Mali, UNESCO Plead for Help
Published: July 4, 2012 (Issue # 1716)
An emergency appeal was made in St. Petersburg on Tuesday during which ambassadors from UNESCO and the Malian Minister of Culture called for the world’s governments and international organizations “not to allow vandals to wipe out historical monuments” in the Malian city of Timbuktu.
UNESCO representatives, who read out the appeal in English, Russian, French, Arabic and Spanish in front of the city’s famed Bronze Horseman monument, described the destruction being carried out by Islamist extremists as “a crime against history.”
“This is one of the most ancient African temples which is disappearing,” UNESCO representatives, who were gathered in the city for the 40th anniversary of the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, said in the appeal.
The Malian Minister of Culture, Diallo Fadimo Toure, who struggled to hold back tears, thanked the world for its solidarity and sympathy, saying that the destruction of such a “unique and sacred place as Timbuktu would be a huge loss for all of Africa and the world.”
Eleonora Mitrofanova, head of the World Heritage Committee, said Mali’s culture minister is also worried about the condition of the ancient manuscripts that are preserved in the area as the destruction could disturb the controlled conditions under which they are kept.
Ali Ould Sidi, head of the Timbuktu Cultural Mission, said the Malian people were being “attacked in their hearts and souls” by what is being done to their historical monuments.
Last week UNESCO accepted Mali’s request to put Timbuktu on the list of World Heritage sites that are in danger. In response, Islamic extremist groups destroyed three sacred tombs with pickaxes, UNESCO said.
Muslim extremists continued destroying heritage sites in the ancient city of Timbuktu on Monday, razing tombs and attacking the gate of a 600-year-old mosque, despite a growing international outcry, The Associated Press reported.
The International Criminal Court has described the destruction of the city’s patrimony as a possible war crime, while UNESCO’s committee on world heritage was holding a special session this week to address the pillaging of the listed site.
The Islamic faction, known as Ansar Dine, or “Protectors of the Faith,” seized control of Timbuktu last week after ousting the Tuareg rebel faction that had invaded northern Mali alongside Ansar Dine’s soldiers three months ago. During the weekend, fighters screaming “Allah Akbar” descended on the cemeteries holding the remains of Timbuktu’s Sufi saints, and systematically began destroying the six most famous tombs.
Reached by telephone in an undisclosed location in northern Mali, a spokesman for the faction said they do not recognize either the United Nations or the world court.
“The only tribunal we recognize is the divine court of Shariah,” said Ansar Dine spokesman Oumar Ould Hamaha, the AP reported.
“The destruction is a divine order,” he said.
“It’s our Prophet who said that each time that someone builds something on top of a grave, it needs to be pulled back to the ground. We need to do this so that future generations don’t get confused, and start venerating the saints as if they are God.”