Office to the United Nations - Geneva

Palmyra: Protection of the Cultural Heritage of Humanity in Periods of Armed Conflict

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on May 22, 2015 at 9:16 PM

PALMYRA: PROTECTION OF THE CULTURAL HERITAGE OF HUMANITY IN PERIODS OF ARMED CONFLICT

By René Wadlow

In a May 15, 2015 message to Madame Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, the Association of World Citizens (AWC) highlighted its Appeal for a Humanitarian Ceasefire in and around Palmyra, Syria, a UNESCO Heritage of Humanity site.

On May 15, there was an intensification of fighting around Palmyra between the forces of ISIS/Daesh and the Syrian Government. A humanitarian ceasefire was an appropriate measure at that time. Now, it seems that the ISIS/Daesh forces have taken control of the city and some of the area around it. Thus, the AWC Appeal must be addressed to the leadership of the ISIS/Daesh, although the AWC has no direct communication avenues to the ISIS/Daesh leadership.

Palmyra is a rich contribution to the cultural heritage of all the Syrian people, no matter to what political faction they may now belong. Moreover, Palmyra is for all of humanity a moving example of trade routes such as the Silk Road and cultural exchanges through the centuries. For some 400 years, Palmyra was an important outpost of the Roman Empire, a link between the Gulf and the Mediterranean.

The ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980. Is ISIS/Daesh going to destroy such a place which stands out as a jewel of history in the Middle East?

The ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980. Is ISIS/Daesh going to destroy this site which stands out as a jewel of history in the Middle East? (C) Encyclopaedia Britannica

We believe that if ISIS/Daesh wishes to be seen as a valid participant in future negotiations concerning the future of Syria and Iraq, it must show its willingness to respect world law.  The protection of the cultural heritage of humanity is an important element of world law binding on States, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals.

The AWC works in the tradition of the Roerich Peace Pact and its Banner of Peace for the protection of cultural institutions.

Early efforts for the protection of educational and cultural institutions were undertaken by Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947) a Russian and world citizen. Nicholas Roerich had lived through the First World War and the Russian Revolution and saw how armed conflicts can destroy works of art and cultural and educational institutions. For Roerich, such institutions were irreplaceable and their destruction was a permanent loss for all humanity. Thus, he worked for the protection of works of art and institutions of culture in times of armed conflict.  Thus, he envisaged a universally-accepted symbol that could be placed on educational institutions in the way that a red cross had become a widely-recognized symbol to protect medical institutions and medical workers.

Roerich proposed a “Banner of Peace” − three red circles representing the past, present and future − that could be placed upon institutions and sites of culture and education to protect them in times of conflict.

The Banner of Peace once proposed by World Citizen Nicholas Roerich.

The Banner of Peace once proposed by World Citizen Nicholas Roerich.

Roerich mobilized artists and intellectuals in the 1920s for the establishment of this Banner of Peace.  Henry A. Wallace, then the United States Secretary of Agriculture and later Vice-President, was an admirer of Roerich and helped to have an official treaty introducing the Banner of Peace − the Roerich Peace Pact − signed at the White House on April 15, 1935 by 21 States in a Pan-American Union ceremony.  At the signing, Henry Wallace on behalf of the USA said “At no time has such an ideal been more needed.  It is high time for the idealists who make the reality of tomorrow, to rally around such a symbol of international cultural unity.  It is time that we appeal to that appreciation of beauty, science, education which runs across all national boundaries to strengthen all that we hold dear in our particular governments and customs. Its acceptance signifies the approach of a time when those who truly love their own nation will appreciate in additions the unique contributions of other nations and also do reverence to that common spiritual enterprise which draws together in one fellowship all artists, scientists, educators and truly religious of whatever faith.”

As Nicholas Roerich said in a presentation of his Pact “The world is striving toward peace in many ways, and everyone realizes in his heart that this constructive work is a true prophesy of the New Era.  We deplore the loss of libraries of Lou vain and Overdo and the irreplaceable beauty of the Cathedral of Reims.  We remember the beautiful treasures of private collections which were lost during world calamities.  But we do not want to inscribe on these deeps any worlds of hatred.  Let us simply say: Destroyed by human ignorance − rebuilt by human hope.”

 

Prof. René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

Navroz: The Recurrent Renewal

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa on March 21, 2015 at 10:21 PM

NAVROZ: THE RECURRENT RENEWAL

By René Wadlow

“May the soul flourish;

May youth be as the new-grown grain.”

Navroz, usually celebrated on March 21 in Iran and Central Asia, is the “New Day”, the end of the old year with its hardships and deceptions and the start of the New Year to be filled with hope and optimism.

It is a day for spiritual renewal and physical rejuvenation and is usually a time for reciting devotional poetry, presenting food with symbolic meaning to guests, and visits among family and close friends, which coincides with the Spring Equinox, is related to myths focused on the sun and thus symbolizes the connections of humans to nature. In some of the myths, Navroz is considered as symbolizing the first day of creation − thus a time when all can be newly created. It is a day between times − old time has died; new time will start the day after Navroz. In this one-day period without time, all is possible. The seeds are planted for a new birth. Among some who celebrate Navroz, real seeds are planted, usually in seven pots with symbolic meanings of virtues. Their growth is an indication of how these virtues will manifest themselves in the coming year. Among those influenced by Islam and Christianity, Navroz is the day when God will raise the dead for the final judgment and the start of eternal life.

Navroz has an ancient Persian origin, related to Abura Mazda, the high god who was symbolized by the sun and manifested by fire. Navroz is also related to the opposite of fire, that is, water. However water can also be considered not as opposite but as complementary, and thus fire-water can become symbols of harmony. Fire – as light, as an agent of purification, as a manifestation of the basic energy of life − played a large role in Zoroastrian thought and in the teachings of Zarathoustra. Thus we find fire as a central symbol and incorporated into rituals among the Parsis in India, originally of Iranian origin.

From what is today Iran, Zoroastrian beliefs and ritual spread along the “Silk Road” through Central Asia to China, and in the other direction to the Arab world. As much of this area later came under the influence of Islam, elements of Navroz were given Islamic meanings to the extent that some today consider Navroz an “Islamic holiday”. Navroz is also celebrated among the Alawites in Syria, the Baha’i, the Yezidis, and the Kurds, each group adapting Navroz to its spiritual framework.

In Turkey, for many years, Navroz was officially banned as being too related to the Kurds and thus to Kurdish demands for autonomy or an independent Kurdistan. I recall a number of years ago being invited to participate in a non-violent Kurdish protest in Turkey on Navroz to protest the ban. I declined as the idea of going from Geneva to be put in a Turkish jail was not on top of my list of priorities. Fortunately, for the last few years, the ban has been lifted, and Kurds in Turkey can now celebrate openly Navroz.

The celebration of Navroz in the Cental Asian Republics has had an uneven history during the Soviet period and since − ranging from a ban because it was too Islamic, to being promoted as of Zoroastrian origin and thus anti-Islamic, to being “nationalized” as a holiday of national unity. As armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq, “Kurdistan” and Afghanistan and strong tensions in Iran and Central Asia continue, we must hope that 2015 Navroz will purify the old and plant the seeds of a new harmonious regional society.

Prof. René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

UN Fact-finding Report: The Yazidis of Iraq

In Children's Rights, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, Solidarity on March 21, 2015 at 9:17 PM

UN FACT-FINDING REPORT: THE YAZIDIS OF IRAQ

By René Wadlow

On Thursday, March 19, 2015, the United Nations (UN) investigative team on human rights violations in Iraq led by Ms. Suki Nagra raised accusations of genocide and war crimes against the Islamic State (ISIS) citing evidence that ISIS sought to “destroy the Yazidi as a group” − the definition of genocide in the 1948 Genocide Convention which has become a core element of World Law. The fact-finding group of members of the Secretariat of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had been established by a Special Session of the Human Rights Council in September 2014. (See article ‘World Law Advanced by UN Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Human Rights Violations in Iraq’)

The report to the current session of the Human Rights Council included testimony from Yazidi men who had survived massacres by shielding themselves behind the bodies of men who had already been killed. “It was quite clear that attacks against them were not just spontaneous or happened out of the blue; they were clearly orchestrated. Witnesses consistently reported that orders were coming through, by telephone in many cases, about what to do with them. There was a clear chain of command”.  Ms. Nagra reported to the Human Rights Council. (On the Yazidis as a religious community, see the article ‘Iraq: Yazidis’ Genocide?’)

The report also detailed evidence that Yazidi women and girls were abducted and sold into slavery as spoils of war in violation of some of the oldest standards of world law against slavery developed by the League of Nations and continued by the UN. There were also repeated cases of rape. The use of rape as a weapon of war has become of increasing concern to both the UN human rights bodies and to NGOs.

As the Association of World Citizens’ (AWC) written Statement to the Iraq Special Session stressed, “The Association of World Citizens believes that world law as developed by the United Nations applies not only to the governments of Member States but also to individuals and non-governmental organizations. The ISIS has not been recognized as a State and is not a member of the UN. Nevertheless, the Association of World Citizens is convinced that the terms of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief adopted by the General Assembly on 25 November 1981 applies to the ISIS.”

Citizens of the World stress the need for world law and certain common values among all the States and peoples of the world. We are one humanity with a shared destiny. The challenge before us requires inclusive ethical values. Such values must be based on a sense of common responsibility for both present and future generations.

Prof. René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

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