ICCROM-ATHAR at “Heritage in Peril: Syria and Iraq”, New York

ICCROM-ATHAR at “Heritage in Peril: Syria and Iraq”, New York
25 September 2014

In context of the ongoing upheaval and destruction of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq, an event titled “Heritage in Peril: Iraq and Syria” was held by the US State Department and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, on 22 September 2014. Representing Dr. Stefano De Caro, Director General of ICCROM, Dr. Zaki Aslan, Director of ICCROM-ATHAR Regional Conservation Centre in Sharjah, took part in this event and highlighted ICCROM-ATHAR’s actions with its partners addressing feasible means aimed at immediate and medium-term needs for the protection of Syrian and Iraqi cultural heritage.

This meeting featured keynote speeches by Mr. John F. Kerry, United States Secretary of State and Ms. Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO.  Actions made and planned by organisations were also presented by Ms. Elizabeth Duggal, Chair, ICOM-US, Ms. Bonnie Burnham, President of the World Monuments Fund, Professor Michael Danti of the American Schools of Oriental Research, and Dr. Zaki Aslan, ICCROM-ATHAR.

Kerry stressed the importance of acting now to safeguard the cultural heritage of Syria and Iraq, stating that “… we gather in the midst of one of the most tragic and most outrageous assaults on our shared heritage” and that this situation is “… not just a tragedy for Syrians and Iraqis but for all people”, underlining the importance of culture as “a foundation for life”.

UNESCO Director-General Bokova said that “(w)e see today unprecedented ‘cultural cleansing,’ cultural eradication and cultural looting … We are witnessing the intentional destruction of irreplaceable landmarks”.

Aslan highlighted ICCROM’s immediate actions, through its ATHAR Regional Conservation Centre in Sharjah, including meetings with its partners at UNESCO Offices in Cairo and Beirut to prepare for leadership courses on “first Aid to cultural heritage in times of crisis”. These courses will be implemented in November and December in Beirut and Cairo this year, in partnership with UNESCO, ALECSO and ARC-WH, and will benefit countries in the region including Syria and Iraq. He also presented the role of ICCROM on the subject, stating that: “ICCROM undertook a study which points at the increasing vulnerability of heritage due to disasters and armed conflicts”, explaining why ICCROM has made disaster risk management a priority area in its strategic six-year plans. He also put emphasis on ICCROM’s pioneering experiences in developing guidelines for damage assessment, documentation and stabilisation of a wide variety of cultural materials, based on its programmes ATHAR and “First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict”. Both programmes have resulted in a strong network of professionals and national rescue teams in countries in the Arab region. He stressed the need for multi-sectoral and people-centred approaches, the need to integrate culture into transition and recovery processes, as well as the need to devise actions that are led, and critically thought through, by communities and local institutions; e.g., Syrian and Iraqi professionals and people.

The event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art took place in the splendid hall of the Temple of Dendur, given to the United States by Egypt, after the international campaign to save the Nubian temples. It was followed by a visit to a significant exhibition titled ‘Assyria to Iberia – At the Dawn of the Classical Age’, with treasures from Iraq and Syria.