12/07/2016, 11.37
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Chaldean Patriarch: Save Iraq's cultural heritage threatened by war

by Louis Raphael Sako*

In Abu Dhabi the international conference dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage in conflict areas. The goal is to collect 100 million to finance projects and initiatives. Unesco: Protection of heritage as "global strategy against hatred and extremism." Mar Sako: "Urgent need for decisive action by the international community" in cooperation with the Iraqi government.


Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews) – The response to the destruction wrought by ISIS, Taliban and war, is to create a "safe haven" for the preservation of cultural heritage at risk of disappearing  "in collaboration with the government" or, alternatively, establish an office "representation" of the United Nations. Train "Iraqi personnel" to "deal, document, protect and restore" manuscripts, artifacts and buildings from ancient history.

This is the appeal launched by the Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako Tues. from the stage of the "International Conference for the Protection of cultural heritage in conflict areas". In his speech, sent to AsiaNews, the Primate of the Iraqi Church he has also called for "modern and sophisticated tools" for such an “important and delicate" task as the preservation of a heritage at risk.

The conference was held on December 2 and 3 last in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and brought together heads of state and government, experts, scholars, religious leaders and Christian-Muslim activists in the fields of history, archeology and culture. Patriarch Sako since the days when he was archbishop of Kirkuk, has long  denounced the dangers encountered by the cultural heritage of Iraq, a "universal right" to be protected. Recently he recalled how archeology is worth "more than oil."

At the conference in Abu Dhabi, the participants launched an appeal, aimed at creating a fund of 100 million dollars for the safeguarding of cultural heritage of the areas at risk. Sponsored by UNESCO, the initiative brought together representatives from over 40 nations, many of whom come from countries that are the theater of war. The goal is both the care of the heritage and the fight against trafficking of artifacts and exhibits, as well as contribute to the restoration of damaged property. The Abu Bhadi Declaration, the experts confirm, is a first step in view of heritage conservation. "The creation of this Fund - says Director General of UNESCO Irina Bokova - opens new horizons [...] a renewed commitment to culture, education, human dignity, in which the protection of the heritage becomes an integral part of a global strategy against hatred and extremism".

Here, below, the intervention of the Patriarch Sako and forwarded to AsiaNews:

Iraq, the ancient Mesopotamia, was the cradle of civilizations: Starting from Sumerian, Acadian, Babylonian, Chaldean, Assyrian, Persian, Jewish, Christian, and Arab Muslim. All together forming a national and international treasure.
There are many archeological sites and many old churches and monasteries everywhere in Iraq, because Christians were the majority there before the arrival of Arab Muslims in the 7th century.
The escalation of religious and ethnic conflict across the region demonstrates the urgent need for action on the part of the international community to protect and preserve this Cultural Heritage.
Looting of hundreds of priceless artifacts from the Iraqi National Museum followed the US invasion of Baghdad in 2003, and the Mosul Museum in mid-2014 by Islamic State extremists is a big loss. Isis jihadists started a real rampage to erase everything that pre-dated the Islamic era and does not fit with their ideology.
Due to the destruction of Nabi Younis, Nabi Jarjees mosques, as well as the most significant ancient sites, like Nimrud and Hatra (Hadhar), in addition to burning hundreds of manuscripts at many other churches and monasteries, the international community should engage the Iraqi government and other governments in the region to ensure the preservation and protection of this multi-millennial patrimony and its restoration with a well-trained team.
However, as an encouraging sign. Father Najib Mussa, a Dominican Father, who founded the "Centre numérique des Manuscrits Orientaux" in Mosul in 1990 has started documenting manuscripts of churches and monasteries, filming 7500 manuscripts and restoring some damaged ones. CDs and catalogues are available in the Dominican center in Erbil.
We also hope that these ancient sites, old churches, monasteries, and mosques would be slowly rebuilt in the right way.

 Nowadays, the situation is still unsecure and even when Isis is defeated, its ideology will continue generating new kind of conflicts. Therefore I would like to propose the following practical and urgent projects.
1. To create a safe haven for the preservation and the storage of the endangered cultural heritage, with the agreement (convention), of the Iraqi government or at least to establish a monitoring office of UN to oversee it.
2. To bring experts for training Iraqi teams on how to deal with this cultural heritage that has been here for thousands of years. How to document. protect and restore manuscripts, historical sites, old objects, churches, monasteries, synagogues, mosques in a right way.
3. To equip these Iraqi teams with modern and sophisticated tools to carry out such a skillful task.

* Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans and president of the Episcopal Conference Iraq

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