Co-organized by UNESCO, and the Republic of Iraq, the first international meeting on UNESCO’s “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative was held in Paris on Monday, 10 September. The meeting provided a platform for a comprehensive update on the current state of Mosul and the most pressing needs of the local communities. It also resulted in uniting the international community’s commitment to helping Mosul’s reconstruction and recovery through the prism of the city’s human dimension.
“The international community needs to be in Mosul now, in order for lasting peace to be sustained,” said Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General.
The initiative prioritizes education and culture as key forces of unity, reconciliation and recovery. Iraqi officials and experts gave detailed accounts of the extent of the destruction to Mosul’s education system, urban fabric, and cultural heritage, as well as the suffering of the people of Mosul during four years of war.
“Mosul endured a human disaster, and rebuilding its historic and iconic sites will help returning residents reconnect to their city and to their identity,” said Fryad Rawandouzi, Iraq’s Minister of Culture.
Mosul is on Iraq’s Tentative List of World Heritage sites, and the Governor of Ninewah, Nawfal Sultan, gave an overview of several reconstruction efforts. However, he and other speakers stressed the well-being of people who are displaced or are returning to Mosul, noting that rebuilding cultural heritage sites, universities and schools is not about the buildings – rather it is about reconnecting people to their history, identity, pride and cultural life.
A number of countries and intergovernmental organizations expressed their solidarity with the people of Mosul and Iraq, and committed to providing financial contributions, technical support, knowledge sharing, project staffing and educational materials. The United Arab Emirates has already donated USD $50.4 million to the initiative, and Italy announced it will contribute USD $2 million.
The European Union, Japan, Hungary, Korea, Kuwait, Spain and other countries, as well as the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO) and the Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) indicated they will also be providing support; the Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (Aliph) announced a project dedicated to the Mosul Museum.
The restoration of the famed Al Nuri Mosque and the Al Hadba Minaret are among the priorities. Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development of the United Arab Emirates, Noura Al-Kaabi, discussing the UAE’s support for this project, said, “We have a joint responsibility as human beings that value the contribution of heritage and culture to our common humanity.” Abd Alltef Hmeim Mohammed, head of the Sunni Endowment in Iraq, added, “Al-Hadba is not just a minaret, it is the embodiment of a nation and a symbol of the culture of many generations.”
Mustafa Mohamed Ali Al-Hiti, President of the Reconstruction Fund for the Liberated Areas of Iraq, said more than 15 buildings of the University of Mosul were completely destroyed, including the Library which once housed over a million books in Arabic, English and other languages. Mohammed Jasmin Aal-Hajiahmed, Director of Mosul University Library added, “the library was the beating heart of the University and of the city itself.”
Rebuilding schools and relaunching the education system are fundamental to the initiative. Hamid Ahmed, Office of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council, Iraq, said that ISIS thrived on chaos and ignorance, and that education is the strongest weapon with which to fight them. He emphasized the need to invest in education to ensure Iraq’s future sustainability and prosperity.
The meeting concluded with UNESCO and the Iraqi Government agreeing to continue working closely together on the “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative, and in particular to see through the implementation phase of projects on the ground in Mosul.