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As War Rages in Syria, Efforts are Made to Save Culture


As world leaders at the United Nations try to resolve Syria's civil war, a little further uptown international preservationists came together at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in a bid to protect Syrian culture.

New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art draws millions of people each year to see its unparalleled collections, but on Tuesday art enthusiasts turned into activists pleading for the protection of Syria's historical artifacts.

“There should not be a choice between saving lives and saving heritage,” said Irina Bokova, the director general of UNESCO.

More than two years of fighting in Syria has left more than 100,000 people dead. The violence has also left Syrians powerless to prevent the destruction of some of their most ancient and cherished sites.

Now, the International Council of Museums is publicizing an Emergency Red List that highlights Syrian cultural objects that are at risk of being lost forever.

It is hoped that this list will make the global community more aware of the kinds of artifacts that are being destroyed, looted or smuggled out in the chaos of war, such as medieval pottery and metal work.

Anne Richard, a U.S. assistant secretary of state, said the world cannot wait until the war's end before joining the fight to protect Syria’s heritage.

“The value of the artifacts is so great and so important to the people of Syria that we have no choice but to start now,” said Richard.

Cultural leaders agree that saving Syria’s heritage is a humanitarian necessity. Richard agrees, and points out the important role of culture in quality of life.

“It’s not enough to just save their lives. We have to save their society. We have to save the things that make their lives worth living,” said Richard.

As fighting rages from Damascus to Aleppo and goods and people flee the country, these cultural leaders hope it’s not too late to preserve some of the world’s most ancient wonders.
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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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