Preserving culture in times of crisis the focus of international conference

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Aftermath of the insurgency at the Sukur Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site in Nigeria (Photo Yusuf Abdallah Usman)

In response to the recent destruction of ancient treasures and historical sites in Syria and Iraq, Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH) and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (V&A) have been granted UNESCO patronage to organize a one-day conference titled “Culture in Crisis,” to be held Tuesday, April 14.

The conference, to take place at the V&A, will bring together conservation and preservation experts, museum directors and curators, scholars, and representatives from ministries, national conservation authorities, foundations, and cultural consortiums across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the United States. Registration is available through the V&A’s website.

“Cultural heritage is about identity, knowledge, and the future, as well as the past,” said Stefan Simon, director of IPCH. “As a global university, Yale needs to lend its voice to this conversation and participate in international collaboration efforts to rescue and preserve cultural heritage.”

The conference, which is free and open to the public, will consider the destruction of 3,000-year-old cultural heritage sites in Mosul, Nimrud, Hatra, Khorsabad, and Ninevah. Attendees will look at similar destruction that has occurred in countries such as Syria, Libya, Mali, Yemen, and Nigeria, and explore ways that the international community can assist.

According to Maamoun Abdulkarim from the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museumsin Damascus, “The dangers surrounding the Syrian archaeological heritage are growing beyond our capabilities and limited resources, but they cannot defeat our will.” He added that Syrian cultural heritage is part of the world’s cultural heritage, and “the loss of any of its components is a loss to all of humanity.”

In an effort to mobilize support among young people in Iraq and around the world, UNESCO recently launched the social media campaign #Unite4Heritage in Baghdad.

“The effort of war is geared towards the destruction of the cultural identity of the opponent, it wipes out our roots,” said Simon, “but culture also has the power to reconcile people and bring them together.”

When news spread of the destruction in Syria and Iraq, Yale and the V&A worked with supporters in UNESCO to focus on responding to what is happening on the ground in the Middle East and Africa. In particular, participants at the conference will look at the risks faced by museums and heritage sites.

“Museums have an important contribution to make to ease conflicts and safeguard peace,” said Martin Roth, director of the V&A. “We need to enhance our collaboration with humanitarian organizations.”

Adding her support to the project, Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, wrote,  “I congratulate Yale University and the Victoria and Albert Museum for organizing this initiative, which no doubt will enhance solidarity within the international museum community in its bid to combat the intentional destruction of cultural heritage.”

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