International Day for Monuments and Sites 2019
Right to Access and Enjoy Cultural including Religious Heritage is a Human Right
On April 18 the world marks the International Day for Monuments and Sites declared by UNESCO in 1983. Since then, 18 April has been a day to celebrate and promote cultural heritage, and an opportunity to raise awareness about its diversity, its relevance, how vulnerable it can be and what the needs and benefits of its conservation are.
In a place where religion has played a major part in shaping culture for centuries, religious and cultural heritage cannot be isolated from one another. This is especially true for religious monuments and sites. In Cyprus, there are thousands of religious monuments and sites of different faith traditions, in particular Christian and Muslim, dating back centuries, representing a unique and significant part of Cyprus’ identity. Many of these monuments and sites are sadly abandoned, destroyed, transformed locked up or inaccessible. Victims of the unresolved Cyprus conflict, they continue to cause deep pain and mistrust between the different communities of the island. Meanwhile, courageous mutual efforts of civil society and religious communities to dialogue and work together to clean, restore and allow free access for prayer and worship, has transformative powers on the path towards reconciliation.
Emphasizing the link between cultural heritage, peacebuilding and reconciliation, Office of RTCYPP highlights the significance of “the right to access and enjoy cultural heritage as a human right“: a right which “includes the right of individuals and groups, inter alia, to know, understand, enter, visit, make use of, maintain, exchange and develop cultural heritage, as well as to benefit from the cultural heritage of others.” (Special Rapporteur on Cultural Heritage, 2017)
Respecting religious sites and monuments, in particular those considered sacred by a different community than one’s own, is recognizing each other’s values and identities. Addressing the state of and access to religious monuments and sites is not merely about restoring stones; it is about restoring the human soul. It is about allowing social interaction, sharing and acknowledging the past, different histories and memories, and caring for each other also through cherishing each other’s religious heritage. On an island characterized by a web of identities, stretching beyond two ethnic communities, understanding and respecting differences is fundamental for peaceful coexistence.
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