UNESCO chief calls for ‘protected cultural zones’ in war-torn Iraq, Syria
an article by UN News Centre
Denouncing the persecution of minorities, attacks
on cultural heritage and illicit trafficking in cultural
properties in Iraq and Syria as “part of a strategy
of deliberate cultural cleansing of exceptional
violence,” the head of the United Nations cultural
agency today urged the creation of “protected
cultural zones” around heritage sites in the two
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“It is not too late to take action,” Irina Bokova,
Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said, adding
“there can be no purely military solution to this
crisis. To fight fanaticism, we also need to
reinforce education, a defence against hatred, and
protect heritage, which helps forge collective
Opening an international conference at UNESCO’s
Paris headquarters on threats to cultural heritage
and diversity in Iraq and Syria, Ms. Bokova
suggested a start could be made with the city of
Aleppo, and especially the Umayyad Mosque, a
highly iconic site located in the World Heritage
Syrian city of Aleppo.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said Ms.
Bokova’s call to place cultural diversity at the
heart of humanitarian and peace building efforts in
Syria and Iraq was strongly endorsed by the UN,
adding that “the protection of cultural heritage is a
Both Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s
Special Envoy for Syria, and Nikolay Mladenov,
head of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq
(UNAMI), emphasized the need to integrate
education and culture into emergency measures,
along with humanitarian aid, to protect human
rights and vulnerable civilian populations.
Mr. de Mistura argued that protected cultural
zones could be created through a “bottom up plan
of action,” building on the fact that the people of
Syria have had their fill of violence, bloodshed,
and suffering, while Mr. Mladenov denounced
terrorists who resort to genocide, the enslavement
of women, with blatant disregard for human lives
and human rights as they seek to destroy the
State of Iraq. He said that cultural diversity need
to be preserved not only for peace building but
also for the whole development and stability in the
The Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Humam
Hamoudi, said Iraq’s “soul” was the heritage of its
successive and diverse cultures, which had made
a tremendous contribution to humanity over more
than 6,000 years. He urged the international
community to help Iraq resist its enemies and
pledged his Government’s support for cultural
diversity and pluralism.
Among other issues discussed by the 500
decision-makers, experts and representatives
from both Iraq and Syria, were the need to
implement the 1954 Convention for the Protection
of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict
and its additional protocols, as well as to end
impunity against deliberate attacks on cultural
heritage – a war crime under the Rome Statute of
the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Participants expressed a strong support to the
proposal of an international ban on the trading of
antiquities from Syria, in line with the
recommendation by the Sanctions Monitoring
Team to the UN Security Council.
(Click here for a Spanish version of this article)
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In the following article, Wilhelm Langthaler, a Co-convener of PeaceinSyria.org comments on the spirit emerging from the “All Sides Consultation for Political Solution” in Vienna.
Now that the “All sides Consultation for a Political Solution in Syria” is accomplished and is being recognized by all the participants as a success that deserves continuation, the time has come to draw a balance not only of the conference itself, but also of its wider significance. The very fact that around two dozen people from the most diverse and conflicting backgrounds of Syrian society came together and consulted how to overcome the civil war tearing apart the country is extraordinary. But the spirit emerging from the debates reaches far beyond the objective of this single event, giving hope that a movement for a political solution is gaining momentum.
Exchange among the people – not power-brokering
First of all, let us recall the aim of the “All Sides Consultation for a Political Solution” which took place in the “Peace Castle Schlaining” close to Vienna, Austria, from 7-10 March, 2014. The idea was to give a voice to Syrian society in its full diversity, voices emerging from the people who have been silenced and excluded by the powerful. It was not intended to hold negotiations between the conflicting sides and their global and regional sponsors as has failed in Geneva. A consultative forum of personalities not directly representing the sides involved but indeed representing the societal richness was called upon to explore ways to stop the catastrophic bloodshed.
Thus we were not in search of sophisticated and well-balanced formulae of compromise pleasing the foreign powers involved (something which might, however, be necessary to reach in other places), but to give answers concerning how the full rights of the people might be guaranteed. The quest for these rights is what is thought to have sparked the conflict and is at the same time key to ending what has turned into a fratricidal war pitting the components of society against the other, a conflict additionally fuelled by massive international involvement. As Naser al Ghazali, one of the Syrian members of the preparatory committee hailing from Daraa, put it in his introduction: “Democratic rights are not negotiable. . ...more.