Sunday, August 19, 2007

UNESCO Supports Iraqi Cultural Institutions

The Director General of UNESCO has submitted a report on the Cultural and Educational Institutions in Iraq in preparation for the next meeting of UNESCO's Executive Board. He reports on progress achieved by UNESCO in contributing to ongoing reconstruction and development efforts by the United Nations in Iraq since June 2006. He states in introducing the report:
The period of reporting was characterized by a highly volatile security situation despite stepped-up security measures. Escalating sectarian violence, as well as violence targeting journalists, artists, academics, teachers and students were of particular concern to UNESCO. On 13 June 2007, a second bombing at the Al-Askari Shrine in Samarra destroyed two 36-metre high minarets. The first bombing, which occurred in February 2006, had destroyed the golden dome of the shrine and sparked inter-sectarian violence throughout the country. The second bombing is stirring fears for renewed inter-community tensions, including further attacks on religious sites and monuments. The phenomenon of targeted violence affecting professionals and academics continued, with over 830 documented murders of university academics, medical doctors, journalists, media workers, lawyers, as well as teachers and students. Through advocacy, research and the development of professional support and solidarity networks, UNESCO sought to raise continuous attention on this matter within the international community.

The number of displaced populations both internally and to neighboring countries have reached unprecedented levels. According to reports by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 1.9 million persons are now internally displaced and 2 million have left Iraq temporarily for neighbouring countries. This situation creates important humanitarian needs as large population groups suffer from problems of access to basic services. Of particular concern to UNESCO is the continued access to education for displaced schoolchildren, as well as the conditions and status of Iraqi teachers and academics who have left the country.
The report states, with respect to UNESCO's activities in the field of culture:
Following the first bombing of the Holy Al-Askari Shrine in Samarra on 22 February 2006, UNESCO launched several preparatory activities to protect the damaged site through urgent preventive works. In February 2007, agreement on the nature and scope of the preventive works had been reached with all parties concerned and funding was received from the European Commission under the UNDG Trust Fund ($5.4 million) and the Government of Iraq through a selfbenefiting funds-in-trust ($3 million). In addition, the Government of Iraq committed itself to put in place all necessary security arrangements to allow the selected contractors to work in Samarra. Preventive works at the site were expected to start in July 2007. In parallel, UNESCO continued to provide technical assistance to the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in the elaboration of the nomination file of “Samarra Archaeological City”. Within the framework of the Nordic World Heritage Foundation (NWHF) funded project, two workshops were organized to train Iraqi experts for the preparation of the nomination file, which was submitted to the World Heritage Centre on 1 February 2006, for consideration by the World Heritage Committee at its 31st session in 2007. The World Heritage Committee decided to inscribe the site on the World Heritage List and on the List in Danger.

Regrettably, a second devastating bombing resulted in the destruction of two of the shrine’s minarets on 13 June 2007. As indicated in the press release issued in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, UNESCO remains committed to the reconstruction process and cooperation with Iraqi counterparts to this end.

In the follow-up to the recommendations of the two working meetings on the site of the Babylon respectively in June and November 2005, a working session on Babylon will be organized in November 2007 at UNESCO Headquarters during the third ICC Iraq meeting. A full assessment of the damage caused to Babylon is currently being undertaken, combining three different components: (i) a survey prepared by Stony Brook University, (ii) a detailed report prepared by Iraqi scholars, and (iii) a documentary screening the actual state of conservation of the Babylon site. Thanks to a contribution from Poland ($25,000), the assessment report on the status of the archaeological site of Babylon is planned to be completed before end 2007.

In response to an emergency request of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) related to the technical assistance for the safeguarding of the outstanding features of the Erbil Citadel, UNESCO provided assistance and expertise in May 2007, and is currently mobilizing funds for the establishment of the Erbil Citadel Conservation Master Plan.

As part of the Organization’s efforts towards the reviving of Iraqi cultural institutions, UNESCO organized two training sessions for talented young Iraqi students of the Music and Ballet School of Baghdad in Amman, under the title “Healing through Music”. The events gave a unique opportunity to the students from Baghdad to concentrate their efforts on improving their skills in peaceful conditions and to benefit from master classes by renowned international musicians.

In the context of the project on “Restoration of the Laboratories of the Iraq National Museum (INM) in Baghdad” ($1 million, Japanese FIT) a second three-month training course was carried out at the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties – Japan (NRICP) and focused on capacity-building of the Iraqi staff in conservation practices and on micro-environmental monitoring. Moreover several visits to archaeological sites, museums and other institutes in Japan were undertaken from October to December 2006.

As part of “Management enhancement and capacity-building in museums in Iraq”
($80,795, Norwegian FIT) a first working meeting was organized with Iraqi stakeholders on 18 and 19 March 2007 in order to identify the content and timing of the training workshops. The first training on museums management is scheduled to take place for three weeks, starting 29 July 2007.

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