Shaymaa Arif: Heritage and Identity

Wow, today is the day we embark on an epic journey towards the World Heritage Committee Session in Poland and I can honestly say that is the only thing pushing me to finish this final paper (I still have thousands of words to write- won’t mention the exact number because even just acknowledging that makes me nervous).

Heritage has been an important issue to my heart for a long, long time. Being originally Iraqi- Syrian, I have never actually visited my roots. I have spent my life living between the UAE and Aotearoa and the gulf is the only East I have ever truly experienced. Regardless of that, however, I have always felt a connection to my motherlands.

I’ve often dreamt about walking through the street-markets of Damascus, or praying at Masjid Al Umawi. I’ve dreamt about breathing in the air of Baghdad, and soaking in its rich history. But the truth is that the beauty of both countries through the eyes of family and friends has completely been altered by the many conflicts and tragedies that has been inflicted on them.

To me, heritage forms a portion of our identities. Heritage sites are not simply brick and stone monuments that have been built and erected to please the eyes, they were built to present the story of a nation’s journey. Their struggles, their accomplishments, their path to get to where they are now.

Just recently, The Grand Al Nouri Masjid was shelled and its iconic leaning minaret was destroyed. This site along with many others in conflict zones have been destroyed due to ongoing battles and when the sites do get destroyed, you often hear a lot of arguments from all sides blaming the other for the incident. Honestly, I don’t really care anymore about those arguments. I care about making it clear once and for all that the protection of heritage sites is so incredibly important and taking that away is stripping away our connections with the land.

It is trying to erase traces of a civilisation and a people by way of erasing their history. There needs to be a bigger movement, a bigger push to educate the world on the importance of protecting heritage. Organisations like the International Committee of the Blue Shield have worked on the ground in countries like Iraq and have been able to reach out to military during armed conflict in order to discuss the vitality of heritage sites so that it may be protected. However, organisations like the Blue Shield barely get enough funding. The way we view our cultural heritage needs to be taken a lot more seriously.

I have never been to a United Nations conference and I know this will be extremely eye-opening, but I hope I can see real effort into protection happen. The world really needs to unite to shout out from rooftops that the protection of historical heritage sites is crucial, and if one site is destroyed, we will rebuild five more. They may attempt to destroy our identities and our past, but again, we will always rebuild.

I have a lot more to write but its 7 am and we're getting ready to go to Eid Prayers!

I'll let you know how it all goes but until then, catch you on the flip side, Aotearoa!

(Final note: I’d also like to add that the protection of sites is no way to be compared with the protection of civilian life. Many victims of conflict have been disappointed and hurt that people are focusing on heritage sites more than victims but there is no comparison- human life is infinite times more valuable. If I can write a blog-post on the protection of civilians during armed conflict, it would go on for pages and pages.)

All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.


Posted on June 26, 2017 and filed under World Heritage 2017.