The Erbil Citadel is considered among the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the world. Photo: AP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Erbil Citadel has won the battle to get on the coveted UNESCO World Heritage List, thanks to active support by Algeria, Lebanon and Turkey.
The listing was decided during the current session of the World Heritage Committee in the Qatari capital, Doha.
The committee is meeting to consider the inclusion of 36 cultural and natural wonders on the UN list. By agreeing to add the Citadel to the list, it bypassed an almost completely negative -- though not binding – assessment by its preparatory commission, ICOMOS.
The Citadel is a formerly fortified mound in the centre of the Kurdish capital and among the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the world.
Its 6,000-year-old habitation was cited as the main reason for validation for the list. But of even more importance seemed to be the war outside the Kurdistan Region’s borders, and the threat of an Islamic State being formed next door by Muslim radicals known to have destroyed precious antiquities on more than one occasion.
The Turkish representative made an emotional plea to support Iraq -- the Kurdish request to the Committee comes in under the Iraqi flag, since the Kurdistan Region is not a formal state.
An Algerian proposal to accept that the citadel is sufficiently unique as it is, without having to dig up most of the mound to find archaeological proof, was then accepted without anyone voting against.
A member of the Iraqi delegation praised the inclusion as “a gift you have made to my people and all the communities of Iraq... who are in such need of a note of optimism right now.”
The Erbil Citadel is the fourth Iraqi site to be included on the World Heritage List, after Ashur, Hatra and Samarra Archaeological city, which all three lie in the area that presently represents a war zone. A place on the list does not come with guards to protect a site, but the special status could at least lead to world pressure to prevent attacks.
Historical sites in the Saudi city of Jeddah and the Palestinian town of Battir also made it on the list, even though ICOMOS again advised to refer their application to a later date because of its negative assessment.
In relation to these decisions some UNESCO watchers have pointed to the power of an axis of Islamic countries amongst the 21 voting members of the World Heritage committee, which includes Senegal, Algeria, Qatar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Lebanon.
The lack of archaeological proof of the Citadel’s age was one of the main points of criticism of ICOMOS, but the High Commission for Erbil Citadel Revitalization (HCECR) made clear during the meeting in Doha that after its visit the digging into the Citadel’s buried past has started in earnest.
ICOMOS was criticized for not giving HCECR a chance to supply additional information before submitting its advice, which was not discarded completely. The HCERC was told to improve protection of the Citadel, upgrade its management, consider moving the planned Kurdistan National Museum away or changing its modern design and to report yearly on its progress.
Erbil Mayor Nihad Qoja, who is also a member of the HCERC, declared he was “very happy” with the result. “The decision will put Erbil on the map as an important historical site,” he said.