The Greek Temple of Zeus at Cyrene, a UNESCO World Heritage site and GHF project site, escaped the Libyan conflict without suffering serious damage. Photo: Travcoa Travel
For months leading up to the overthrow of Muammar el-Gaddafi, Libya’s cultural heritage sites — which include some of Africa’s most spectacular ancient Greek and Roman ruins — faced the fire of NATO air strikes. Thankfully, they survived.
A NATO news release this week shed light on the measures taken during the conflict to protect these historic spots, including a “No Strike List” of sites to be preserved in the conduct of air operations. According to NATO’s report, the list was created by Karl Von Habsburg, President of the Blue Shield Committee in Austria, and Dr. Joris Kila, Chairman of the International Military Cultural Resources Work Group. Both men are now working in Libya to assess damage to the sites as a result of the conflict and to continue protection of the sites until the new Libyan government takes over.
“It seems like our no strike list with cultural sites was very effective, because we didn’t find serious damage with bombardments by NATO on cultural sites,” Dr. Kila said in the NATO report. “We hope that we will encourage them to take over part of our duties and do the work that has to be done.”
The report also quoted Hafed Walda, a Libyan archaeologist who believes that one of the biggest problems facing cultural sites in Libya is the lack of training and resources for those tasked with protecting them: “I see some of the heritage being neglected and marginalized to the degree where sometimes you feel despair. The people here don’t have the resources; sometimes they don’t have the know-how.”
Walda’s sentiment is echoed and expanded upon in a recent op-ed written by William Y. Brown, former Chair of the GHF Board of Trustees, titled “Heritage, Democracy and Development in Libya.” The article, published by The Brookings Institution, examines the vast potential of cultural and natural heritage as an engine for economic development, while detailing the multitude of steps needed at local, national and international levels to ensure the realization of this potential.
The NATO report closed by calling its intervention in the Libyan conflict “one of the most successful air campaigns in the history of the Alliance,” while further praising the mission for avoiding serious damage to Libya’s ancient heritage sites. Going forward, it promises to cooperate with UNESCO and other organizations to “ensure the protection of cultural and historical property in times of unrest, thereby complying with international legal obligations.”