The UNESCO-powered #Unite4Heritage anti-extremism and awareness-raising campaign took centre-stage at the 38th session of the UNESCO General Conference this week, as part of a continued push to engage governments and institutions on the need to safeguard cultural heritage in conflict zones.
On Thursday, a major side-event was held at UNESCO Headquarters, bringing together ‘heritage champions’ from around the world to share their experiences, including Iraqi Dominican priest Najeeb Michaeel and El Boukhari Ben Essayouti, Head of the Cultural Mission of Timbuktu. Annie Sartre, renowned historian and the author of “Zenobia, from Palmyra to Rome,” also shared her insights on the destruction of Palmyra, which has reverberated around the world this year.
The Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova opened the event, and renewed UNESCO’s commitment to safeguarding the cultural heritage of humanity, evidenced through the recent rebuilding of the famed mausoleums of Timbuktu, and lauded the bravery of individuals on the frontlines of attacks against culture.
“I want to say to all of the curators of museums, conservators and officials who exercise outstanding courage to protect culture, in Syria, in Iraq, in Mali and elsewhere: you are not alone – we stand with you,” she said.
She also called upon everyone to take part in the #Unite4Heritage campaign. “We need you join the movement, in every possible way, by tweeting, by donating through the new online UNESCO ‘donate portal’, by posting messages of solidarity, sharing knowledge, by explaining what we know about these sites, why they are important, and why we should care,” she declared.
El Boukhari Ben Essayouti discussed how international solidarity following the destruction of the city’s mausoleums became the catalyst for Malian people to stand up for their cultural heritage as a fundamental part of their identity. The mausoleums were recently rebuilt by traditional artisans, along with international support from UNESCO and other partners, and the Director-General visited the city in July to celebrate the reconstruction.
Father Najeeb Michaeel turned his similar experiences as extremists overtook the city Mosul in Iraq in 2014, braving gunfire to save the manuscripts of his monastery, into a call for cooperation to protect the world’s heritage.
“Today we all have to cooperate and join forces in order to condemn this violence and work together to preserve our cultural heritage, the belonging of all nations” he stated.
Launched in March in Baghdad by the Director-General , the #Unite4Heritage campaign aims to build an alternative to the violent online narratives of extremist groups, based upon the ideals of cultural diversity, tolerance and understanding. Working in conjunction with UNESCO’s emergency response across the Arab region, including in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the campaign encourages organisations and the general public alike to stand in solidarity with heritage at risk and discuss the importance of cultural heritage and diversity via social media.
Tens of thousands of people around the world have participated in the campaign online, with campaign communications reaching millions of people every month. The campaign is also supported by UNESCO’s Field Offices, which are implementing on-the-ground activities and events involving young people, notably in the Arab region. More than 7,500 people have participated in these events since March.
To make an online donation to the Heritage Emergency Fund, visit the new donation portal.