Safeguarding the Erbil Citadel to protect the soul of Iraq

On 2 November, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, visited Erbil Citadel, a site inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List during the World Heritage Committee meeting in 2014, where she handed over the certificate for the inscription of the Citadel to Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Nechirvan Barzani.

On this occasion, the Director-General was accompanied by the Governor of Erbil, Mr Nawzad Hadi Mawlood, the KRG Minister of Culture and Youth, Mr Khalid Doski, the KRG Minister of Municipalities and Tourism, Mr Newroz Mawlood Amin and the Head of the High Commission for Erbil Revitalization, Mr Dara Al-Yaqoobi. The audience included a wide range of foreign representatives, the local community as well as the media.

The Prime Minister thanked UNESCO for its support to restoring the Citadel and its nomination.

"This is a great source of pride for us, for all people of Iraq."

He underlined the importance of the Director-General's personal commitment, embodied in her decision to present the inscription certificate in person in Erbil.

The Governor spoke of the strong cooperation with UNESCO in all aspects of the conservation of the Citadel, noting the love and pride of the women and men of Iraq for their heritage.

“Through this inscription, we celebrate the outstanding value of the Erbil Citadel," said Irina Bokova, "and the millennial contribution of the people of this land to all humanity, “This history belongs to all of us and it is our responsibility to defend it from all challenges.”

Irina Bokova said, “The inscription of the Citadel is also a solemn moment, because this history and values are under attack today.”

In addition to humanitarian crisis, she said the country is experiencing cultural cleansing, cultural eradication and cultural looting.

"The terrorists are attacking culture because they want to attack the soul of the Iraqi people, to weaken the ground for future reconciliation," said Irina Bokova. 

In this context, she said there can be no relent in the shared determination to defend Iraqi cultural heritage and diversity --"this must be our response to extremism, to strengthen tolerance and trust."

“Saving the past of Iraq is essential to saving the future of this country and to our collective history – that is what this inscription means."

“We must stand up against forces that seek to divide Iraq, because they attack the humanity we all share.”

The first World Heritage Site in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the Erbil Citadel is a fortified settlement on top of an imposing ovoid-shaped tell, a hill created by many generations of people living and rebuilding on the same spot. A continuous wall of tall 19th-century façades still conveys the visual impression of an impregnable fortress, dominating the city of Erbil. The citadel features a peculiar fan-like pattern dating back to Erbil’s late Ottoman phase. Written and iconographic historical records document the antiquity of settlement on the site – Erbil corresponds to ancient Arbela, an important Assyrian political and religious centre – while archaeological finds and investigations suggest that the mound conceals the levels and remains of previous settlements.

The Citadel joins three other Iraqi sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List – Ashur (Qal'at Sherqat), Hatra, and Samarra Archaeological City.

The Director-General thanked the Prime Minister, the Governor and the local community for their commitment to safeguarding the Citadel. 

“UNESCO is honoured to work so closely, through the Erbil Citadel Revitalization Project, with the Governorate of Erbil and the High Commission for Erbil Citadel Revitalization -- to address site protection and conservation, to prepare the framework and guidelines for the management of the buffer zone and a management plan for the sustainable development of the site, and to support the Citadel's nomination.”

In handing over the certificate, Irina Bokova pledged UNESCO’s commitment to continue supporting the people of Iraq in their every effort.