In 1972 the Unesco Convention, concerning the protection of the World Cultural and natural heritage, established the World Heritage List, making the beginning of Unesco’s advocacy for the preservation of all the global cultures. Over the last years, the World Heritage List has become bigger and now it includes hundreds of monuments all over the world. It also defends intangible goods which discern and characterize different cultures.
Syria, which accommodated six World Heritage sites and it had an high culture, began to see the destruction of cultural heritage sites, since the beginning of the armed conflict in 2011. Objects were first vandalized, destroyed and stolen. United States have considered appropriate a military action, assessing what committed by the Assad regime, an evidence of human rights violations. Following Unesco’s decisions and measures, there has been an increase of military presence at six world heritage sites which Unesco has raised concerns over, fearing that this will lead to future damage to the sites.
The conflict is jeopardizing Syrian culture, so that Unesco has the responsibility to protect Syria and to actualize plans to defend it. The attention is directed to Syrian tangible and intangible goods. Among theme, there are the city of Damascus, the site of Palmyra, the ancient cities of Bosra and Aleppo. Recently these sites have been put at risk, as military presence at three of the six sites, has resulted in damage and threatens cultural preservation efforts.
Unesco’s general director, Irina Bokova, has recently condemned the military presence in Syria, asserting to consider it “an infringement of Syrian people’s rights”. She declared: “…Damage to cultural heritage is a blow against the identity and history of the Syrian people and it is a blow against the universal heritage of humanity.”
More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four years and a half of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. As a consequence of the Arab Spring, pro-democracy protests erupted in March. The violent response of president Assad to peaceful remonstrations caused, in July 2011, the beginning of uprisings all over the country. Violence escalated and the country plunged into civil war as rebel brigades were formed to battle government forces for the control of cities, towns and the countryside. Fighting reached the capital Damascus and the second most important city, Aleppo, in 2012. More than four million people have fled Syria since the start of the conflict; the exodus accelerated dramatically in 2013, as conditions in Syria deteriorated.
Capitalising on the chaos in the region, the Islamic State has taken control of huge swathes of territory across northern and eastern Syria, as well as neighbouring Iraq. Some of the world’s most precious cultural treasures, including ancient sites in the cradle of civilisation, are in areas controlled by IS. The conflict has drawn in external powers, including Gulf countries supporting the groups fighting against Assad, and Russia and Iran supporting the Syrian government. The United States has also joined the conflict as it has intensified. What began as another Arab Spring uprising against an autocratic ruler became a brutal proxy war that has drawn in regional and world powers.
Unesco committee has the role to protect World Heritage Culture in each country, even the smallest, in order to be able to share that cultures and celebrate them because of their importance in human history. The current situation about the risk Syrian culture is having, makes Unesco being the first candidate to solve this negative situation. Not only Syria has to take care of this concern but it is a topic which involves every single part of the world because the identity of Syria is part of the identity of the entire humanity.
Unesco can’t work alone on this problem, in fact people who work in the organization asked the help of other programs and committees of UN to defend and preserve Syrian Heritage from the illicit trafficking of pieces of art, vandalism, civil war, unwanted military presence. The main goal to achieve for Unesco is to preserve Syrian culture but it is not the only difficulty of this Eastern European country, as they have to win against war, poverty and the lack of education for children. In this way it could be possible (I should say it HAS to be possible) for this people to live a better life.
Claudio Antonio De Angelis