UNESCO: Preserving Cultural Heritage in Times of War – A Challenge?

Irina Bokova, Director-General of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared that a special working group of experts is due to assist the Malian authorities to reconstruct and safeguard the cultural heritage of Mali particularly in the conflict context that is already affecting the cultural and historical sites.

Sankore mosque in Mali’s fabled city of Timbuktu. Photo: UNESCO/F. Bandarin

Sankore mosque in Mali’s fabled city of Timbuktu. Photo: UNESCO/F. Bandarin

Three mausoleums were destroyed in a fire in Timbuktu last December by Islamist extremists and similar events are likely to happen again. Ms. Bokova insisted that protecting cultural heritage was essential for the nation’s capacity to reconcile and unite for peace.

Looting and/or destruction of culture dates back to Ancient Empires, but also to more recent ones. It is not uncommon to see more of Egypt’s treasures in the Louvre in Paris or at the British Museum than actually in Egypt. It will not be uncommon to see more of Syria’s and Iraq’s cultural treasures elsewhere than in the Middle East itself.

How do we cope with loss or looting of cultural identity and loss of collective memory in conflict or post-conflict areas? Perhaps little can be done afterwards as prevention is not top priority when conflict erupts. Shelling does not discriminate between humans and cultural sites.

A list of heritage sites damaged during the Syrian civil war is available HERE.

About Cristina Popa

Cristina is a WordPress blogger who regularly writes or shares updates on media, public affairs and various topics of interest. You may follow her on Communication for Development WP blog or Twitter @CristinaPopa0
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