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Palmyra: ISIS-Wanton Destruction

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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.

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Weaving profits in Azerbaijan

MD Staff

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Carpet weaving is a traditional art in Azerbaijan. ABAD/Elkhan Ganiyev

Artisans in Azerbaijan who practice the traditional art of carpet making are being provided with new business opportunities thanks to a project supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Weaving carpets is a skill that has been passed down through the generations and in the central Asian country is largely the work of women.

Although Azerbaijan is located on the ancient trading route known as the Silk Road, many artisans, especially those living in mountainous areas, are finding it increasingly difficult to get their carpets to market.

Small and Medium sized enterprises, like the carpet weavers of Azerbaijan, account for 60-70 per cent of global employment, according to the UN.

As the International Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Day is marked across the world on June 27, the Azerbaijani authorities, with the support of UNDP, are boosting efforts to help artisans sell their goods.

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New interactive Story Maps make Europe’s cultural heritage more accessible

MD Staff

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On the occasion of the first ever European Cultural Heritage Summit, the European Commission has released a set of interactive maps which will help to raise awareness of cultural heritage in Europe.

Speaking at the European Cultural Heritage Summit in Berlin today, Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, responsible for the Joint Research Centre, said: “Making cultural heritage more accessible to everyone is one of my main goals for the European Year. The Story Maps will play an important role in this, offering valuable information in a user-friendly way. The Joint Research Centre has already developed a number of tools that help us preserve cultural heritage, such as 3D scanning technologies that can be used to map heritage sites as well as smart materials for their reconstruction. Now the interactive Story Maps will help open up opportunities for Europeans to explore our shared heritage and get involved in safeguarding it for the future.

The Story Maps, developed by the Joint Research Centre, the Commission’s science and knowledge service, inform in an easily accessible way about several initiatives across Europe linked to cultural heritage. These include actions like the European Heritage Days, the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage or the European Heritage Label, funded by Creative Europe, the EU programme that supports the cultural and creative sectors. The website also contains links to the digital collections of Europeana – the EU digital platform for cultural heritage. This platform allows users to explore more than 50 million artworks, artefacts, books, videos and sounds from more than 3500 museums, galleries, libraries and archives across Europe. These maps will be updated and developed, for example taking into account tips from young people exploring Europe’s cultural heritage through the new DiscoverEU initiative.

The online tool was launched by Commissioner Tibor Navracsics at the European Cultural Heritage Summit in Berlin today. This Summit is one of the main events of the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage and is attended by high-level representatives of EU Institutions, civil society organisations and Member States, including German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. to protect, promote and raise awareness of cultural heritage in Europe. to protect, promote and raise awareness of cultural heritage in Europe. to protect, promote and raise awareness of cultural heritage in Europe.

Background

The Story Maps were presented to a wider audience at the European Cultural Heritage Summit, co-hosted by Europa Nostra, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and the German Cultural Heritage Committee. The Summit is one of the key events of the European Year of Cultural Heritage taking place in Berlin from 18 to 24 June. It will see the adoption of the “Berlin Call to Action – cultural heritage for the future of Europe”, which supports the idea of a European Action Plan on Cultural Heritage, announced by the Commission in the New Agenda for Culture proposed in May. The Call to Action asks citizens, institutions and organisations to build on the momentum of the European Year, to recognise the positive and cohesive power of shared cultural heritage and values to connect Europe’s citizens and communities and to give a deeper meaning to the entire European project.

The purpose of the European Year of Cultural Heritage is to raise awareness of the social and economic importance of cultural heritage. Thousands of initiatives and events across Europe will give citizens from all backgrounds opportunities to discover and engage with cultural heritage. The aim is to reach out to the widest possible audience, in particular children and young people, local communities and people who are rarely in touch with culture, to promote a common sense of ownership.

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Spiritual revival day: Reception to mark International Day of Nowruz in Beijing

MD Staff

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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.

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