UNESCO Media Advisory No. 2014 – 31

Paris, 27 November –As the humanitarian tragedy continues to unfold in Iraq and Syria, the cultural diversity and heritage of both countries is now being directly targeted.Thesedevelopments need to be taken into account in emergency humanitarian interventions and peace-building plans. Achieving this will be the subject of an international conference organized by UNESCO at its Paris Headquarters on the afternoon of 3 December.  Political decision-makers, humanitarian workers and cultural heritage experts will consider different ways of integrating cultural issues into the political response to the crisis, as well as security, conflict resolution and peace-building strategies.

Entitled “Heritage and Cultural Diversity at risk in Iraq and Syria”, this international conference will be opened by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova (Room 2, 2.30 pm).  Among the numerous participants will be Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria and Nikolay Mladenov, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq.

The conference will bring together high level experts from world museums (including Emily Rafferty, President of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, Markus Hilgert, Director, of the Ancient Middle East Museum in Berlin), political personalities, customs authorities, Interpol, leading auction houses, humanitarian organizations, and strategic analysts who will propose concrete measures to stop the cultural hemorrhage. Following the introduction, a round table discussion will look at the emergence of new forms of cultural cleansing and possible responses (3.30 pm to 4.30 pm). This will be followed by a second round table that will focus on the link between the protection of cultural heritage and security in Iraq and Syria (4.30 pm to 5.30pm).

Cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria, which bears witness to the millennial history of the cradle of world civilization, is being deliberately destroyed. Religious sites such as the Shrines of Jonas and the Prophet Daniel, or the tombs of Sufi Sheikhs in Mosul have been sacked. The archeological sites of the Green Church in Tikrit, dating back to the 8th century, and the citadel of Tikrit have been severely damaged. In Syria, cultural sites such as the Historic city of Aleppo, on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, have been hit during confrontations between different parties to the conflict.

The destruction is tied to the persecution of minority populations, and reveals a determination to eradicate all traces of their cultural diversity. This policy of terror and exclusion has led to the massive displacement of populations in Iraq and Syria, compromising even further the future and stability of both countries.


Journalists who wish to cover this event require accreditation.


Agnes Bardon, UNESCO Press Service

Tel: +33 (0)1 4568 1764; a.bardon@unesco.org


Isabelle Le Fournis, UNESCO Press Service

Tel: +33 (0)1 4568 1748; i.le-fournis@unesco.org