A UNESCO-sponsored campaign that aims at safeguarding the Middle East’s cultural heritage threatened by sectarianism and violence was launched in Cairo last week.
“When extremists claim that there is no world heritage we must claim that we all unite for heritage,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova during her visit to the Museum of Islamic Art May 13.
During her two-day visit to Cairo last week, Bokova launched the secondphase of #Unite4Heritage; a social media-based campaign that “uses the power of social networks to create a global movement where each one of us can raise our voice and take action for safeguarding heritage under threat,” according to the UNESCO website.
“In response to violent extremism, we must stand together and show all cultures are linked, we must explain the value of heritage, and we must resist all lies and forms of hatred,” Bokova said.
The campaign was first launched during Bokova’s visit to the University of Baghdad on March, 28, 2015.
“The plunder of cultural heritage must be condemned as a war crime,” Bokova said in her May 14 inaugural speech at an international conference in Cairo to combat the sale of antiquities by extremist groups in the Middle East.
Speaking at the conference, President of the Washington-based Middle East Institute Wendy Chamberlin said that the videos of the destruction of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and priceless artifacts at the Mosul’s central museum by the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria “have renewed calls for drastic action to save Iraqi and Syrian antiquities before they are lost forever.”
Egypt’s political turmoil has led to a security lapse at archaeological sites and storerooms and museums nationwide, leaving Egypt’s treasures vulnerable to looting.
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the Mallawy Museum in Minya were looted during and after the January 25 Revolution in 2011, while the Museum of Islamic Art, home to almost 100,000 priceless artifacts, was extensively damaged in January 2014 when a car bomb exploded outside Cairo security directorate headquarters across the street.
During the past four years, Egyptian authorities were able to retrieve over 12,000 artifacts, some of which had been put up for sale on international auction houses, according to Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh el-Damaty.