Will the UN rejuvenate the “Capital of the Ancient World”? That is the dream of many in Iraq. Getting recognition from the UN as a World Heritage Site would mean a lot of money and assistance from UNESCO.
On July 17, UNESCO added al-Ahwar marshes in southeastern Iraq to the World Heritage list. Now, Iraq is seeking to add the 4,000-year-old city of Babylon to the list, which includes world heritage properties of special cultural and natural significance.
Hussein Fleih, Babylon’s director of antiquities and member of Babil’s provincial council, told Al-Monitor, “Babylon will be competing to earn that recognition in the voting process supervised by UNESCO for 2017.” He said that naming Babylon a World Heritage site will help to preserve this historical city by drawing not only local but international financial and technical support.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, Fleih said, “Both the local government in Babil and the Iraqi government are working toward adding the city to the World Heritage list.”
In an expression of popular demand for adding Babylon to the UNESCO list, a group of journalists and activists launched a social media campaign June 20 under the hashtag #WeAreBabylon.
Journalist and activist Wissam al-Tai told Al-Monitor, “The Saddam Hussein regime was unfair to Babylon with investments that served a political agenda. In 1983, Hussein built a huge and luxurious castle on top of a high hill there. Ignoring the resulting damage to the historic city, Saddam further constructed artificial hills and lakes within the historic site to immortalize his name. The campaign aims to protect this historical city from negligence and ensure more financial allocations to preserve it.”
Karim Matar al-Zubaidi, head of the history department at the University of Babylon, told Al-Monitor, “Including Babylon on the World Heritage list will draw international technical support from experts, and restoration techniques will help to restore the city according to global standards. The history department at the University of Babylon is ready to provide research and consultation to support Babylon in its bid to become a World Heritage site.”