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From November 15-17 2012, I had the privilege of attending the ICOMOS-ICORP International Symposium “Cultural Heritage Protection in Times of Risk: Challenges and Opportunities” at Yildiz Technical University in Istanbul, Turkey. A gathering of multi-disciplinary professionals committed to safeguarding the world’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage from natural as well as man-made disasters, the conference included presentations on a number of topics that addressed disaster management, slow risks, natural disasters, innovative technologies in risk mitigation, management in conflict areas and the specific risk incurred by movable and intangible heritage. I was there as a representative of this blog/website, and to deliver our co-written submission on the role of social media and Web. 2.0 in the protection of cultural heritage. Using our website as a case study, we analyzed the current use of utilities such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as cellphones, blogs and platforms such as Ushahidi, to document potential risks to a nation’s cultural patrimony, specifically during times of conflict.

Part of the panel on innovative technologies in risk mitigation, I was joined by Chris Marrion, who addressed mitigating fire risks to cultural resources and historical structures; and Carmen Moreno Adán, who spoke about her research in the use of new technologies to protect the architectural heritage of desert oasis in Morocco, among others. Given our location in Istanbul, many of the other panels addressed the affects of earthquakes on cultural heritage throughout the world. Highlights of the conference included Marina Lostal Becerril’s analysis of the current legal design for the protection of cultural heritage during armed conflict, the use of geospatial databases for risk assessment as detailed by Rohit Jigyasu and his colleagues from Ritsumeikan University and Juan Jose Prieto Gutierrez’s discussion on safeguarding the bibliographic heritage of the Institut d’Egypte. The schedule featured concurrent panels, therefore I unfortunately was not able to hear all of the presentations offered, but luckily, the proceedings were published and provided to participants. My hope is that a digital version will be available to the wider public soon.

At the end of the panel sessions, the gathered professionals approved the Istanbul Statement on Cultural Heritage Protection in Times of Risk, which, in brief, recommends that “…all risk preparedness, disaster response and recover strategies should address cultural heritage in parallel with practical humanitarian needs…” This is indicative of an important move on the part of the cultural heritage sector to create bridges of mutual understanding and communication with the greater humanitarian aid world, as well as to foreground concerns specific to recovery and risk mitigation for cultural objects.

The last day of the symposium was dedicated to an ICORP business meeting. Although not officially a member of ICORP, I and several others were allowed to attend the bulk of the meeting which included presentations on pending collaborations with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) (and specifically how a concern for cultural heritage fits within the Hyogo Framework for Action), initiatives to safeguard Syria’s cultural heritage and support cultural workers on the frontlines, and a conference on the protection of coastal deltas and principles for the conservation of earthen architectural heritage in seismic areas, among other things.

As our colleague Minna Pesu noted, what is extraordinarily useful about attending the business meeting is the greater insight that one can gain into the activities of the organization, and just how crucial they are. With the ongoing challenge of integrating risk mitigation and management for cultural heritage into the broader humanitarian aid platform, ICORP’s efforts are key towards advocating for cultural heritage as an important part of the recovery and reconstruction of societies impacted by disaster or conflict.

Overall, it was an amazing experience to be in Istanbul, and to get the opportunity to share our insights into social media and cultural heritage, to meet up with old friends and colleagues, and to cultivate new relationships. Next year’s meeting is potentially slated to be in Kathmandu, Nepal. Hopefully we will all get the chance to attend.

Mario H.  Ramirez
Photo Credit: Minna Pesu


 


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