On 12 November 2017, an earthquake of 7.3 magnitude hit the Iranian Province of Kermanshah as well as other neighbouring regions near the Iraq border, causing hundreds of casualties and resulting in the displacement of thousands of people. Further earthquakes and aftershocks have since followed, leaving the country in a state of emergency.
In addition to causing enormous loss of life and livelihood, the earthquake had a significant impact on the country’s cultural heritage. Through support from UNESCO’s Heritage Emergency Fund, an expert mission was deployed to the affected areas from 13 to 21 December last in order to assess the damage and to identify emergency safeguarding needs for sites at risk of further collapse.
Mr Mohammad Hassan Talebian, who led the mission for Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO), acknowledged the support offered by UNESCO’s Heritage Emergency Fund. “The rapidity of UNESCO’s response on the ground is a demonstration of the Organization’s ability to effectively respond during emergency situations, and to support countries, such as Iran, in recovering the loss of cultural heritage as a result of disasters” he said.
The mission - conducted by Esther Kuisch-Laroche, Director of the UNESCO Office in Tehran, and Maria Rita Acetoso (UNESCO Office in Kabul), together with representatives of ICHHTO - has shown that the area of the Gabri Citadel (Sarpol-e Zahab); the Gilan-e Gharb Historic Citadel (Gilan-e Gharb city); the Aboudujaneh Tomb Complex (Dalahoo); and the Abdullaheb-e- Omar Mosque (Dalahoo), were amongst the most affected sites. Damages have also been assessed in some sites located in Kermanshah city, such as the Moavenalmolk Tekie complex.
However, the country’s oldest petroglyphs, Anubanini rock relief, and TaqeGara Fort in Sarpol-Zahab, survived the impact of the earthquake.
The results of the assessment mission will contribute to the identification of the technical and financial resources required in the recovery phase, and will include a set of recommendations to mitigate the seismic risk at key sites.
The Heritage Emergency Fund, a multi-donor funding mechanism for the protection of heritage in emergency situations, was established by UNESCO in 2015. It supports rapid response efforts related to worldwide emergencies affecting the culture sector, such as the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, the earthquakes in Ecuador and Myanmar, the hurricanes in the Caribbean and the floods in Peru.