ICCROM Award: 7 years of celebrating cultural heritage

May 14, 2024 / 11:21 PM
Sharjah24: Cultural heritage represents collective memory and reflects the diversity of human experiences throughout the ages, from historical monuments, archaeological sites and traditional products to traditional music, folk dance, and other intangible expressions.
Within this context, preserving cultural heritage today has become a vital aspect of the efforts aimed at enhancing the sense of identity and belonging, contributing to enhancing understanding and interchange between cultures, bringing knowledge to future generations, and contributing to achieving economic, social, and cultural development, as well as supporting tourism promotion plans and sustainable development within the community.

However, heritage today, especially in the Arab region, faces many challenges - disasters, armed conflicts, modern trends towards urbanization, and climate change. In addition, heritage is at risk due to theft and illicit trade in antiquities, and sometimes due to neglect or lack of sufficient knowledge regarding its preservation.

Highlighting successful practices and experiences, and celebrating exceptional projects that both preserve heritage and embrace innovation, sustainability, and community participation can raise awareness to the importance of heritage and its positive impact on people and their wellbeing. By following international standards, exemplary projects represent an important model that can be replicated in the region.

The ICCROM Sharjah Award for Good Practices in Cultural Heritage Conservation and Management in the Arab Region is an important and prestigious award and the first of its kind. It is sponsored by His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council, and Ruler of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. 

The Award is an important platform that honours projects and individuals who have made significant contributions in the field of preserving and protecting cultural heritage in the Arab region. It supports communication between networks dedicated to preserving local and regional heritage, and mobilizes the efforts of individuals, communities, and organizations to preserve our traditions and historic environment.

“The ICCROM Sharjah Awards have left a lasting impact on the field of heritage preservation. By empowering networks, fostering regional collaboration, and contributing to sustainable development, these awards have become a beacon of hope for experts involved in safeguarding our shared heritage and improving the lives of local communities,” said ICCROM Director-General Aruna Francesca Maria Gujral. “The success stories of projects supported by the ICCROM Sharjah Awards serve as inspiration and motivation for others to join the cause. As the awards continue to expand and evolve, their lasting legacy will be the preservation of our cultural expressions for generations to come.”

A platform for knowledge exchange and networking
Shireen Sahouri, Programme Officer for Outreach and Development at the ICCROM Regional Centre in Sharjah, spoke in detail about this award on the occasion of the announcement of the deadline extension for receiving nominations. “As the first of its kind in this region, it focuses on tangible and intangible heritage, giving a clear message of the importance of its conservation, restoration and preservation for future generations”, she said emphasizing the importance of the award at the local and regional levels.

"By presenting and honouring good practices, the award inspires entities and institutions concerned with preserving cultural heritage to apply similar approaches in their countries. It also motivates others to take the necessary actions that respond to current and future needs, creating a multiplier effect that strengthens the network of individuals and organizations involved in preserving cultural heritage in the Arab region."

“By bringing together experts from the Arab region, the award also works as a platform for knowledge exchange and cooperation, which enables beneficiaries to learn from each other’s experiences and enact best practices in the region. There is no doubt that this collaborative approach encourages more effective and sustainable conservation efforts on the one hand, and a great incentive to continue working and implementing new, more extensive, and comprehensive projects in the region”, architect Sahouri said.

Engineer Alaa Al-Habashi, Professor of Architecture and Heritage Preservation at Menoufia University in the Arab Republic of Egypt and one of the recipients of the ICCROM Sharjah Award in its previous cycles for the project of restoration and rehabilitation of Beit Yakan in Cairo, agrees with Sahouri. 

“After we established the principles that built on the importance of heritage as a means of establishing an architectural and urban identity to achieve sustainable development, we applied these principles in the project of restoration and rehabilitation of Beit Yakan House in Cairo. We began receiving awards, one of the most important of which was the ICCROM Sharjah Award, which we received because of our on-site use of environmental materials and our interaction with the community. This award has prompted us to continue giving to the community and activating other environmental activities and initiatives”, he said.

Another major strength of the ICCROM Sharjah Award, according to Sahouri, is its ability to empower networks concerned with cultural heritage preservation. By recognizing and supporting exceptional projects, the award not only provides a platform to showcase achievements but also strengthens links between like-minded individuals and organizations, forming the basis of a regional network that transcends borders and cultures, enabling cooperation and the exchange of ideas. 

“Through this network, individuals and organizations can exchange knowledge, experience, and resources, creating a collective force that increases the impact of heritage conservation efforts. By empowering these networks, the ICCROM Sharjah Award contributes to building a strong and resilient community dedicated to protecting our common cultural heritage.”

Seven years of celebrating cultural heritage

The Award was founded in 2017 by the ICCROM Regional Centre in Sharjah (United Arab Emirates). ICCROM is an intergovernmental organization with its headquarters located in Rome (Italy), and works in the service of its Member States (137 countries) to enhance the process of preservation and rehabilitation of all types of heritage in every region of the world.

According to its official website, this organization works in the spirit of the UNESCO Global Declaration in 2001 on cultural diversity, which stipulates “respect for the diversity of cultures, tolerance, dialogue and cooperation, in an atmosphere of mutual trust and understanding, which is considered one of the most important guarantees for the stability of Peace and security in the world.”

Thanks to the great and generous support and sponsorship of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council, and Ruler of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, the ICCROM Regional Centre in Sharjah officially opened its doors in 2012. It has since proven its commitment to accomplishing the mission undertaken by the organization in the Arab region, through its close relationship with partners and stakeholders, and benefiting from the mechanisms of regional cooperation and community participation in a region full of risks. However, it is also full of important opportunities. According to the centres official website, the organization’s branch in the United Arab Emirates has become an important force for defending cultural heritage and providing important logistical and operational support for the work of ICCROM in the Arab region.

The ICCROM Sharjah Award, through its efforts over seven years of honouring projects that aim to preserve cultural heritage in the Arab region, provides clear evidence of its keenness to defend and celebrate this heritage. The Arab region needs such collective efforts and activities that give professionals their much-deserved credit and honour people and institutions who have always worked and made great efforts to defend cultural heritage without anyone noticing their work.

According to ICCROM Director-General Gujral, preserving cultural heritage is a global endeavour that requires continuous international and regional cooperation. Within this framework, the ICCROM Sharjah Award, she says, “plays a crucial role in strengthening this cooperation by bringing together individuals, organizations and governments from around the world. Through the awards, recipients will have the opportunity to connect with experts, policymakers, and donors who can contribute to supporting their projects. This international cooperation not only enhances available technical and financial resources, but also enhances cultural exchange and understanding.”

Our heritage, our future

The preservation of cultural heritage is not just about protecting the past, but also about shaping the future. This matter appears more clearly and explicitly in the work of ICCROM today, after it launched a few days ago, a major campaign to introduce the organization’s new branding, which has the title “Our Heritage, Our Future,” a broad title and main destination for the organization during the next phase.

The ICCROM Sharjah Award shares this vision. It has always highlighted the strong link between cultural heritage preservation and sustainable development. Director-General Gujral confirms this vision by saying, “By supporting projects that integrate social, economic, and environmental aspects, the award contributes to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. For example, projects that promote community participation and capacity building work to empower local communities and create opportunities for economic growth.” 

“Moreover, projects that incorporate sustainable practices in restoration and conservation contribute to a sustainable environment and create current and future job opportunities for residents of the area surrounding the project, or even for the city or country in general. The ICCROM Sharjah Award therefore acts as a catalyst for sustainable development and focuses on the importance of cultural heritage in shaping a better future for all,” says Gujral.

The impact of the ICCROM Sharjah Award on the future of cultural heritage in the region can be recognized through the success stories of winning projects that received recognition and support. One of these projects, for example, is the restoration of the Al-Saqatiyya Market in the historic city of Aleppo in Syria, which was severely damaged due to the devastating conflict. Thanks to the ICCROM Sharjah Award, the project received financial assistance and technical expertise and was highlighted at the regional and international levels.

This achievement has enabled the restoration effort to gain momentum, attracting more attention, funding, and expertise due to the honour received after winning the award, according to Sahouri. “Today, the restoration of the Al-Saqatiyah Market in Aleppo is a role model and a symbol of hope and resilience in the face of the destruction to which cultural heritage is being exposed in the region.” 
“The project has now become an incentive that has encouraged other projects in the same country and entire region to nominate for the award in its current session. This fact demonstrates the impact of the ICCROM Sharjah Award and the soft power it has begun to form in supporting cultural heritage in the region.”

As the ICCROM Sharjah Award continues to have a significant impact on cultural heritage preservation, the future holds a huge potential for further expansion and spread. This award has already gained international and regional recognition and support. During previous sessions, applications were received from almost all parts of the Arab region. 

With increasing awareness and appreciation of cultural heritage, the ICCROM Sharjah Award is poised to become the region's leading regional platform that celebrates and supports outstanding projects and individuals. This expansion will strengthen the cultural heritage preservation network and foster greater cooperation and innovation in this field.

Architect Shireen Sahouri emphasized the importance of participating in the current cycle of the award. “As we approach the deadline for receiving nominations for the current cycle of the ICCROM Sharjah Award, I would like to take this opportunity to invite all institutions, entities, and individuals working in the field of preserving and protecting cultural heritage to participate in the award and complete all the required information and documents, given the importance of this participation, and the importance of receiving this award to publicize their exceptional achievements and projects in the region.”

In conclusion, seven years after its launch in 2017, the ICCROM Sharjah Award, currently receiving nominations for its fourth cycle, has become an important goal and exceptional recognition that workers and those involved in preserving cultural heritage throughout the Arab region aspire to receive. Through its impact on empowering networks, enhancing international cooperation, and contributing to sustainable development, this award has left an indelible mark on the efforts to protect and preserve our shared cultural heritage for future generations to come.
May 14, 2024 / 11:21 PM

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