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Henry M. Robert

Cultural heritage in an unrecognized territory

The process of adding Crimean monuments on the UNESCO World Heritage List has been suspended. What is next for them?
21 May, 2014 - 17:42
Photo by Leniara ABIBULAIEVA

As previously reported, the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine appealed to the UNESCO asking it to protect reserves and valuable architectural monuments in Crimea. “We appeal to the UNESCO to help preserve intact the Tauric Chersonesus Reserve as well as the other 6 of Ukraine’s 63 reserves and valuable architectural monuments which are located in Crimea. Now we do not have physical access to protect those rarities and museum exhibits which are kept there and are invaluable not only for Ukraine, but for the entire world,” Minister of Culture of Ukraine Yevhen Nyshchuk said at a press briefing in Kyiv. According to him, Crimea is also the home to 900 valuable museum exhibits, with 300 of them kept at the Tauric Chersonesus Reserve. The minister reminded the media that Chersonesus had been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List as a Ukrainian reserve back in 2013.

“My understanding of the situation is that the UNESCO, as it is a UN structure, does not recognize Crimea’s accession to Russia, so adding Crimean monuments of history and culture to the Heritage List has been suspended,” executive secretary of the Crimean Reserves and Museums’ Association Serhii Pushkariov said. “However, this does not mean that the UNESCO work in Crimea has stopped altogether. Despite the fact that the Ukrainian ministry of culture has been consistently raising questions about the protection of museums and monuments in Crimea, Nyshchuk himself acknowledged at a meeting with Director-General of the UNESCO Irina Bokova that they had no information that the monuments or museums in Crimea were under threat. This is only natural, because we in Crimea also appreciate and protect our cultural and historical heritage.”

“Fortunately, the UNESCO has not ceased its cooperation with the Crimea, it continues to monitor the status of monuments of history and culture, and it gives some hope that they will be preserved,” former deputy director for research of the Bakhchysarai Historical and Cultural Reserve Oleksa Haivoronsky said. “Crimea is not the only unrecognized territory in the world, there are others, also with historical and cultural monuments, and the UNESCO, there as well as here, may not just delist them and stop caring about it, as they are part of the world culture. However, my understanding is that adding new objects to the World Heritage List has been suspended. The reason for it was not so much the ownership of Crimea, but rather Crimea’s own approaches to this process. For example, we started preparing the package of documents on Bakhchysarai palace back in 2003 and everything was progressing well. Nevertheless, in 2011, the government of Viktor Yanukovych refused to include in the protection list an exclusively Crimean Tatar cultural heritage object, they influenced the UNESCO, and preconditions for Bakhchysarai’s inclusion changed, although nobody had talked about it in 2003. At the insistence of the then ministry of culture, Ukraine proposed to add to the list not just this monument of Crimean Tatar history and culture, but the entire cultural landscape of Bakhchysarai. That is, they have tried to add to the list Assumption Orthodox monastery, Chufut-Kale, Mangup Kale and other monuments. It is a hard case for the UNESCO, not just because of worsening authenticity issues, as these monuments have been rebuilt many times, changing their external appearance and interiors greatly, and thus not provide an opportunity for conservation now, but mainly because of the impossibility to manage such a large complex of monuments according to the UNESCO standards.”

Pushkariov said that museum workers should coordinate their efforts to protect and preserve the museum treasures in any situation and be united in this effort. “Procedures for adding a monument to the UNESCO list make for a long process,” he told us. “They can last for 10 or even 20 years. The main issues today with monuments in Crimea are problem of their authenticity as well as the whole issue of adding entire complexes. For example, the current requirements of the UNESCO call for adding to the list not just the Genoese fortress in Sudak, but the entire complex of Genoese monuments along the Black Sea coast of Crimea from Feodosia to Balaklava, as well as the Genoese fortresses of this period including sites in Turkey, Italy, Bulgaria and other countries where they are located. It is very difficult even in terms of the organization of the process and the preparation of documents, even more so with the subsequent management.”

Regarding the protection of monuments of history and culture, Pushkariov said it continued, but was now following regulations and laws of the Russian Federation. “It is not our job, as museum workers and historians, to decide questions of ownership of territory, our concern is to preserve the heritage. The monuments are accessible for tourists from Ukraine as well as researchers; let them come and work, we adhere to the principle that museums are apolitical, and that the valuable museum exhibits belong to all humankind rather than some politicians.”

By Mykola SEMENA, The Day, Simferopol
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