Vartan Oskanian’s Speech to UNESCO General Conference

PARIS (Armradio)–Foreign Minister of Armenia Vartan Oskanian addressed Wednesday the 34th session of the UNESCO General Conference in Paris where he spoke about Armenia’s commitment to prosperity, peace and international cooperation and expressed enthusiasm about UNESCO’s intention to expand its activities in Armenia. Below is the text of the speech: UNESCO provides the platform where humanity’s global challenges are addressed among equals, placing responsibility on each of us to pursue international cooperation in this organization’s fields of competence, education, science, culture and communication and information. These are the areas of human knowledge, which are essential for deep, and successful globalization, fair and equitable globalization, will lead to sustainable development and poverty eradication. Our hope, of course, is that this is the path to prosperity and peace. Mr. Oskanian said Armenia welcomes UNESCO’s intention to expand its activities in our country. Armenia’s high economic growth and positive macroeconomic state have led to the alleviation of some of the more obvious social and economic ills. I have repeatedly said that our second generation reforms will be the more difficult, the more challenging to adopt and implement and this category includes the essential but difficult reforms in education and science, culture and communication. In a country with a proud and ancient record of education and science, we are deep in the throes of reforms. With the Bologna measures as guide, our students are prepared to undergo yet another period of transition–this time to ease their entry into the international educational arena. The science community too is undergoing restructuring to facilitate their integration into international scientific cooperation programs. The vibrancy and competitiveness of these fields are essential for their own sake, as well as for economic and social advancement. But dear colleagues, UNESCO’s calling card is its commitment to the World’s Cultural Heritage–the concept and the content. Armenia attaches great importance to the organization’s efforts to develop legal instrumen’s aimed at the protection of the cultural heritage of humanity. We are diplomats immersed in the world of culture, education and science. Diplomats and people of the arts and culture are both the beneficiaries of dialogue, and perhaps because of that, we feel compelled to continually search for non-traditional ways to approach the overarching issue of our time: living at peace in a pluralist world. Diplomats and cultural workers, like the societies which we represent, live in neighborhoods that are not going to change, with memories that are not going to go away, and with experiences that are irreversible. Therefore, we look for ways to break the barriers of the past because we remain convinced that between cultures and countries, there must be dialogue and understanding. As a people, serving as the perennial buffer between empires, on the most trampled path on earth, Armenia’s have become living witnesses of the benefit of dialogue between and within cultures. We have been engaged in that international exchange for ages. Today, we in Armenia are among its greatest promoters, especially in our neighborhood. Today, Armenia is a cosponsor of the Draft Resolution on Proclamation of an international year for bringing cultures together that will hopefully be adopted by the current session of the General Conference. The UNESCO focus on Demonstrating the importance of exchange and dialogue among cultures to social cohesion and reconciliation to develop a culture of peace%uF94 and %uF93Sustainably protecting and enhancing cultural heritage%uF94 is welcome. But this sounds hollow if we only do so when it’s easy to do. When it’s easy, cultural heritage is protected and exchange and dialogue do take place on their own. When it is hard, undesirable and hopeless, that is when UNESCO, its instrumen’s, its clout, its ability and willingness to speak in the name of all mankind, that is when UNESCO is needed, the Minister said. Armenia appreciates and respects the historical-cultural heritage of national minorities, which are within its territory. The destruction of timeless monumen’s in the Soviet period–monumen’s belonging to all religions, not just our ancient Christian churches and monasteries, but also mosques–cannot be undone. We can only take pride in what we have and protect and preserve them. In fact, the Cemetery of Riataza, belonging to Armenia’s Yezidi non-Christian minority, Armenian sites on the Great Silk Road and Yerevan’s exquisite, recently restored Blue Mosque are on the waiting list for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In our region, borders have changed frequently and peoples have moved and been moved repeatedly. Armenia’s ancient civilization has established settlemen’s, left behind traces of living communities–fountains and bridges, churches and massive religious and artistic sculptures. The fate of those monumen’s is important for their own sake, for the sake of artists and historians, but even more so, for the sake of a world that must remember its history, must remember the legacy of peoples who have come and gone. Our interest therefore in the world’s cultural heritage is not just philosophical. It is very much personal. Our history is indeed intertwined with the history of our neighbors, with their history. We are dismayed at attempts to ignore this history. We are appalled at attempts to undo this history. We are not the only ones who have said from this podium that the destruction of a people’s patrimony is tantamount to destroying their memory, their history, their identity. Unfortunately, we have neighbors who have built today’s identity on a less than real history. And we see the trauma and instability that results. Once again, we urge UNESCO to send monitors to our region, specifically to Nakhijevan, to see and appropriately judge the intentional destruction in areas far removed from war and confrontation. Prosperity and peace is the goal of all UN agencies. In UNESCO, we have a better chance of achieving our objectives because our fields of interest are those that cross borders and frontiers naturally, across differences and distances and across histories and memories.

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