Islamic Lifestyle

Abu Dhabi and Paris lead efforts to establish $100mln fund to preserve cultural heritage in war-torn zones

Photo: The remains of the Temple of Bel in the historic city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate, Syria April 1, 2016 / REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

DUBAI - A coalition of 40 countries is set to gather in the United Arab Emirates in December to launch a fund for cultural heritage preservation.

Led by the French president Francois Hollande and the president of the UAE Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the high-level conference will be hosted by Abu Dhabi on 2-3 December, 2016.

During the conference, a $100 million investment fund will be established by public and private donors to rehabilitate and restore cultural heritage in war-torn countries.

“We’re trying to organize something on a very concrete level. It was not easy in the beginning to imagine what to do,” Yannick Lintz, director of Islamic Art at the Louvre Paris told Salaam Gateway during the Global Islamic Economy Summit on October 11.

GIES 2016 Day 1 - Yannick Lintz

Photo: DUBAI, UAE - OCT 11, 2016: Yannick Lintz, Director, Islamic Art Department, Musee Louvre, Paris, at the Global Islamic Economy Summit 2016 in Dubai

“We as a museum of civilisations have to think of the future and how to respond to this disaster [in war-torn countries].”

The fund will not be limited to Islamic heritage, although the reality today is that the Middle East region is suffering, she said.

According to Lintz, the fund will be used to develop local restoration and preservation programmes, focusing mainly on architecture.

“The question now is, what will we do after the war? It’s like after the Second World War in Europe; you had cities totally destroyed and the question was how to rebuild.”

For objects that have already disappeared in illicit trafficking, the only effort that can be made is to try to understand how the smuggling market operates.

“For that, we need human resources to do enquiries and research. So we need money to rebuild but we also need expertise.”

The conference is being planned with the full support of the Louvre Paris, and will bring together ministers, museum specialists and heritage experts.

The decision to hold the conference was announced in May 2016 at the G7 Summit in Japan on a proposal by Hollande.

However, the French president announced his intentions nearly a year ago, during the 70th anniversary of UNESCO in November 2015.

At the time, Hollande spoke of a plan of action that France wanted to implement following the destruction of heritage sites in Iraq and Syria.

He then called for the creation of an international fund to support cultural properties in danger.

Since 2014, a series of deliberate destruction and theft of cultural heritage and artefacts has been carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

In response, UNESCO launched the Unite4Heritage in March 2015 as an anti-extremism, awareness-raising campaign to counter the propaganda of cultural cleansing in conflict zones.

But the responsibility is far too large and critical for one agency to handle, said Lintz.

“We have war in the Middle East and historical collections are under threat. We’ve already seen destruction of works,” she said.

“UNESCO’s work alone will not be enough. We have to create a new global organisation to deal with this new problem.”

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GIES 2016