Preservation of marshlands key to foster Iraq’s cultural diversity say UN, UNESCO officials

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© UNESCO
16 November 2015

Baghdad, 15 November 2015 –“We stand ready to help safeguard the cultural and natural heritage of the Marshlands that are emblematic for Iraq’s unique heritage of diversity and tolerance”, said Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for Iraq György Busztin and UNESCO Representative to Iraq Axel Plathe at the conclusion of a two-day visit to the marshes and the relict cultural landscape of the Mesopotamian cities.

The visit included a meeting with community leaders and the mayor of Chabayish, who voiced their commitment to safeguard this important natural and cultural heritage.

The visit was organised as the Government of Iraq has recently submitted the nomination for the inclusion of the Marshlands and the cities of Ur, Uruk and Eridu in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

“The marshlands played a very significant role historically in Iraq.  I congratulate the Government for its efforts to preserve their unique role as an ecosystem and a cultural landscape for Iraq’s sustainable development”, said György Busztin.

“Southern Iraq is the place of some of the earliest urban centres in the world.  Preserving what remains from Uruk, Ur and Eridu, the cradle of Mesopotamian culture, and the natural wetlands, from which they took their inspiration, is a crucial task for Iraq and the world”, said Axel Plathe.

Located in the southern part of Iraq, the Mesopotamian Marshlands, also known as al-Ahwar in Arabic, is a rare wetland within a desert landscape.  It hosts a freshwater eco-system and provides a habitat for wildlife, hosting several species of birds and fish.  Until the 1970s, the marshlands used to cover an area of up to 20,000 square kilometres around the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

While their location has shifted throughout several millennia, between 4000 and 3000 BC, the marshlands were located further to the northwest.  This provided the context for the development of some of the earliest urban centres in the world, such as Uruk, Ur and Eridu. Thus, it is the place that witnessed the origin of writing, some of the earliest monumental architecture, and the emergence of complex societies in southern Mesopotamia, dubbed as the Cradle of Civilization.  The Sumerian culture, known for its cuneiform texts, took its inspiration from these wetlands.

Between 2009 and 2014 with funding from the Italian Government, UNESCO and UNEP have been jointly implementing a project to assist the Government of Iraq in improving the natural and cultural management of the southern Iraqi marshlands through the process of preparing a World Heritage nomination file for the concerned area.

The management of the Marshlands of Mesopotamia are of a priority for the conservation of the natural ecosystem and for maintaining the sustainable livelihood of a community.