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Numerous unanswered questions prevail when one considers personality traits and characteristics of human beings. Over time, scholars and professionals have attempted to find answers to these questions, which have proved too baffling and ambiguous to tackle. Questions such as: Why are we so intent on destroying rather than building?; Why are we so negligent in protecting valuable things that do not belong to us and easily “encouraged” to ruin them because we do not have a claim to them? Especially, people suffering the effects of conflicts, be they religious, ethnic or territorial, think more in terms of these questions than others who enjoy the luxury of a peaceful existence. When one puts oneself in these peoples’ shoes, it is possible to understand the plight of those who have lost not only their property, land, and family members to the conflict, but also the valuable cultural and historical monuments that are a significant part of their identity.
When we look back at the history of various conflicts, we find an overwhelming number of examples and instances that saw the ruining of the cultural and historical heritage of nations. Unfortunately, conflicts have become the perfect opportunity for unearthing people’s hidden agendas and dark natures. For instance, in the twenty-something years the Nagorno – Karabakh conflict has been going on, it has brought about loss of control over the region, as well as untold loss and damage to a large number of Azerbaijan’s cultural and historical monuments located in this region—history that dates back centuries. The decrepit state of cultural property in Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be denied. As a matter of fact, in documents such as the Resolution of the UN General Assembly adopted in 2008, the Field Assessment (2010) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the decision adopted by the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO, grave concern is expressed about the destruction and misappropriation of the cultural and architectural heritage in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The state of affairs, including the plundering of a number of museums, and destruction or theft of historical monuments and priceless art pieces, is clearly shown in these documents. These facts prove again that conflicts are a real threat to cultural heritage, regardless their nature and geographical location.
It should be mentioned that, regrettably, norms of international law concerning the protection of cultural and historical monuments are not followed by even the signatories of these documents. The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict adopted in 1954 lists a broad range of norms relating to the preservation of cultural heritage and values by the conflict participants. Even criminal responsibility is identified for the violation of the norms of this Convention. Moreover, the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted in 1972 urges parties to preserve cultural and natural heritage and to keep it for future generations.
Yet, despite these steps taken to protect a nation’s heritage, the bitter reality is that states and people involved in various kinds of conflicts do not follow these internationally accepted norms, and do not thoroughly fulfill their obligations. This fact paves the way for negligent attitude towards the preservation of cultural and historical monuments, which end up in deplorable conditions as a result of conflicts. In the end, not only do a certain group of people lose the cultural heritage that binds them to their land, history and traditions, but also all humankind loses its valuable inheritance – items of world importance, which spring from the deep roots of human history.
Probably, most of us also think about whether it is possible to put an end to negligent attitude toward cultural values that do not belong to us. Is it really possible to accept the cultural heritage belonging to others as our own? There is a theory that this is indeed possible. The only thing a human being needs to learn is that all valuable things, regardless of which nation or community they belong to, are inalienable parts of the common world cultural heritage, thus enriching it with their uniqueness and beauty.
By Savalan Suleymanli
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham