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Venice and kyiv threatened with being classified as “in danger” as UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Medieval mosques, a section of the Silk Roads, forests.

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Venice and kyiv threatened with being classified as “in danger” as UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Medieval mosques, a section of the Silk Roads, forests... More than fifty sites will know by September 25 whether they have been included as UNESCO world heritage sites during a meeting in Riyadh, during which those of Venice and Kiev may be declared at risk. From Latvia to Thailand via Madagascar, the contenders will learn from the World Heritage Committee, whose 45th enlarged session begins on Sunday in Saudi Arabia, whether the exceptional value of their cultural or natural properties has been recognized. Among the 53 contenders - a significant number because the 2022 meeting, planned in Russia, was not held due to its invasion of Ukraine - many are little known... or in any case less famous than the 'Alhambra in Spain, the Great Wall of China or Yellowstone Park in the United States, these jewels of world heritage.

There is, for example, Koh Ker, the ephemeral Khmer capital of the 10th century, located 80 km from Angkor, in northern Cambodia. Partly hidden by a dense forest, it is made up of numerous temples and sanctuaries today partially covered with vegetation. Tunisia, for its part, is calling for Djerba, an island today rather associated with mass tourism, to be included in the world heritage list as a “cultural landscape, testimony to the occupation of an island territory”. Turkey does the same for medieval mosques “featuring columns and a wooden upper structure.” France aspires to universal recognition for the Maison Carrée in Nîmes, a Roman temple dating back two thousand years and perfectly preserved. Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have mounted a joint bid for the Zeravshan-Karakoum corridor, a nearly 900 km long stretch of the Silk Roads, which irrigated Asia from the 2nd century BCE to the 16th century. Several countries have also requested the extension of certain natural sites already inscribed. Like Vietnam, for the legendary Ha Long Bay, or Azerbaijan and Iran for their vast “Hyrcanian forests”, with their impressive biodiversity.

World heritage listings bring “recognition” to the countries concerned because they attest that their sites “are important and have also contributed to the development of our humanity,” says Lazare Eloundou, director of world heritage at UNESCO. They can bring economic development through tourism, an opportunity for local communities, “guarantees and guardians of these sites for generations”, he continues.

This year, a new trend is also appearing in the applications. Three files concern places of memory, when these are until now poorly represented within world heritage. Rwanda is proposing that four memorials commemorating the genocide of the Tutsis be included, as is the Higher School of Army Mechanics (Esma) for Argentina, a torture center under the dictatorship (1976-1983) which has become a museum. France and Belgium have a similar approach for places linked to the First World War.

Today, 1,157 sites belong to World Heritage, including 900 cultural, 218 natural and 39 mixed. Fifty-five of them are considered “in danger” and six others could join them. The ax could thus fall for Venice, because the Serenissima is threatened by “rising waters” and “overtourism”, observes Lazare Eloundou. The Diyarbakir fortress, slightly damaged by the earthquake which devastated southern Turkey this winter, is concerned due to “development issues”, he continues. UNESCO also wants to list the sites of kyiv and Lviv as world heritage sites in danger due to the Russian invasion because they are “threatened with destruction”. “There have been attacks in the buffer zones of these sites and we do not know what will happen in the future,” he also regrets. All files were studied beforehand by experts, who submitted their recommendations, both for placement in endangered heritage and for the integration of new sites. For example, they are in favor of listing Koh Ker (Cambodia), but suggest “postponing the examination” of the Djerba file. The member states of the World Heritage Committee may or may not follow their recommendations.

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