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Opening of the first meeting of the International Coordination Committee for the Safeguarding of Iraqi Cultural Heritage

24-05-2004 - On Monday, 24 May 2004, in the presence of the Iraqi Minister of Culture, Mr Mufid Al-Jazairi, the Director-General of UNESCO opened the proceedings of the first meeting of the International Coordination Committee for the Safeguarding of Iraqi Cultural Heritage.

iraq.gif Established under the joint auspices of the Iraqi authorities and UNESCO, the Committee aims to provide appropriate coordination for all activities to protect the Iraqi cultural heritage. In accordance with its Statutes, approved at the 167th session of the UNESCO Executive Board, it is composed of 25 international experts, three of them from Iraq, appointed in their personal capacities by the Director-General on the proposal of Member States. The Minister of Culture of Iraq accepted Mr Matsuura’s proposal to take the Chair.
The Director-General began his address by recalling all the initiatives taken by UNESCO since the period before the start of the conflict to try to preserve the country’s cultural heritage. Referring to the looting and destruction that had taken place, in particular in the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad, Mr Matsuura said: “The looting symbolised in and of itself an intolerable attack on the cultural heritage of humanity and aroused considerable emotion not only in the academic community but also in public opinion” (…) “We know very well that it was not alone in suffering such indignity. The National Library and the National Archives were also set on fire, causing irreparable damage with the loss of over 70% of an extensive collection of ancient manuscripts. At the same time, a large number of cultural institutions, such as the Ottoman complex of Al-Sarai, in the heart of Baghdad, were looted. Outside Baghdad, the situation was no better. Dozens of archaeological sites were pillaged, with illicit digs and trafficking in antiquities with ramifications that rapidly became global”, he said.

According to Mr Matsuura, UNESCO’s immediate mobilization had enabled the Organization to promote cooperation between the specialized agencies and academics, which had naturally placed the Organization in a position to coordinate safeguarding efforts. “The challenge is immense, and is crucial. For enabling the people of Iraq to recover their cultural roots, reminding humanity what we owe to this ancient civilization, and enabling that people to plan for a future of continuity and change, tradition and invention, which it will have to devise according to its own development designs, must be not only an objective for Iraq but the instrument of its emancipation in a pluralist and democratic society. That is the meaning UNESCO is giving to its work in Iraq and elsewhere, in the field of culture, and the spirit in which this Committee will work”, he stressed.

The Director-General also welcomed the fact that the “unflagging [efforts] of UNESCO had enabled culture to be integrated into the emergency plans formulated by the international community for countries in post-conflict situations in the same way as measures concerning security, education and health”. “It has become clear to all that culture is not only an important means for safeguarding the cultural identity of the Iraqi people, but also a very promising path for restoring stability to the country”.

The Minister of Culture of Iraq, who stated that he was “particularly proud to chair this Committee”, thanked UNESCO once again for its determined commitment alongside his country and for the role it had played in sensitizing and coordinating international aid for the Iraqi cultural heritage. Mr Mufid Al-Jazairi stressed the importance the Iraqi Government attached to the preservation of the heritage, “an integral part of the cultural heritage of humanity”. “We must give new momentum to Iraqi cultural life, we must not lose heart – on the contrary, we must increase international mobilization and motivation. The support of UNESCO, which has made cultural diversity and dialogue among cultures two of its priorities, gives us in this respect cause for hope”.

In their addresses, the Director-General and the Minister also thanked several Member States of the Organization and international agencies that had mobilized emergency funding or provided technical assistance enabling UNESCO, despite the current situation, to continue its work in the field of culture in Iraq through 13 projects concerning archaeological sites, historic buildings, museums, cultural institutions, libraries and archives. Thus, particular tribute was paid to Italy, whose action was welcomed. The financial and technical support provided by Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Egypt, Spain, France, Greece, Hungary, Japan, Jordan, Latvia, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, Islamic Republic of Iran, Czech Republic, United Kingdom and Switzerland were also welcomed (See Flash Info No. 082-2004).

The proceedings of the first meeting of the International Coordination Committee for the Safeguarding of Iraqi Cultural Heritage took place over two days at Headquarters. They are due to conclude with the adoption of a series of recommendations on the most urgent action to be undertaken. At the end of these two days of work, and on the initiative of the Director-General, the first Iraqi Cultural Conference will be held at UNESCO Headquarters in order to reflect on future cultural policies for Iraq. The two meetings are being held back to back so as to “stamp the same vision on our entire approach in the field of culture”, said Mr Matsuura.

Source Flash Info 081-2004





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