Int’l Heritage Day marked amid preservation woes

Financial Tribune- Iran celebrated the International Day for Monuments and Sites on April 18 by various events and seminars while the preservation of the country’s myriad of heritage sites is facing challenges.

Abundant with magnificent structures remaining since antiquity, Iran is among the first countries to be named when it comes to ancient civilizations’ architectural heritage.

Nevertheless, inadequate laws and lack of funds along with issues concerning ownership and utilization of historical buildings are causing trouble for their conservation, the Persian daily Donya-e Eqtesad reported.

Legal Gap

Cultural heritage activists have called for a comprehensive law on protection of historical monuments as the existing ones are gravely deficient.

Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization has frequently been involved in disputes over preservation and utilization of nationally inscribed buildings with private owners or various state entities owning the properties such as ministries, the Endowment and Charity Affairs Organization and the Islamic Revolution Mostazafan Foundation.

The buildings are either used inappropriately and damaged or at times flattened by their owners who seek to erect new and more profitable structures.

The ultimate authority to adjudicate in such cases is currently the Court of Administrative Justice which is believed by many to lack in-depth knowledge of the value of the monuments.

Mohammad Hassan Talebian, cultural heritage deputy at ICHHTO, insists that those dealing with legal cases concerning cultural heritage “should have proper understanding of the field”.

He has suggested training programs for judges in this regard so that they take heritage into account when giving verdicts.

Granting a broader mandate to ICHHTO’s protection unit and forming special courts for cultural heritage cases with prosecutors and judges that specialize in the field have been among other demands to help solve legal issues faster and more efficiently, according to Talebian.

“If privately owned buildings are renovated and used under the supervision of ICHHTO, their historical value will not whittle away,” the official said.

Private owners, on the other hand, face their own difficulties. ICHHTO has pledged to offer owners loans and financial aid for restoration of historical monuments that are on the list of National Heritage Sites.

But this has rarely been realized due to lack of budget while owners are not allowed to interfere with the structure on their own either.

Therefore, they are forced to take legal proceedings to nullify the heritage status.

Experts have proposed three solutions for the issue: introducing heritage courts of law, handing over state-owned ancient monuments to qualified private sector and fostering a culture of respect to cultural heritage among private owners of valuable buildings.

Sparkle of Hope

It is not all doom and gloom, however. The Revitalization and Utilization Fund for Historical Places (known by its Persian acronym Saabta) has offered a sparkle of hope.

It has been in operation for ten years with the purpose of renovating and repurposing historical buildings so as to both preserve them and earn profit.

According to Parham Janfeshan, Saabta’s director, 100 buildings are expected to be fully restored and become operational by the end of the present administration’s term (in 2021).

So far, 65 buildings have been put up for auction to involve private investors in the process and 20 sites have come into operation. The fund has plans to put up a total of 269 historical buildings for auction. “This will not only help boost the tourism industry and create jobs, but also help preserve the sites,” Janfeshan said.

To raise awareness among the public, the fund published the first issue of its periodical last winter and has organized the first photo festival of historical buildings as well.

The International Day for Monuments and Sites (World Heritage Day) is an international observance held on April 18 each year around the world with different types of activities.

The aim is to promote consciousness about the diversity of cultural heritage of humanity, their vulnerability and the efforts required for their protection and conservation.

It was observed this year with the theme “Heritage for Generations”.