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Rebuilding Syrian Cities: Heritage as Human Right
Post war Syria is undergoing substantial economic, political and cultural transformations. Despite the widespread physical and destruction and trauma, Syrians however, continue to adapt and innovate. The efforts to preserve the urban heritage and identity - specifically as a human right - exemplify such creativity in dark times. Preserving heritage is preserving home and identity which is a human right for all. This paper takes the post-war / post disaster recovery of the Ancient City of Aleppo, a World Heritage site since 1986, as a case-study through which to explore how heritage discourses have arrived in post-conflict Syria, and their successes and failures in efforts to develop a well-defined national, balanced, creative, expressive, and collective “vision” for such an important site. Drawing upon heritage industry documents, reports, and media pronouncements – primarily from UNESCO and ICOMOS, I argue that their efforts, as well as those of the weak central government, have largely failed in this mission. At the same time, this failure is productive, as it opens space for other actors to re-imagine heritage and heritage preservation. Indeed, the trauma of war has produced new sources of inspiration, derived from new practices and values, and memory of tragic events and resilience. As a result of the suffering caused by war and the severe Western-imposed international embargo, some Syrians have become culturally radicalized towards the Western culture, since it is conflicting most of their local sociocultural references. At the same time, another part of Syrians is still distinguishing between the Western culture and the Western political regimes. This contradictory situation is affecting the Syrians’ thinking about urban heritage, its importance and how best to preserve it in the face of pressures from newly ascendant real estate interests to redevelop urban spaces in the name of “modernization.” How might this new radicalization temper the drive to rebuild anew? How might it force open new spaces for heritage in the plans of institutions committed to “marketization” of reconstruction?
Architecture & Urban Planning
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