On October 12, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) issued military instructions to protect cultural heritage during armed conflict. It is the first time a non-state armed actor issues specific military instructions concerning the protection of cultural heritage.
Fight for Humanity welcomes this important step and hopes it will contribute to a better protection of historical sites and artefacts in the area. The organization has been in contact with the SDF on this issue since 2019. “Protecting cultural heritage is also protecting what the different communities living in the region have in common and it can directly contribute to a better social cohesion and in the end to peace” says Mehmet Balci, Fight for Humanity co-Director.
In the preamble of these military instructions, the SDF states that “in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict (in particular the 1954 Hague Convention), the 2015 United Nations Security Council Resolution 2199 regarding respect for cultural properties […], the SDF pledges to ensure respect for cultural property during armed conflict. The SDF also pledges to ensure that cultural properties are not affected in areas under its security and military control.”
Upon a request from the SDF, Fight for Humanity consulted several experts on international law and the protection of cultural heritage and provided legal and technical support on the writing of these instructions. The organization will now support their implementation in collaboration with the Directorate of Antiquities of the Self-Administration in North East Syria. A roadmap is under development to plan activities including an awareness-raising campaign towards the different communities on the importance of preserving this common heritage.
Fight for Humanity will also work on starting up a dialogue with other non-state armed actors in Syria on this topic and encourage them to take similar measures. The organization calls upon all parties to the Syrian armed conflict to respect and protect cultural heritage for future generations and for its peacebuilding potential, as it can help re-forming bonds between communities.
Since 2011, cultural heritage in Syria has been seriously damaged by armed conflict. Several non-state armed actors operating in Syria have been involved in the destruction of cultural heritage sites and in illicit trafficking of artefacts.
Fight for Humanity is currently implementing a project to protect a historical site in Tell Beydar and to safeguard artefacts found during past excavations or seized from smugglers. This project is implemented with the support of the ALIPH foundation.