Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq – 1 December 2015: Participants of a UNESCO symposium held yesterday, Wednesday 30 November, in Erbil expressed grave concerns about the threats to the diversity of cultural expressions in Iraq at a time when communities are being increasingly marginalized and persecuted because of their ethnic and religious backgrounds. They called for urgent action to stop cultural cleansing and to protect and promote Iraq’s cultural diversity.
Under the patronage of the Minister of Culture, the symposium "Threats to the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and Means for Addressing its Protection and Promotion" was held within the framework of the implementation of the 2005 Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and UNESCO’s #Unite4Heritage campaign.
In addition to the representatives of the various communities, representatives of civil society organizations and UN organizations, intellectuals and artists took part in the event.
“We are greatly concerned by the dangers of the disappearance of cultural interaction and creativity that are so vital to nurture and renew cultural expressions and to foster social cohesion in Iraq”, said UNESCO Representative to Iraq Axel Plathe.
“I appreciated the very open discussion that we had today with the community representatives and reiterate my strong commitment to work together to safeguard Iraq's great diversity of cultural expressions”, said Minister of Culture Firyad Rwandizi.
More than 3.3 million Iraqi have been internally displaced. Communities have been directly targeted by extremists because of their religion and ethnicity, and their cultural and religious heritage has been systematically and intentionally destroyed. Many of them have lost the connections with their original cultural milieu and their cultural practices were often irreversibly disrupted.
In order to stop this cultural cleansing, participants of the conference recommended a set of actions for safeguarding the rich diversity of their cultures and called for international support in implementing the actions.
An exhibition on the cultural heritage and diversity of Iraq through the eyes of young artists from among displaced communities was also on display. The exhibition was an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of fostering art and creativity in Iraq, despite the ongoing conflict.
“Every artist has an inspiration and my inspiration comes from our heritage and history, which is so rich and diverse. This is the basis of our values, our creativity, and our art" said Osama Ayad, one of the participating artists. ”
Respect for cultural pluralism and diversity are essential for reconciliation and building peace. The recognition of the contributions of the various communities to society, while respecting cultural diversity, is vital to ensuring the welfare of all of its members, which in turn is a major factor for social cohesion.
In 2013, Iraq acceded to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005), paving the way for setting policies that would ensure the right of its entire population to take part in cultural life and to encourage intercultural dialogue for intercultural respect and a culture of peace.