UN agency calls on Syrians to protect cultural heritage amid uptick in violence

The ancient city of Bosra, Syria.
UNICEF/Véronique Dauge
The ancient city of Bosra, Syria.

UN agency calls on Syrians to protect cultural heritage amid uptick in violence

Syrians must unite for the protection of their shared cultural heritage amid a recent escalation in hostilities across the war-torn country, the head of the United Nations cultural agency declared today.

A recent uptick in violence and shelling in the cities of Bosra and Idleb has sparked widespread concern across the UN system for the safety of the cities’ inhabitants as well as their historical sites, including the Idleb, Maarrat al Numaan and Bosra Museums.

“This heritage belongs to all Syrians and to all humanity,” Irina Bokova, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) affirmed in a press release. “I call on all parties from using cultural heritage sites for military purposes and to protect them from any damage and destruction resulting from fighting.”

Last weekend, Idleb, located in northwest Syria, reportedly fell under the control of a coalition of anti-Government armed groups, according to the UN Office for the High Commissioner (OHCHR). The city was subsequently shelled by Government airplanes, resulting in the deaths of at least 15 civilians. The Syrian Air Force then expanded its raids throughout the governorate of Idleb, attacking the towns of Sarmin, Mantaf and Nayrab.

Ms. Bokova’s appeal comes as UNESCO launches its #Unite4Heritage social media campaign aimed at countering the propaganda of cultural cleansing in Syria, Iraq and other crisis-torn countries.

“Areas around cultural heritage sites and museums should remain protected and be kept out of the conflict,” Ms. Bokova continued, adding her satisfaction for the recent freeze in hostilities at the World Heritage Site of Bosra.

“The recent developments in Bosra are encouraging and commendable. We need to build on such initiatives to expand protected cultural areas.”

Despite the international community’s ongoing attempts to halt the violence, the situation in Syria continues its downwards spiral. Some 12.2 million people, including 5.6 million children, now need humanitarian assistance.

By conservative estimates, more than 220,000 Syrians have died in the conflict, but that number is likely much higher. Four out of five Syrians live in poverty and the country has lost nearly four decades of human development, with unemployment at over 50 per cent. Life expectancy has been cut by 20 years.