High-Level Technical Meeting on the Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage

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1 High-Level Technical Meeting on the Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage UNESCO Headquarters Paris, 29 August 2013 UNESCO ACTION PLAN Preliminary Framework prepared by the UNESCO Secretariat BACKGROUND Syria, a country of exceptional cultural richness, has witnessed considerable damage to its cultural heritage since March 2011, with growing evidence of destruction of its most important monuments and looting of its movable cultural heritage and rupture in the practice and transmission of its intangible heritage. The violence and very high death toll in Syria, the alarming humanitarian conditions of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries in particular in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and the consequent threats to peace and security in the region are of particular concern to the United Nations System as a whole. While recalling that peace and national reconciliation, human safety, humanitarian conditions of the Syrian people and respect for human rights lie at top of all priority actions, UNESCO as a specialized agency of the UN System, together with its institutional partners, are engaged to address threats and challenges in order to ensure the protection of cultural heritage with a view to avoiding its irremediable loss to the Syrian people. UNESCO considers that cultural heritage strengthens people s identity, and constitutes an important resource for reconciliation and for reweaving the country s social fabric. So far, damage has affected sites as important and emblematic as the World Heritage properties of the Ancient City of Aleppo, including its Umayyad Mosque, old suqs and citadel, the Crac des Chevaliers, the Site of Palmyra, and the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria. Other very important sites have been affected such as Apamea, Ebla, Mari, Doura Europos, and the Museum of Ma arrat al Numan. Many archaeological sites are situated in strategic geographical locations and are therefore often the places of armed conflict and destruction; this is the case of all historical citadels and unexplored archaeological tells (mounds). Several sites are remote and without surveillance, making them vulnerable to systematic illegal excavations. Some archaeological artefacts are being sold on e-bay, or may be found in the markets of neighbouring countries. This has led in particular the World Heritage Committee, at its 37th session in June 2013, to decide to inscribe Syria s six World Heritage sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger. 1

2 UNESCO has organized, in February 2013 in Amman, Jordan, a Regional training on Syrian cultural heritage addressing the issue of illicit trafficking, which gathered all the relevant regional and international institutional partners, cultural heritage, police and customs officers, art market experts and representatives of the Syrian General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), and identified priority measures mainly directed at fighting the illicit trafficking of cultural objects. In addition, UNESCO supported an e-learning course for Syrian cultural heritage professionals organized by ICOMOS in cooperation with ICCROM and the DGAM, which took place in January 2013 at the Damascus National Museum, to help them in protecting their cultural heritage from destruction and looting. As a result, several stolen archaeological objects from Syria were seized in Lebanon. In light of the on-going destruction of cultural heritage and the alarming news that reaches the international community day after day concerning the continued damage to cultural heritage, building on the support of the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for Syria, Mr Lakhdar Brahimi, the present UNESCO Action Plan represents a first step to counter the loss of cultural heritage and devise post-conflict priority actions, as well as medium and long term actions. As soon as the situation on the ground permits, UNESCO with its institutional partners will undertake missions to Syria to directly assess damages to Syrian cultural heritage, plan remedial actions and undertake emergency measures, thus refining the action points presented below. OBJECTIVES Build knowledge of the current state of Syrian cultural heritage Raise awareness concerning the damage to Syrian cultural heritage Provide technical assistance to prevent or mitigate the loss of Syrian cultural heritage and to safeguard it during the conflict and in the recovery phase Coordinate international and national initiatives to safeguard and restore cultural heritage in the recovery phase PROPOSED ACTIONS 1. Communication and awareness-raising campaign Raising awareness of the damage to, the destruction of and the threats affecting cultural heritage tangible and intangible, movable and immovable is of primary importance. This should be done on different levels, and should address the short, medium and long term. UNESCO and its partners shall prepare a set of communication messages addressed to the population via radio and TV broadcast, as well as posters in Arabic language supported by images to sensitize all parties involved in the conflict and appeal to them to halt damage to and destruction of cultural heritage. The awareness-raising campaign shall address the importance of Syrian cultural heritage, the effects of cultural heritage loss for Syria and its people, and the consequences of illicit trafficking of cultural objects. The awareness-raising campaign shall be disseminated through the relevant UN and UNESCO websites and social networks, as 2

3 well as through partner networks. UNESCO shall also call on the support of all Arab, Middle-Eastern and national media to disseminate the awareness-raising messages. In addition, a series of other communication actions will support the media campaign to target all stakeholders. Short term proposed actions: General public multi-media campaign in Arabic, English and French using international, regional, national and UN media and relevant social networks Publication of a Passport for Syrian cultural heritage including basic information on Syrian cultural heritage Publication of the ICOM Red List for Syrian cultural heritage Dissemination of information on the most significant looted types of cultural property, for example in the form of posters Medium and long term proposed actions: Sensitization on cultural heritage protection of the Syrian refugee population in neighbouring countries Awareness-raising education tools on cultural heritage for children, including by adapting the UNESCO Kit World Heritage in Young Hands to the Syrian context and train accordingly the Syrian youth allowing them to discover their wealthy heritage which is a tool for dialogue in conflict situations Virtual worldwide public-at-large exhibition on Syrian cultural heritage, before and after damage International conference on Syrian cultural heritage (movable, immovable and intangible) 2. Damage assessment, mapping and inventories The aim is to build knowledge and gather information that would allow for sound and rapid actions during the recovery phase. Short term proposed actions: Establishment of an International Observatory of Syrian Cultural Heritage to monitor its on-going damage through: Collecting information on the damage, destruction and looting incurred by tangible heritage and the rupture to intangible heritage practices and transmission Fact-finding, monitoring and evaluation actions, where and when possible Medium term proposed actions: Establishment of a pool of experts and entities knowledgeable concerning Syrian cultural heritage and its safeguarding (professionals, archaeological institutes, ethnological institutes, researchers, universities, NGOs, intergovernmental entities, etc.) Collecting existing documents, surveys, pictures and aerial photos of cultural heritage in Syria 3

4 Inventorying built and intangible cultural heritage, as well as movable heritage in Syria 3. Technical assistance and capacity building In cooperation with its institutional partners, UNESCO will provide technical assistance and capacity building to the DGAM and Directorate of Popular Heritage and to cultural heritage professionals and other beneficiaries as and where needed to mitigate damage to and destruction of cultural heritage and plan the recovery phase, particularly in three areas: Movable cultural heritage and fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property: Technical support for the establishment of a police database of looted artefacts Training of police and customs officers in Syria and adjacent countries to fight illicit trafficking of artefacts Training of the staff of the DGAM to protect movable heritage during and after the conflict, and protect the museums from looting Training of other stakeholders as needed (e.g. Syrian Arab Red Crescent) Technical assistance for the transfer of archives and documents to secure locations Built cultural heritage Training of the staff of the DGAM and relevant civil society partners to protect cultural heritage during and after the conflict (protection of damaged structures and sites from further damage, emergency consolidations, scientific documentation of damaged sites and buildings, etc.) Training of other stakeholders as needed (e.g. Syrian Arab Red Crescent) Technical assistance to the DGAM and other relevant institutions and organizations to plan conservation and restoration works in view of the recovery phase Intangible cultural heritage Training of the staff of the Directorate of Popular Heritage, other concerned ministries (including Education, Agriculture, Health, Information, Social Affairs, Tourism, Local Administration and Environment), universities and civil society organizations on the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage Technical assistance and specialized training to the Directorate of Popular Heritage, civil society organizations and communities concerning the creation and updating of one or more inventories of intangible cultural heritage Pilot projects, during the recovery phase, in using intangible cultural heritage for building peace, mutual respect and social cohesion. 4

5 OPERATIONAL FRAMEWORK For actions inside Syria, UNESCO shall operate from its Cluster Office based in Beirut which will be entrusted with the implementation of the Action Plan and the provision of technical support. Through direct and regular communication between Syrian professionals in charge of cultural heritage, on the one hand, and UNESCO and its institutional partners, on the other, the UNESCO Office in Beirut will receive support from all relevant UNESCO services and will benefit from the participation of experts as needed. Following the Amman regional training on cultural heritage (February 2013) which gathered partners from the region and taking into account the important role that neighbouring countries are to play, in particular with regard to the prevention of and the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property, the UNESCO Action Plan will address the need to fully involve the sub-region as appropriate. 5

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