Syria/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.2 Heritage issues and policies

The cultural heritage is considered one of the main topics of the cultural policies in Syria. MOC works on developing its tools through preserving and documenting this heritage. Most often, heritage-related projects are carried out in cooperation with European bodies or international organizations, amongst most prominent development in that field during the last few years are:

The president of the Republic launchedon July 2006, the first phase of “Damascus Citadel Restoration Project”.

In implementation of the MOC strategy regarding “Computerization, Protection and Development of the Syrian Heritage”, and according to the mutual cooperative agreement between Syria and Italy, signed on 2007, the MOC – The General Directorate for Ruins and Museums has inaugurated “Syrian Heritage Data base Center” at the National Museum in Damascus. This Center aims to documenting and preserving the ruins sites in addition to link between all sites in Syria.

In April 2009, the First Lady Mrs. Asmaa Al Assad, opened Mosaic Exhibition hall in Damascus Castle, that has been accomplished within the framework of Syrian Italian Agreement. On the other hand, this agreement is aspiring to build capacities of national expertise in heritage, as well as the preparation of the Syrian infrastructure amongst main components of the above-mentioned agreement including re-equipment of labs. In 2012, the Ministry of Tourism founded the Directorate of Traditional Crafts to protect Syrian handicrafts from vanishing amongst the import of imitated versions.

Article seven of Legislative Decree number 62 was published in 2013; it dealt with  the protection of copyright and related rights provisions for the protection of popular traditions (oral, musical, performance, and material which includes traditional crafts and all handmade art products).

Registration of cities and villages in Northern Syria on the list of World Heritage Sites: the MOC works on preparing necessary studies to register cities and village of Northern Syria on the list of World Heritage Sites, as it owns historical and antic assets, which make it unique and liable for nomination to be included in the list, this file should be submitted during 2009. In June 2011, the International Heritage Commission in UNESCO adopted a decision on a project that states enlisting the archaeological villages in northern Syria (which is numbered to be as many as forty villages that date back to the late Byzantine eras) and considering them as culturally significant on the international heritage list. Thus, the number of Syrian archaeological sites enlisted on the international heritage list have become seven which are: the Old City of Damascus, which was enlisted in 1979; the Old City of Busra, enlisted in 1980; Palmyra, enlisted in 1980; the Old City of Aleppo, enlisted in 1986; and Crac Des Chevaliers and Saladin fortresses, enlisted in 2006. UNESCO declared during the first half of 2013, that the sites on the international heritage list in Syria are under great threat.

According to the UNESCO decision in May 2014 regarding non-material culture in Syria, archaeological sites and historical cities of immense value in Syria have been destroyed, since the outbreak of the crisis in March 2011. The crisis has cause damaged to all six world heritage sites in Syria, especially in the ancient city of Aleppo and the Qal’at Al Hosn citadel. There are visible signs that these sites were used as military bases and have been directly hit by bombs and explosions[1].

In 2009 UNESCO launched the project Mediterranean Living Heritage (MedLiHer). The project aspires to conserve non-material cultural heritage in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. This heritage is considered a major source of cultural diversity and creativity and the basis of community identity. Oral traditions, performance, festivals, as well as handicrafts are examples of this kind of heritage. The Syrian Ministry of Culture was a partner in the project, but our research was  not able to monitor the Ministry of Culture in this regard. The last of what informs us in relation to the project is a workshop held by the Ministry of Culture in collaboration with UNESCO and the European Commission at the Assad Library on 26/1/2010 regarding the non-material heritage in Mediterranean countries project.

Musical Heritage:

Currently, many Syrian artists work individually as singers, and collectively as musical bands or musical projects, to revive Syrian heritage. Shedding light on the various musical cultures in Syria - namely Assyrian, Armenian, and Kurdish ones - is the main topic of the musical project “Bridges” which was initiated many years ago. The project enjoys great support by MOC.

In this regard it may be noted that young Syrians that had taken the streets to protest the regime since 2011 have produced versions of folklore songs from all Syrian regions with rewritten lyrics that express their demands. Syrian musician Wael Al Qaq has worked since mid-2011 to document the popular music used in protest chants. After his search for funding and popular musicians he released a record titled “Neshama” that consists of songs from the Syrian revolution. The revolution was associated with unsettling major notions on the ground, including music.

Chapter published: 06-05-2016