UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova today announced an Emergency Action Plan for the Safeguarding of Yemen’s Cultural Heritage upon the conclusion of a two-day expert meeting held at UNESCO. The plan responds to the continued threat the ongoing conflict poses to the country’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage.
“It is evident that the destruction of their culture directly affects the identity, dignity and future of the Yemeni people, and moreover their ability to believe in the future,” the Director General said. The Action Plan is also seen within the leading role UNESCO is undertaking to coordinate an international response through the Global Coalition and the “Unite4Heritage” campaign.
The Action Plan, developed by UNESCO, its institutional partners and relevant Yemeni national institutions, aims to respond to the recent widespread destruction of important heritage sites and museums caused by the conflict, as well as to the disruption of intangible heritage expressions, which together constitute the symbols of peoples’ identities and a fundamental asset for the country’s recovery and sustainable development.
The Plan addresses three main areas of work, including awareness-raising and advocacy; information gathering and coordination; as well as technical assistance through risk-mitigation measures on the ground and capacity building initiatives. Participants in the meeting included experts in built heritage, archaeology, intangible cultural heritage, handicrafts, museums and archives, as well as representatives of key institutions involved in cultural heritage protection and the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property, such as INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization, IFLA, ICOM, ICOMOS, ICCROM and ICA.
Yemen’s Ambassador to UNESCO, Ahmed Sayyad, made a passionate call for the world to unite behind Yemen’s heritage. “Sana’a, Aden, Taez, Zabid, Saa’da and Marib are all my cities and they are all your cities,” said Ambassador Sayyad. “They are the past and present for all Yemenis. They are the past and present for every Arab, every Muslim. They are the past and present for every man and woman, whatever their religion or their identity. For this reason, the work to stop the destruction and to preserve is the duty of every Yemeni, every Arab, every Muslim and every man and woman.”
The Director General called on the international community to support the plan. “To succeed, this plan must be funded, and it is clear that local government does not have the resources to undertake these efforts alone,” Ms Bokova said, “I ask you to mobilize your institutions and your contacts to support UNESCO and the Yemeni authorities to implement this action plan.”
In February 2015, a violent conflict erupted in Yemen causing terrible human suffering and loss of life. Since March, over 1500 civilians have reportedly been killed, while 1,270,000 persons were internally displaced, according to UN OCHA. Cultural heritage sites are heavily affected, mostly through collateral damage. However, the intentional destruction of ancient tombs was reported to have occurred, for the first time, in Hadramout, last July.
All three cultural World Heritage properties (Old Walled City of Shibam, Old City of Sana’a, Historic Town of Zabid) are now inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The Old City of Sana’a and the historic centre of Saa’da were hit by shelling and gravely damaged.
Many other sites, some of which figure on Yemen’s World Heritage Tentative List, have similarly suffered damage, including the Citadel of Taez, the archaeological site of the pre-Islamic walled city of Baraqish, the archaeological sites of Marib from the end of 2nd millennium B.C., and the Great Dam of Marib, a marvel of technical engineering. Movable heritage has also suffered severe losses, as in the case of the Dhamar Museum, which used to host a collection of 12,500 artefacts, and was completely destroyed in May 2015.