Galvanized by pressing threats to communities and their heritage across the Middle East and North Africa, leaders from around the world have been meeting at Yale this week to discuss culture in crisis. The occasion was the 8th UN Global Colloquium of University Presidents.
Among those representing ICOMOS was former ICOMOS France Secretary-General Samir Abdulac who chairs the ICOMOS Working Group for Safeguarding Cultural Heritage in Syria and Iraq. In remarks yesterday (April 12) at Yale, Mr. Abdulac outlined efforts by ICOMOS to provide assistance, training and moral support to our colleagues in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere working to safeguard heritage and communities in peril. He highlighed two projects in particular, ANQA and AMAL, as well as the fruitful working relationship that has developed between ICOMOS and partners and the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) and its Director General Professor Maamoun Abdulkarim. Samir’s full remarks at Yale are reproduced below.
A highlight of the week came yesterday when United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the Yale Global Colloquium with a keynote address on the theme of “Preservation of Cultural Heritage: Challenges and Strategies.” In his remarks, the Secretary General linked the work of conserving heritage and addressing climate change to the issue of intergenerational justice. Both pose the question, what type of world will the next generation inherit?
Watch the address here.
The Secretary General also explored the geopoltical context for cultural preservation, to show why the United Nations believes it is essential to our mission of peace and security, sustainable development and human rights. Art, literature, music, poetry, architecture are the hallmarks of our human existence, he said. They form a common thread that unites all civilizations and cultures; a celebration of our emotional lives and the beauty of our natural environment.
Echoing the nature-culture linkages that are the hallmark of the World Heritage Convention, the Secretary General declared; “Cultural diversity, like biodiversity, plays a quantifiable and crucial part in the health of the human species. An attack on cultural heritage in one part of the world is an attack on us all.”
On Monday, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova also gave a public talk as part of the Yale meetings on “Culture in Crisis.” “Culture is a force for resilience, giving people strength and confidence to look toward the future,” the Yale News reported Bokova as saying
During her talk, Bokova emphasized the importance of cultural heritage sites not merely in terms of their historical or aesthetic value, but also with regards to their social meanings for particular communities. ICOMOS President Gustavo Araoz, who also participated in the meetings, praised Bokova’s speech and work, noting that her emphasis on cultural heritage was unprecedented among her predecessors.
You can watch the Director-General’s address on YouTube.
While Araoz said that outdated approaches and legislation in the field are still challenges to contemporary heritage conservation efforts around the globe, he added that Bokova’s work remains important in building new models for such activities. Former US/ICOMOS Executive Director Katherine Slick highlighted the fact that the colloquium was occurring during the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which itself was the product of a search for international best practices in heritage conservation.
Parts of the Colloquium and related programs have been organized by Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH). The IPCH is dedicated to “advancing the field of heritage science through transdisciplinary research, education and training, as well as practice and advocacy, with the aim of enhancing sustainable preservation of cultural heritage, interpretation, and access in service to the global conservation community.” Kudos to the IPCH and its director Stefan Simon on organizing this import event, which stands as an excellent prelude to International Day for Monuments and Sites on April 18.