Remarks at the High Level Discussions on Targeting Heritage: In Search of New Paradigms – Save Heritage through Dialogue
Dec 5, 2016 | UNESCO HQ – Room II
Your Excellency, Ms. Irena Bokova, Executive Director, UNESCO,
Your Excellency, Mr. Abulfas Garayev, Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan,
Distinguished Eminent Panelists,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to participate in this panel discussion on “saving cultural heritage through dialogue”. This is an exceptional occasion, which will help to re-enforce the link between cultural heritage and dialogue as a preventive tool for the socio-economic opportunities, which they provide for Sustainable Development.
What can we do when we see extremist groups willingly destroying the remnants of some of the greatest achievements of humanity in ancient sculpture, buildings and artifacts? The level of depravity demands action from the international community. These are criminal acts not only against one single country or culture but against the entire human civilization. We feel powerless and overwhelmed when we see archeological sites, museums archives, religious monuments, rare books and manuscripts destroyed simply because they did not fit the beliefs of the perpetrators. Destroying archeological sites is a way for the perpetrators to get cash by selling the booty on the black market.
There is little we can actually do besides using the most important peace tool: Dialogue is the key to peace whether we try to protect culture heritage, avoid wars, bridge cultural or religious divide.
I made it my mission to advance the vision of the founders of our organization to promote harmony among nations, build bridges across culture through a continuous dialogue. We believe that for the future of humanity, we need to find innovative ways for people to understand and value their differences. This is fundamental to prevent conflicts and promote social inclusion. Dialogue remains the bedrock of all our projects.
We have seen how communities, which throve for centuries, living peacefully and in harmony, in full respect of each other differences can, on a sparkle of a hatred message turn against each other. The first target is often the monument, the church, and the mosque that has a cultural and religious meaning to the other party.
The destruction of cultural and religious monuments, the burning of books are all ways to terrorize, to eradicate their cultural heritage and to negate the identity of the perceived enemy.
This is where we need the help of religious leaders to agree on joint actions to improve relations across cultures, combat prejudice and build the conditions for long-term peace. I am very happy to share the news that the UNAOC was the co-sponsors on the just concluded Summit of Religious Leaders for Peace in the Middle East, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Spain. It brought together more than twenty religious leaders from the Middle East, particularly from the Palestinian territories and Israel to engage in interreligious dialogue.
My vision is to find venues and develop projects where dialogues between people from completely different cultures would make them understand that they have more in common than differences. I want them to realize that they can open their mind to different artistic and cultural expressions than those they are familiar with.
Learning to respect different cultures and religion allows young people to evaluate artistic expressions without any prejudice or preconceived ideas.
Do you have to be a Christians to appreciate the beauty of churches and cathedrals?
Do you have to be a Muslim to see the beauty of mosques and holy shrines?
Through cultural exchanges that we organize among young people, we provide a platform that stresses the shared path of humanity and that cultural differences enrich us, affirm our identity and is a way of to understand each other and ourselves.
Concluding, UNAOC, UNESCO and the Government of Azerbaijan, mutually strive for peace, social inclusion and understanding between multicultural societies. We agree that there is symbolic significance in historic monuments that generates mutual respect between civilizations often from the same land.
The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations has long established partnerships with both UNESCO and Azerbaijan since we share the common objective of promoting dialogue and understanding across cultures as essential instruments for peace and prosperity.
I welcome the initiative of UNESCO to launch #Unite4Heritage and want to stress the full support of UNAOC in this campaign. The Unite4Heritage campaign is built on the poles of diversity, identity, tolerance and understanding and the respect for the places, objects and cultural traditions that make the world such a rich and vibrant place. Those poles are the raison d’être of the Alliance.
I will be also very attentive to the presentation of the project ‘”Military Manual on Protection of Cultural Property”, timely needed as the respect for groups and cultures, requires safeguarding, promoting and protecting natural and cultural assets. Peaceful relationships between nations translate into respect for the cultural heritage of communities.
Thank you, and I look forward a fruitful discussion.