On 4 October, 2015 Maamun Abdulkarim, the Syrian Director General of Antiquities and Museums, confirmed that the 2000 year old Arch of Triumph in the ancient city of Palmyra had been blown up by ISIS forces which control the city and the surrounding area.
He said “ It is now wanton destruction; their acts of vengeance are no longer ideologically driven because they are now blowing up buildings with no religious meaning.”
On 23 August, the temples of Baalshamien − Lord of the Heavens − and Bel, a goddess often associated with the moon, had been largely destroyed by ISIS (Daesh in Arabic). This iconoclastic approach to pre-Islamic faith and their material culture is the same as had led to the destruction of the large Buddha statues in Afghanistan – monuments that attested to the rich culture along the Silk Road.
Masmun Abdulkarim called upon the international community to find a way to save Palmyra. His cry comes from the heart as he is the nephew of the long-serving director of the archaeological sites of Palmyra, Dr Khaled al-Assad. On 18 August, Dr al-Assad had his neck cut and his body hung from a traffic light pole. The 83 year-old archaeologist had been held in seclusion (and probably tortured) for three weeks. In the public square of Palmyra an accusation was read out that he was the “director of pagan idols.”
From a distance, it is hard to know what elements within ISIS are responsible for these destructions and what are the motivations. ISIS has attracted fighters from a good number of countries, and it is impossible to know the nationalities within the chains of command. Many Syrians are proud of the vestiges of pre-Islamic civilizations, proof that the area was an important actor and in some ways a rival of Rome. Thus, it is not clear who wants to destroy works of art and cultural heritage. It is impossible to know at this stage if there are possibilities of rational discussion and good-faith negotiations with ISIS authorities to preserve cultural sites in Syria and Iraq.
Syria and Iraq are home to some of the world’s first cities, a complex and unique meeting of states, empires, and faiths. The protection of works of art and cultural heritage is an aspect of world law in which UNESCO is playing a leading role. There is also a need to build an awareness and then action on the part of non-governmental organizations, especially those in consultative status with the United Nations as well a cultural institutions. One of the difficulties with appeals to the “international community” is that the international community has no street address, and so appeals are rarely delivered. Too often, governments and people react after events rather than affirming a position from a deeper level of awareness and a legal basis in world law.
The protection of cultural heritage owes much to the vision and energy of the Russian artist Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947). Roerich’s desire to make known the artistic achievements of the past through archaeology, coupled with the need to preserve the landmarks of the past from destruction, led to his work for the Banner of Peace to preserve art and architecture in time of war. Roerich had seen the destruction brought by the First World War and the civil war which followed the 1917 Russian Revolution. He worked with French international lawyers to draft a treaty by which museums, churches and buildings of value would be preserved in time of war through the use of a symbol − three red circles representing past, present and future – a practice inspired by the red cross to protect medical personnel in times of conflict.
Roerich mobilized artists and intellectuals in the 1920s for the establishment of this Banner of Peace. Henry A. Wallace, the US secretary of Agriculture and later Vice-President of the United States, was an admirer of Roerich and helped to have an official treaty introducing the Banner of Peace − the Roerich Peace Pact − signed at the White House on 15 April 1935 by 21 States in a Pan-American Union ceremony. At the signing, Henry Wallace on behalf of the USA said “at no time has such an ideal been more needed. It is high time for the idealists who make the reality of tomorrow, to rally around such a symbol of international cultural unity. It is time that we appeal to that appreciation of beauty, science, education which runs across all national boundaries to strengthen all that we hold dear in our particular governments and customs. Its acceptance signifies the approach of a time when those who truly love their own nation will appreciate in addition the unique contribution of other nations and also do reverence to that common spiritual enterprise which draws together in one fellowship all artists, scientists, educators and the truly religious of whatever faith.”
As Nicholas Roerich said in a presentation of his Pact “The world is striving toward peace in many ways and everyone realizes in his heart that this constructive work is a true prophesy of the New Era. We deplore the loss of the libraries of Louvain and Oviedo and the irreplaceable beauty of the Cathedral of Rheims. We remember the beautiful treasures of private collections which were lost during world calamities. But we do not want to inscribe on these deeds any words of hatred. Let us simply say: Destroyed by human ignorance – re built by human hope.”
The Roerich Peace Pact is the world-law basis for an expression of concern from the governments of what was the Pan-American Union (In 1948 it was reestablished as the Organization of American States). There is also the Hague Convention of May 1954 which was signed by a wider geographic range of States. The Roerich Peace Pact and the Hague Convention are rarely cited by governments. Therefore, leadership must come from non-governmental organizations and the cultural sector to work unitedly and creatively to prevent the wanton destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage.
Spiritual revival day: Reception to mark International Day of Nowruz in Beijing
On 21 March, a reception organised by the SCO Secretariat took place on the occasion of International Day of Nowruz, spring festival.
Nowruz is an international holiday that has been celebrated for thousands of years by people living in various countries covering the large territory from the Balkans and South Caucasus to Central and South Asia, as well as Russia and Western China. Nowruz signifies the revival of nature, love and triumph of life together with the expectation of a good harvest. According to an ancient legend, it also announces the dominance of light over darkness and warmth over chilliness.
From the very beginning of the reception, people could plunge themselves into a festive mood typical of spring feeling fresh and experiencing an atmosphere of the awakening and dawning of nature. Guests were welcomed with bright spring flowers and had an opportunity to see an exhibition of national arts and crafts. A bowl with sprouted wheat stood in the centre of the hall. Its bright emerald green colour symbolised the rebirth of the earth.
When the impressive sounds of the karnay, a Central Asian wind instrument, announced the beginning of the official reception, SCO Secretary-General Rashid Alimov cordially greeted the guests and reminded them that leaving the Northern Hemisphere and crossing the equator on the vernal point, the Sun annunciates the advent of the long-awaited spring.
“Today is International Day of Nowruz. For already three thousand years it has united millions of people on the planet by its intransient spiritual values and lofty aspirations. On this day, as on no other, people derive strength and inspiration in bonding with nature, and unite with a view to transforming their homes and world around them and asserting in it tolerance and creativity, mutual respect and mutual understanding,” Rashid Alimov said, adding: “International Day of Nowruz invites people to live in harmony with nature, strengthen goodwill, build reliable bridges of friendship and cooperation, develop and enrich dialogue of cultures and civilisations, and work together for a safe and prosperous future, which fully meets the principles of the Shanghai spirit.”
Mr Alimov noted that representatives not only from the SCO friendly family but also from many countries and continents gathered in the festive hall. “This is the best reflection of the main mission of International Day of Nowruz — to unite people for the sake of peace and preserve our planet for future generations, for the prosperity of all nations on our planet,” said Mr Alimov and invited everyone to turn over a new leaf in their relations.
Warm words spoken by the SCO Secretary-General were followed by video greetings from ambassadors extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the SCO member states, the special representative of the Chinese Government in the SCO, and the team of the SCO Secretariat.
Lively music and dances that represent nations of the “SCO family,” showcasing of fashionable clothes, various different sorts of food and culinary delicacies typical of Nowruz added to the general spring atmosphere of this event.
A large-scale photo exhibition the theme of which was the SCO International Marathon, which was held in Kunming (Yunnan Province, China) on 31 December 2017 was very much enjoyed by everyone.
More than 400 guests attended the reception marking International Day of Nowruz in Beijing, including ambassadors and representatives of diplomatic missions in China, as well as prominent public figures, scientists, journalists, business people and cultural representatives.
In September 2009, Nowruz was included into UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
On 23 February 2010, the UN General Assembly announced 21 March International Day of Nowruz.
Traditionally, the SCO Secretariat organises receptions to mark New Year according to the Gregorian calendar, Chinese New Year according to the Lunar calendar, and International Day of Nowruz.
Building intercultural competences in Costa Rica
In cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Youth of Costa Rica, Parque La Libertad, the Costa Rican National Human Rights Institution and the Spanish Cultural Centre in Costa Rica, UNESCO conducted the third pilot of the UNESCO Manual on Intercultural Competences based on Human Rights in San José, Costa Rica, from 7 to 9 March 2018.
Building on the previous pilot sessions in Bangkok, Thailand, and Harare, Zimbabwe, the Costa Rican pilot provided an additional opportunity to test the manual’s adaptability and effectiveness in different contexts, both from the perspective of facilitation, and with regard to its ability to build individual capacities for intercultural dialogue and understanding.
Over the course of three days, UNESCO led a training of trainers session with national authorities, local NGO leaders, educators and other community leaders, as well as two pilot sessions – facilitated by the newly trained local personnel – with over 70 participants from a broad cross-section of Costa Rica’s population. The pilot sessions included a particular focus on indigenous groups, and community-level work for youth-focused violence prevention.
Ms Viviana Boza, Vice-Minister of Youth from Costa Rica, opened the proceedings, highlighting “the importance of this collaboration which allows us to enhance our comprehension of the cultural differences and challenges facing Costa Rica to advance the resolution of intercultural and intergenerational conflicts”.
Against the backdrop of growing cultural diversity and intercultural interaction within the sub-region, the methodology proposed in this manual provides an accessible activity based on story-telling to bring people together to reflect upon their differences and challenge their preconceptions. It provides a unique opportunity for participants to improve their capacity for empathy, tolerance, listening and understanding, and therefore reflect on sources of conflict and misunderstanding.
Indeed, given the serious global challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, learning how to live together is an imperative for advancing sustainable and inclusive development. To this end, learning to be intercultural competent – in other words, having the skills needed to enhance connections and understanding across difference – is essential.
The lessons learnt from this pilot session will inform final adaptions to the manual to maximize its relevance once publically released, including within the Latin American and Caribbean context. It also contributed to the building of a strong foundation of trained facilitators to help mobilize the manual’s wide dissemination and use following its expected publication before the end of 2018.
Ballet and Opera Set Sail With Silversea in 2018 and 2019
Ultra-luxury Silversea has announced a new collection of ballet and opera-themed sailings for 2018 and 2019. These Enriched Voyages, designed to blend culture and travel for a more immersive experience, will feature evocative opera shows performed by the world-renowned Accademia Teatro alla Scala and classic ballet performances by soloists from such legendary companies as the State Academic Bolshoi Theater of Russia. Along with lectures and Q&A sessions, guests will have the chance to mingle with the artists at a signature cocktail party.
“We are thrilled and honored to welcome such extraordinary talent from the performing arts,” said Barbara Muckermann, Silversea’s chief marketing officer. “I know our guests on these exclusive voyages will be both enriched and inspired by the exceptional onboard entertainment experience.”
Based in Milan, Italy, Accademia Teatro alla Scala (La Scala Theater Academy) is one of the world’s foremost performing arts academies. Its internationally renowned performers and instructors offer the highest level of artistic education for aspiring and gifted singers, dancers, and musicians from every corner of the world. Four soloists from its Academy of Lyric Opera and a piano accompanist will perform a selection of opera’s most beautiful librettos for the enjoyment of Silversea guests aboard:
—Silver Muse departs September 28, 2018 on a 10-day voyage from Venice to Athens with calls in Rovinj, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Katakolon, Nafplion, Santorini and Rhodes. Early Booking Bonus fares start at $9,360 per guest.
—Silver Spirit departs April 25, 2019 on a 7-day voyage from Barcelona to Rome with calls in Porto Mahon, Alghero, Cagliari, Trapani and Sorrento. Early Booking Bonus fares start at $3,150 per guest.
—Silver Shadow departs October 22, 2019 on an 11-day, roundtrip voyage from Athens with calls in Mykonos, Crete, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Limassol, Haifa and Ashdod. Early Booking Bonus fares start at $4,230 per guest.
Daria Khokhlova and Artemy Belyakov, acclaimed ballet solo performers of the State Academic Bolshoi Theater of Russia, one of the world’s most renowned ballet companies, are returning to Silversea for an exclusive engagement aboard Silver Muse’s August 19, 2018 sailing from Venice to Monte Carlo. The 10-day voyage will visit Opatija, Dubrovnik, Valletta, Trapani, Olbia, Portofino and Livorno. Early Booking Bonus fares start at $6,480 per guest.
Silver Muse’s March 21, 2019 voyage from Singapore to Hong Kong will feature soloists from a yet-to-be-announced ballet company. The 13-day voyage will feature calls in Koh Samui, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang. Early Booking Bonus fares start at $6,300 per guest.
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