The opening ceremony of this year’s session of the World Heritage Committee was held on 30 June at the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, marking the start of the Committee’s work, scheduled to continue until 10 July.
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay welcomed the enthusiasm for World Heritage and “its exceptional ability to bring people together.” She urged “respect for the spirit of the World Heritage Convention, which positions heritage as a force for unity and a prism of universality in a fragmented world.” She cautioned that “heritage must never be used to divide or pit the memory of one group against that of another, rather [it should serve] to build bridges, as has been done in the past in Mostar (Bosnia Herzegovina) and is being done today through UNESCO’s Revive the Spirit of Mosul initiative.
“The World Heritage Convention is a rare forum for dialogue around a common good, not least because its implementation is guided by scientific expertise that ensures its credibility.” Ms Azoulay said. “The Convention remains an essential resource. It broke new ground and is still a major instrument in the protection of heritage around the world,” she added, before giving the floor to a nine-year-old girl, Aarya Chavda, who had travelled from India to present a collection of poems and drawings she dedicated to her city, the Historic City of Ahmedabad, a site inscribed on the World Heritage List.
“Since Azerbaijan’s accession to UNESCO, we have been very active in defending cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible. Thanks to this close cooperation, two sites have been inscribed on the World Heritage List – Walled City of Baku with the Shirvanshah’s Palace and Maiden Tower and Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape – and 11 elements are now on the Representative List of Intangible Heritage,” said the First Vice-President of Azerbaijan and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Mehriban Alieva.
“There are countless examples of how UNESCO, through its many cultural conventions, brought the international community together, around common heritage objectives,” said Lee Byon-hyun, Chairperson of UNESCO’s Executive Board, after recalling the solemn declaration adopted by the Executive Board in support of the French authorities following the fire at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris.
“Too often, the inscription of sites on the World Heritage List is seen as an end in itself,” said Abdulfas Garayev, Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee and Minister of Culture of Azerbaijan. “On the contrary, it should be a starting point, the beginning of a long process to ensure that these sites continue to justify the outstanding universal value for which they were inscribed, he added, highlighting the obligations of States to safeguard inscribed sites.
More than 2,000 participants are expected to attend this session, which will examine the inscription of 35 sites on the World Heritage List and the state of conservation of 166 sites already on the List.