The fifth event of Fight for Humanity’s webinar series: “first-hand views on human rights and peace”.
On 27 September 2021, Fight for Humanity organized the webinar “Protecting cultural heritage during conflict: experiences from Somalia, Somaliland, Syria and Yemen” to discuss the different efforts and first-hand experiences of three organizations committed to protect cultural heritage. Amer Ahmad of Orient Association (Syria), Dr. Jaklin Mansoor Mohammed Ahmad of the Ruaa Center for Strategic Studies, Consultancy, and Training (Yemen), and Dr. Sada Mire of Horn Heritage Organization (Somalia and Somaliland) highlighted their progress, successes, and challenges in operationalizing the protection of cultural heritage in these territories. More than 80 people participated in the event including Dr. Maja Kominko of the ALIPH Foundation who was present as an observer.
While there are international laws protecting cultural heritage during conflict, artefacts, historical monuments and buildings, archaeological sites, and museums are often neglected, looted, or destroyed, sometimes being deliberately targeted by conflicting parties. Despite risks and challenges related to the conflict situations, many activists, archeologists, local, and international organizations have made the protection of cultural heritage their priority, taking the responsibility of implementing protection and conservation measures in conflict-ridden regions.
Amer Ahmad of Orient Association, based in North East Syria, explained how his organization has taken important operational measures: “last year we undertook the restoration of the Tell Beydar site”. This project, in partnership with Fight for Humanity and supported by the ALIPH Foundation, aimed to protect the historical site of the Nabada Palace from damages caused by weather, vandalism, and neglect. He also highlighted measures taken more recently to catalogue and document hundreds of artefacts and confiscated materials, and to run awareness-raising sessions on the importance to protect this heritage in schools and military academies.
Dr. Jaklin Mansoor Mohammed Ahmad of the Ruaa Center recalled a similar initiative to raise awareness in Yemen: ‘My Identity Project’ aimed to find solutions to damages made to cultural heritage and to disseminate knowledge regarding the status and importance of cultural heritage protection in Aden. This project has reached “more than 3’000 students and teachers. They relate cultural heritage to identity and to the future”.
However, promoting cultural heritage in regions of conflict is not without its challenges. Dr. Sada Mire of Horn Heritage underscored numerous difficulties her organization has confronted in Somaliland including the need to reinforce local capacity, a lack of infrastructure and material, and the risk of landmines during archeological surveys.
To effectively confront and overcome these challenges, the speakers stressed that measures like increasing funding, redirecting local and international attention towards the protection cultural heritage—including harnessing diaspora resources and skills—and training local armed actors, local authorities, heritage professionals and local organizations on measures to protect cultural heritage in times of conflict, can best improve the implementation and impact of their work.
Preserving cultural heritage ought to be a human rights issue that concerns us all, and only through a transparent and committed cooperation between local communities, local governments, international and local NGOs, private and inter-governmental organizations, heritage professionals and scholars can cultural heritage be best protected.
Anabelle Colon, volunteer at Fight for Humanity and moderator of the event, concluded: “Cultural heritage embodies knowledge. Not only by telling stories of social structures, beliefs and craftsmanship, but by teaching us about tolerance and respect for a diverse humanity.”
Watch the recording by clicking here. A full report of the event will be published in the coming weeks.