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UNESCO and French and Swiss heritage professionals stand up for the safeguarding of Syrian heritage

Thursday, 10 March 2016
access_time 2 min read
Professionals loading the collection in a container in France prior to sending it to Beirut © (10/03/2016) © Bibracte 2016

Syria possesses a cultural heritage of exceptional richness. Since 2011, this heritage has been seriously affected by conflict in the country, with important monuments, including those registered on UNESCO World Heritage List, facing destruction. Many archaeological sites have been raided and looted by armed groups, aiming for the illegal export of these archaeological objects and artefacts, and their illicit trafficking on international markets.

Since 2011, UNESCO was entrusted with the mission to counter major threats facing the Syrian heritage. This mission was further enforced by the UN resolution 2199, adopted by the Security Council on 12 February 2015. UNESCO Office in Beirut, Lebanon, was commissioned to set and implement action plans mobilizing local actors, NGOs and partners in the international community for the protection of this heritage. This is being achieved through the Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage project, funded by the European Union, the Flemish Government and Austria.

Since the conflict began, heritage professionals in Syria are efficiently organizing the evacuation of art collections and artefacts, and working towards their preservation in museums’ safe deposits and archaeological storages, now threatened by destruction and looting. However, lack of resources is severely hampering these professionals’ efforts.

Given this situation, UNESCO joined efforts with French and Swiss heritage and archaeology professionals in the summer of 2015 to launch a new initiative. This new initiative aims to identify specific needs of workers and professionals in the field, particularly tools and equipment, in order for them to successfully pursue their safeguarding mandate. Field workers will be provided with: Packaging materials, essential for the evacuation and safekeeping of collections; Conservation materials used to preserve fragile items and restore damaged parts; as well as study and registration tools, allowing professionals to complete inventories and scientific documentation of Syrian heritage, and facilitating identification, management and safeguarding of data concerned.

Coordinated by the European Archaeological Center and the of Bibracte EPCC Museum (France), more than fifty institutions, associations and independent professionals from the world of culture, archives, libraries, museums, archeology, restoration and art spread throughout the France and Switzerland, contributed putting together to a vast collection of these tools and materials. In total, nearly 7 tons of material were collected and sent to Beirut, to be graciously given to the UNESCO Office. In its turn, UNESCO has decided to donate this collection to professionals working for the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums of Syria, who have received the equipment March 8, 2016. In addition to the significant reinforcement in terms of materials, which is essential to support their capacity in the field, this contribution builds on the remarkable international solidarity reflected by the concrete mobilization for the safeguarding of heritage, whose relevance to the history of the Syrian people and of humanity at large is well recognized.