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The Importance Of Cultural Heritage For Post Conflict Stabilization And Reconciliation

February 15, 2018

Amr Al Azm, The Day After

post conflict stabilization and reconciliation
Damage from the January 2nd, 2018 airstrike to the Ma’arra Museum in Syria – Photo credit: The Day After

Since March 2011 Syria has gone through a traumatic and destabilizing process that has strained the ethnic, sectarian, and social fabric of the country beyond the breaking point. Much of the country lies in ruins today, and its cultural heritage has been a deliberate casualty of the conflict from its earliest days. At stake is the future of Syria as a unified country whose people have a shared history, goals, and aspirations.

Any successful transition process that brings Syrians together to work toward ending the bloodshed and rebuilding their shattered country must identify common ground  among the opposing sides and provide mechanisms facilitate  consensus. The question of national identity is a subject of common interest, and by identifying challenges and establishing common goals it may be possible to begin a process of cohesion. Syria has a resilient identity based on shared citizenship around a common history, supported by a long and rich cultural heritage. Cultural heritage has a critical role in rebuilding and enhancing Syrian identity and helping to clear a path towards post conflict stabilization and reconciliation. Syrians’ shared cultural heritage transcends ethnic, sectarian or tribal differences and therefore presents an attractive and effective  method for unifying the Syrian people and ensuring the future stability of their state.

Once the current violence ends, the people of Syria will need to find ways to reconnect with the symbols that once united them across religious and political lines. Museums, ancient sites and monuments effectively become the vehicle for identity creation, community outreach and cohesion.  These cultural sites can provide legitimizing spaces in which different ethnicities can be recognized, where all Syrians can reconnect with the ancient symbols that represent the rich cultural identity of this nation state. Protecting and preserving Syria’s history and cultural heritage will safeguard its future.

Amr Al Azm is an associate professor of Middle East history and anthropology at Shawnee State University. While working in Syria, Al Azm was a first-hand observer and sometimes a participant of the reform processes instigated by Bashar Al-Assad. This experience gave him unique insight into how these reforms are enacted and why, more often than not, they fail. Al Azm is an active member of the Syrian opposition and serves on the executive committee of The Day After.