Director-General of UNESCO condemns the destruction inflicted on the Ali al-Hadi shrine in Samarra (Iraq)The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, voiced shock and concern at the destruction of the golden dome of the Imam Ali al-Hadi shrine in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra and at the heavy loss of lives in the violence. Mr Matsuura also condemned the destruction of dozens of Sunni mosques and Christian churches in the country as “unacceptable.” He welcomed the appeal for calm by Iraq’s highest religious leaders and national authorities and called for respect for all religious sites in the country.
The shrine containing the tombs of the 10th and 11th imams - Ali al-Hadi who died in 868 AD and his son Hassan al-Askari, who died in 874 AD - is one of the holiest shrines of Shia Islam. “Destruction of religious places is an outrage for all of humanity and violates international standards,” Mr Matsuura said. “I call on all parties to respect all holy places.” The Director-General reiterated UNESCO’s commitment to inter-religious understanding, as an integral part of intercultural dialogue. He said that UNESCO stands ready to assist the launch of such a process in consultation with the Iraqi authorities.
Mr Matsuura also restated the readiness of the Organization to continue working with the national authorities of Iraq to protect and conserve the historical, spiritual and cultural heritage of important sites, like Samarra. The site was already hit by acts of destruction in April 2005, when the top section of the spiral Minaret of the al-Mutawakkil Mosque was blown up.
The Director-General went on to say: “Respect for this heritage is one of the cornerstones of the rebuilding of the country and a decisive step on the road towards national reconciliation. We have been witnessing an increase in the wanton destruction of cultural heritage in recent years. Heritage has become a prime target for misunderstanding and aggression because of its symbolic value as a vehicle of identity. The protection of the cultural heritage in pre- and post-conflict situations must be secured if dialogue between cultures is to lead to peace, cooperation and development. No effort must be spared to secure respect for international standards if intercommunity reconciliation is to become reality.”
Finally, the Director-General called on the international community to continue providing financial support to improve the protection of Iraq’ cultural heritage.
The city of Samarra, with its Mosque and spiral minaret, is one of the largest Islamic sites ever built. Iraq placed it on its Tentative List of cultural heritage sites in 2000 with a view to its future inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. UNESCO, through its partnership with the Nordic World Heritage Foundation, provided the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage of Iraq in September 2005 with the necessary technical assistance for the presentation of the Nomination File for Samarra to the World Heritage Centre, which received it this month. The file is expected to be examined by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee at its 31st Session in 2007.