cultural heritage

Saying goodbye to 2020 – what the world lost or was on the verge to lose

This article covers not all cases of destructive actions towards world cultural property but the most heard ones to shed light on this issue

1.The tensions between the US and Iran appeared in the beginning of 2020 has warned us that again another threat to a cultural site is possible and this is what always can happen for any country in any conflict. Can political and military conflicts reflect on sustainability of cultural heritage? Have politicians and military moral rights to threaten cultural assets? The answer is no.

In January 2020 President Trump in his tweet threatened to attack 52 Iranian Cultural sites.

2.We still cannot forget the blast in Beirut, Lebanon on August 4, 2020. That blast was felt hundreds of kilometres away in Cyprus. Officials blame the explosion on several thousand tonnes of ammonium nitrate, stored in a warehouse for six years. Lebanon’s capital, The huge blast killed more than 100, injured thousands and caused widespread destruction in the city. The blast affected cultural property and museums. 

The arts and culture scene were particularly highlighted because the neighbourhoods suffering the greatest damage, Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael, are famous for their old historical buildings, and vibrant artistic and cultural scene. Indeed, preliminary damage assessments issued by UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture recorded 640 historical buildings damaged, 60 of which are at risk of collapse  (UNESCO 2020).

Beirut’s Sursock museum suffered extensive damage from the explosion Photo: Marie Nour Hechaime, curator at Sursock Museum

While there has been a great deal of attention focused on the fate of private art galleries and museums like the Sursock museum, coverage of the effects of the blast on the archaeology museums in Beirut, which too have been damaged, were almost entirely absent. The goal of this piece is thus to focus attention on the effects of the explosion on the cultural heritage of Beirut, and in particular its archaeological museums, and to consider more broadly what the current lack of attention on this sector reveals about the systemic issues facing the archaeology of Beirut that implicate local, national, and international policy alike.

Before and after the blast. Several artworks at the museum have been damaged, including a portrait of the institution’s namesake Nicolas Sursock Photo: Marie Nour Hechaime, curator at Sursock Museum

3.The last case is the Nagorno-Karabakh war that started at the end of September, 2020. 

Brief history of the evolution of the conflict, excerpt from BBC.

Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan, but its population is majority Armenian. As the Soviet Union saw increasing tensions in its constituent republics in the 1980s, Nagorno-Karabakh voted to become part of Armenia – sparking a war that stopped with a ceasefire in 1994.

Since then, Nagorno-Karabakh has remained part of Azerbaijan but is controlled by separatist ethnic Armenians backed by the Armenian government. Until recently, negotiations mediated by international powers had failed to deliver a peace agreement.

Armenia is majority Christian while Azerbaijan is majority Muslim. Turkey has close ties to Azerbaijan, while Russia is allied with Armenia – although it also has good relations with Azerbaijan.

Heritage and archaeological sites were under renewed threat as fighting resumed between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

On 8 October, 2020, a spokesman for the Armenian defence ministry said on social media that the Ghazanchetsots Holy Saviour Cathedral in Shushi, one of the largest Armenian churches in the world, was shelled by Azerbaijan. 

On 18 November, the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, received the representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan to the Organization. 

The Director-General also reaffirmed the universal dimension of cultural heritage, as a witness to history and as inseparable from the identity of peoples, which the international community has a duty to protect and preserve for future generations, beyond the conflicts of the moment, referring to  1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols, to which both Armenia and Azerbaijan are parties. 

Armenia has accused Azerbaijan military of shelling the Ghazanchetsots Holy Saviour Cathedral in Shushi, one of the largest Armenian churches in the world Photo: Celestino Arce/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Nagorno-Karabakh: Cellist Sevak Avanesyan performs in destroyed Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shusha

We want to prevent any possible human destructive actions in the future all around the world towards cultural property and instill people that everyone is responsible for protecting cultural heritage by raising awareness about this issue.

Cultural heritage has universal value. It is our common duty to protect it and preserve for future generations. 

Our question to our readers will be only one – after reading the article, have you become more aware about the cultural heritage destruction issue? 

In fact, lack of any powerful and international community to condemn, criticize and blame such a statement toward the cultural heritage of a country made us determined to become the voice of a united and global community in which the issue of protection of World Heritage is the first and top purpose. 

Join our community by reading, liking, commenting, sharing our posts on cultural heritage. 

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