DOHA - The Arbil Citadel that dominates the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan was granted World Heritage Site status Saturday in a move praised as a rare ‘note of optimism’ amid the country’s violence.
Delegates at UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee voted to grant the coveted status at a gathering in Doha, where they are considering some 40 cultural and natural wonders for inclusion on the UN list. A member of the Iraqi delegation praised the inclusion as ‘a gift you have made to my people and all the communities of Iraq... who are in such need of a note of optimism right now.’ The Arbil Citadel is a formerly fortified occupied mound in the centre of Erbil that is among the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the world, dating back at least 6,000 years.
Arbil has been largely insulated from the latest unrest in Iraq, where Sunni insurgents have overrun swathes of territory north of Baghdad, displacing hundreds of thousands and threatening the country’s very existence. The Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation oversees the system of granting World Heritage status to important cultural and natural sites. Obtaining the status for sites is a point of pride for many nations and can boost tourism, but it comes with strict conservation rules.