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Bidding National Heritage Into UNESCO Lists

UNESCO and Armenia have almost 30 years of successful collaboration, with the inscription of most prominent Armenian sites and cultural traditions. Regional Post met with Naira Kilichyan, Chief Specialist of Cultural Heritage and Folk Crafts department of the RA Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport and Artashes Arakelyan, Chief Specialist of International Cultural Cooperation of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora department and asked them some general questions regarding the journey of Armenia and UNESCO.

Text : Margarit Mirzoyan 


FIRST STEPS AND GENERAL REMARKS 

Intangible Cultural Heritage
First of all, we need to know that the sphere of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the world and in Armenia, in particular, is regulated by the UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. The treaty was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference in 2003, and entered into force in 2006, after the ratification by the UNESCO Member States, including Armenia. In 2009, already after the ratification of the convention, Armenia also passed a law on Intangible Cultural Heritage. By all these legal regulations Armenia aims to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage in its territory. What does this phrase imply? It refers to the whole oral history, the traditional culture, and folk masterpieces passed down orally from generation to generation – national songs and dances, folklore, languages, dialects, folk crafts, and theatrical style – which is subject to being vanished as they are not recorded anywhere. It’s not about the final product, as it would already enter the realm of tangible heritage, but the knowledge, abilities, beliefs related to these crafts, the way this cultural treasure is created by the master and passed down to his apprentice. Preparing an application is a constant process that never stops. If not every year but once in two years Armenia presents applications to UNESCO. There are many proposals from individuals and communities and soon they will be put to the discussion at the councils. 

 

World Heritage List Sites 
Armenia ratified UNESCO’s World Cultural and Natural Heritage Convention in 1993 and since then has undertaken commitment to present the cultural heritage sites located in its territory. The convention recognizes three types of monuments. The first one refers to historical-cultural monuments and ancient sites, the next one refers to the natural heritage, which includes sanctuaries, oceans, reserves, while the last is the combination of these two, including both monuments and natural treasures. After 1993, Armenia presented three groups of monuments. The first was Monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin inscribed in 1996 and widened in 2000. After this, Armenia registered the Monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat Valley followed by the Cathedral and Churches of Echmiadzin and the Archaeological Site of Zvartnots in the same year. We also have four monuments in the tentative list, all nominated in 1995. They are the archaeological site of the city of Dvin, the basilica and archaeological site of Yererouk, the monastery of Noravank and the upper Amaghou Valley, the monasteries of Tatev and Tatevi Anapat and the adjacent areas of the Vorotan Valley. 

 

BIDDING PROCESS

Intangible Cultural Heritage
The Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport, as an authorized coordinating body, receives proposals from different communities, public organizations, groups, and individuals, who present letters to the Ministry suggesting to bid for this or that intangible cultural heritage. But first, the elements are to be registered in the RA Intangible Cultural Heritage lists as, according to the convention, countries can bid only for the elements registered in the state lists. 
When we receive the proposals, we put them to the discussion of the Professional Council for Intangible Cultural Heritage under the Ministry. If they approve the proposal and the RA Government confirms the list, we implement an inventory of the intangible cultural heritage in the country. There are three state lists and we already have 47 elements registered in them. The first one is the Viable Values list including elements that are currently not endangered. The next list is the Immediate Protection list, and the last one is the list of Intangible Heritage Cultural Sites which refers to the viable centers of living cultural values. 
The Professional council also discusses whether to submit the suggested application to UNESCO. We simultaneously approach the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to see the political aspects of the question and view the expediency of the question from that point of view. After the final decision, we begin preparing the application which assumes the creation of a working group of experts. The final application package includes the application form, letter agreements, a short film, and the state document proving that the claimed element is registered at the state lists. We provide this package to the UNESCO National Commission at the RA Ministry of Foreign Affairs and they pass the application to the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris. We already have six elements registered on UNESCO’s list. 

 

World Heritage List Sites 
Before 2005, the Convention didn’t have a guideline on presenting sites and each country was free to prepare the application the way it wanted. But in 2006, the Operational Guideline was introduced together with several consulting manuals indicating how the monument should be presented. Additionally, ten standards were set and when presenting for nominations, the country should comply with at least one of them. But the most important merits refer to integrity, authenticity, and the management of the site. So, when choosing a site for nomination, the country should consider also these three aspects: for example, whether the ancient fragments of the monument are still existent, and if they are not – the country is to present a clarification and include it in the package. We’re also obliged to conduct a comparative analysis with other similar monuments in the region. Overall, this process requires a lot of hard work and may take several years to achieve success. 
According to the procedure, when you present the nomination package, the World Heritage center sends its advisory body representatives. One is the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the second one is the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the third advisory body is The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM). The experts give their opinion on the compliance with the standards. Their opinion is presented to the government and it either accepts and conducts necessary procedures or withdraws the application.

 

PROBLEMATIC CASES 

Intangible Cultural Heritage
Quite interestingly, in 2015, immediately after Armenia submitted an application for Kochari, the Azerbaijani government submitted their own application for Yalli – the traditional group dances of Nakhchivan, mentioning over 20 dances but with an emphasis on Kochari and Tenzere. They presented the dance as an extinct element, claiming for its registration at the Urgent Safeguarding List. The same scenario was with the application for Lavash. I have to mention that they succeeded causing a large-scale stir in the Armenian media and society despite the diligent work of the Ministry. Unfortunately, as a result of lack of information and major misconceptions we’ve received some negative reactions. Meanwhile, the Armenian application for Kochari was registered in 2017 and their application was registered only last year. 
The political context and intentions are obvious, and as a dance expert I can tell that the group dances of Nakhichevan might be of Armenian origin as for decades Armenians have 
resided in the area. We’ve also viewed their application, and the dance which they presented under the name kochari didn’t have anything in common with the Armenian dance even though there are around 40 types of Kochari. They managed to cause the same stir within the Armenian society in the case of dolma as well. Sadly, people forget that UNESCO doesn’t grant ownership of the element to the applying country. They simply register the existence of the viable cultural heritage in the area, in order to create favorable conditions for the preservation and transmission of the latter. 

World Heritage List Sites 
When we first heard about this application by Turkey, we were extremely happy for one simple reason: Ani, at that point having only national importance was in the field of Turkey, and only Turkey could interfere conservation processes of the city. But when the monument entered the cultural heritage list, its preservation value increased and it became the problem of not only one or two nations but of the whole world, which gave an opportunity to another country interested in this monument – in this case, Armenia – to raise its voice on the international level and to present its views and approaches. We’ve prepared information booklets and a short film about Ani’s history because when we received the preliminary application of Turkey, there were very few mentions of the Armenian trace. We made several amendments and the current application indicates that Ani is an Armenian monument. 
The Ministry managed to make these edits in the situation of closed borders and complete absence of diplomatic relations. Ani had several cultural layers and crossroads of various nations, but it reached its peak under the rule of Armenian Bagratid Kingdom when it became the capital city.

 

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATIONS

Intangible Cultural Heritage
We’re closely cooperating with UNESCO’s two regional centers out of five – in Sofia, Bulgaria and Tehran, Iran. For example, in 2017 and 2018 we organized an international training on raising awareness among the society regarding the convention and the participation of local experts in the preparation of applications in other countries, and last year we had a training on the inventory of intangible cultural heritage. We always invite international experts approved by UNESCO. For example, last year, one of the speakers of our training was Janet Blake, who’s an extremely professional expert from Scotland who currently works at one of the central universities of Tehran. We also invited the expert Sasha Srejkovich from Serbia, who conducted an 8-day training for our local experts, the holders of intangible cultural heritage and other specialists in order to conduct the inventory of the elements more successfully. With Sofia’s center, we always participate in their exhibitions and we also constantly provide articles for their Viable Heritage Magazine. 

World Heritage List Sites 
We had large-scale cooperation with Iran because when they were registering the Armenian Monastic Assemblies of Iran, they requested experts from Armenia to come and assist in the preparation of the application packages. So, Armenian professionals traveled to Iran and participated in the processes related to all the monuments. I have to emphasize that the Iranian government has always managed to restore Armenian monuments on a very high level, keeping all the standards. On the other hand, we have the Blue Mosque in the center of Yerevan and in the past years there has been some work done towards its inscription and, currently, we’re discussing the case with the Iranian side in order to understand whether in case of comparative analysis it will prove its universal value. 

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