Earlier this month, UNESCO announced that Egypt’s Malawi National Museum had been ransacked, with most of its collections looted during last month’s military crackdown on supporters of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. An expedition of experts sent by the organization to Egypt and found that several historical churches in Egypt had been destroyed.
Now the conflict in Syria is also threatening to destroy parts of that country’s historical legacy. UNESCO and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) this week published an emergency “Red List” for cultural items that they see as being at risk in Syria. ICOM’s red lists are meant to help authorities identify at-risk objects that might be highly valued on the antiquities black market.
The Syrian list includes objects from as far back as pre-history, the Middle Ages, and the Ottoman Period. It was developed with monetary support from the U.S. State Department. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova stated that a coordinated international response will be needed to protect Syria’s “irreplaceable” antiquities.
“At UNESCO, we believe there is no choice to make between saving lives and saving cultural heritage,” said Bokova. “Protecting heritage is inseparable from protecting populations, because heritage enshrines people’s identities. Heritage gives people strength and confidence to look to the future — it is a force for social cohesion and recovery. This is why protection of heritage must be an integral part of all humanitarian efforts”