Organizations, countries, and established networks across the Middle East must work together to protect cultural heritage during armed conflicts, a leading member of the International Centre for the Study of Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), has said at a high-level international conference.
Speaking at “Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage”, an initiative by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and French President Francois Hollande, Zaki Aslan, Director of ICCROM-ATHAR Regional Conservation Centre in Sharjah, said the preservation of heritage sites requires a multi stakeholder approach.
“It is almost preposterous to think that any single agency might have all the solutions to existing problems relates to preserving cultural heritage during times of conflict. This is why the overall approach has to be multi-sectoral and people-centred. We should not limit ourselves to institutional mechanisms but also foster links with established networks and communities in order to engage them in transition and peace building through cultural heritage protection and recovery,” said Aslan.
The two-day “Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage” conference was held under the patronage of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and bought together international experts and representatives of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and other organizations. They discussed ways to prevent the destruction of cultural heritage sites, fight the trafficking of looted artifacts, and create an international fund to restore damaged sites. Moreover, they looked at ways to establish a network of safe havens to store endangered artifacts from conflict zones temporarily.
The recent establishment of a regional ICCROM office in Sharjah, UAE, supported by the Ruler of Sharjah Sheikh Sultan Al-Qassimi, has helped tackle these problems throughout the Middle East and North Africa, said Aslan. “Our aim is to develop national capacities similar to our success in Egypt, which bought together a group of experts to create the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Team who not only disseminate knowledge from our leadership courses but are also engaged in our regional work,” he said. One such course at the center was the recent “Regional Leadership Course in First Aid and Risk Management for Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis” that took place during the month of October.
ICCROM, the only institution of its kind with a worldwide mandate to promote the conservation of all types of cultural heritage, has initiated several dedicated programmes in the Middle East. In 2014, it hosted the Sharjah Initiative, to create national policies and guidelines for risk preparedness and mitigation, which were formerly recognized at the Arab League’s conference of Ministers of Culture in Riyadh last year.