Heritage and Cultural Diversity at Risk in Iraq and Syria
UNESCO is organising an International Conference on the protection of cultural heritage and the respect of cultural diversity in Iraq and Syria on 3 December, at its headquarters in Paris. The goal of the Conference is to sensitize decision-makers, humanitarian aid workers as well as those in the world of culture on the critical role of culture within conflicts as well as on the need to better integrate the cultural dimension into security, conflict resolution, humanitarian aid and development policies.
Attacks against culture and cultural diversity have become an important, if not intrinsic, factor in recent conflicts around many parts of the world. As opposing factions in intra-state wars are often defined based on their ethnic, religious or linguistic background, we are witnessing previously unseen forms of cultural cleansing that, through the deliberate targeting of schools, cultural places and religious minorities, seek to destroy the foundations of society and accelerate social fragmentation by dividing communities against each other. The illicit trafficking of cultural objects has often been a side effect of armed conflict. Today, it is working to finance extremist groups and terrorism. In this context, protecting cultural heritage and integrating the cultural dimension in conflict prevention and resolution is more than a cultural emergency – it is a political and security imperative.
The United Nations must better grasp these forms of violence in order to further integrate the protection of cultural heritage and cultural diversity into security strategies and conflict resolution policies, as well as humanitarian aid and development policies. New peacebuilding strategies are needed, to respond to new threats of persecution based on identity or religion and to deliberate attacks against cultural heritage and places where culture is expressed, as well as to sectarian indoctrination.
These tasks lie at the heart of UNESCO’s mandate. The Organization was created in 1945 on the idea that lasting peace can be built only on the foundation of mutual understanding between cultures and on the protection of cultural heritage as a force for dialogue: « Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be built ».
The International Conference will bring together high-level politicians, cultural professionals as well as experts from the defence and strategic studies community, with the goal of adopting, building on the existing international normative framework and in particular on various UNESCO declarations and Conventions, a Global Commitment to Action and Solidarity.