The Director-General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, has called for the protection of Syria’s cultural legacy, citing media reports that have indicated possible damage to precious sites during the ongoing conflict.
A succession of cultures in what is now Syria left an outstanding wealth of archaeological sites, historic cities, cultural landscapes, monuments and works of art that bear witness to the evolution of human ingenuity, according to UNESCO.
‘I wish to express my grave concern about possible damage to precious sites and to call upon all those involved in the conflict to ensure the protection of the outstanding cultural legacy that Syria hosts on its soil,’ said Ms. Bokova.
‘Damage to the heritage of the country is damage to the soul of its people and its identity.’
Six Syrian sites – Damascus, Aleppo, Palmyra, Bosra, the Crac des Chevaliers and Saladin’s Castle, the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria – are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Many other sites are inscribed on the country’s Tentative List – an inventory of those properties which a country intends to consider for nomination to the World Heritage List.
Earlier this year, UNESCO reminded the Syrian authorities, through the country’s representative to the agency, of their responsibility to ensure the protection of cultural heritage.
The Director-General urged the Syrian authorities to respect the international Conventions they have signed, in particular the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Properties in the Event of Armed Conflict, the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and the World Heritage Convention.’
‘This situation is becoming more crucial by the hour,’ said Ms. Bokova.
The UNESCO chief has contacted the World Customs Organization, the international police organization INTERPOL, and the specialized heritage police of France and Italy to alert them to objects from Syria that could appear on the international antiquities market.
‘UNESCO stands ready to assist in assessing reports of damage to the cultural heritage of Syria, including the World Heritage sites, and in preparing plans for their safeguarding, as soon as this becomes possible,’ she added.
Meanwhile, at least one million Syrians are said to be in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the findings of a government-led assessment mission jointly carried out with the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and released today.
Priority needs identified in the assessment include protection, food, medical assistance, non-food items, such as beddings and household essentials, and education.