UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, launched #Unite4Heritage at Baghdad University – a social media campaign to counter the propaganda of cultural cleansing and the destruction of cultural heritage, to support Iraqi youth and to mobilise young people across the world for its protection.
The launch took place in front of students, government ministers and university officials. “Today, we send a clear message,” said the Director-General. “We do not accept cultural cleansing and we will stand together to do everything we can to stop it.”
#Unite4Heritage was conceived in response to the destruction and pillage of cultural heritage in conflict zones, most recently in Iraq. It builds on an initiative started by Baghdad University students on 5 March to protest videos of destruction and looting at Mosul Museum, the historical city of Nimrud and the World Heritage site of Hatra.
The campaign will use the power of social networks to create a global movement to protect and safeguard heritage under threat. In her address, Irina Bokova said:
“In Iraq and across the region, violent extremists are orchestrating an appalling campaign of cultural cleansing. They are seeking to divide societies, to sow hatred, to impose narrow sectarian views through violence and oppression. They are propagating this campaign across the world, using all forms of media, especially social media, targeting especially young minds.
“We must respond, by showing that exchange and dialogue between cultures is the driving force for all. We must respond by showing that diversity has always been and remains today a strength for all societies. We must respond by standing up against forces of fragmentation, by refusing to be divided into ‘us’ and ‘them.’
We must respond by claiming our cultural heritage as the commonwealth of all humanity.” Iraq's Minister for Tourism and Antiquities, Adel Fahad Shershab, its Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research, Hussain al-Shahristani, University President Abdulhussein Abdulrasul and Dean of the College of Arts Flaifil A’Ayed also made impassioned calls for action.
#Unite4Heritage invites people, especially young people from the Arab region, to send photos and write short stories about heritage sites that are important for them. They can also send “selfies” of themselves holding a sign with the campaign hashtag – to illustrate the concept of unity and the importance of cultural heritage to people’s lives.
During her visit to Baghdad, the Director-General met with the Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider Al Abadi and the Speaker of the House of Representative, Salim al-Jabouri along with several other high level officials.
Ms Bokova also announced the start of a project funded by the Japanese Government for the Safeguarding of Iraq’s heritage, and focused on monitoring, communication, awareness-raising, and technical assistance.