611,457 ha. “Golden Mountains of Altai” includes Altai Nature Reserve, Nature Park “Beluga” , Katun Biosphere Reserve and natural park “Ukok Quiet zone”.

The members of the meeting hope to reach a consensus on the issue of extension of the World Heritage site “Golden Mountains of Altai” to neighboring countries. It is expected that the outcome of the meeting will be the preparation of documents for each of the countries of the Greater Altai, and a memorandum of understanding and cooperation, which will include the steps to be taken.

“Altai – is the heart of Eurasia, the responsibility for the preservation of this unique region lies on Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia – said vice-president of the Russian Geographical Society, director of Institute of Steppe, the Russian Academy of Sciences  Ural Branch, correspondent of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Geographical Sciences, Professor Alexander Chibilёv . – Our countries have been discussing the problem of expansion of the World Heritage site for more than a year, but there is still no international agreements; environmental legislations of our countries are also very different from each other. So now our primary objective – is to bring the approaches of all the four our countries towards uniformity. It is also important to make this project  be recognized by the world. If we succeed and and the site is expanded we will gain international control and, as a consequence, reduction of risks and greater responsibility on the part of land users to preserve the unique natural and cultural heritage of the Altai”.

One of the rarest fauna of the Altai - the snow leopard
One of the rarest representatives of Altai fauna - the snow leopard

Several objects in Altai are already included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, such as petroglyphic complexes of the Mongolian Altai, which are near Russian natural park «Ukok Quiet zone». According to experts the fact that Katun Reserve and buffer zone around Belukha Mountain are on the border between Russia and Kazakhstan, and “Ukok Quiet zone” is located on the border of the four countries gives the legitimate justification for the extension. In addition, the organization has repeatedly called on the countries to begin a collaborative process to consider the possibility of cross-border expansion of the object.

“Cross-border status will allow to carry out joint activities with other countries for the protection of the nature of Altai, – says the secretary of the Standing Environmental Committee Valery Shmunk. – In terms of the ecology Altai as well as Baikal  is one of the key regions of the world. Creation of a transboundary protected zone is a progressive step for the entire planet”.