Francophonie & Heritage in the Middle East: report handed to the President of the Republic
Below you will find the summary of Charles Personnaz’s report handed to the President of the Republic: “Strengthen France’s action in protecting the heritage of the Middle East and supporting the educational network of the Christian communities in the region.”
Charles Personnaz is the Director of the Institut national du patrimoine (National Heritage Institute – institute of higher education under the auspices of the French Ministry of Culture). He was commissioned by the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, to write a report on strengthening of France’s action in protecting the heritage of the Middle East. Orient and support to the educational network of the Christian communities of the region.
Here you will find the complete report (in French) commissioned by the President of the Republic.
True to the universal principles that it advocates, France is committed to pluralism and freedom in the Middle East. Conscious of its ties and its historic responsibilities in this region, it applies this policy with respect to all parties, all nations, and all communities.
As part of this engagement, France grants special, non-exclusive consideration to supporting Christian and other communities in danger, such as the Yazidis, thus honouring its deep ties to the region. This action should not, however, be regarded as fulfilling a nostalgic duty or as a mere gesture to a shared past. On the contrary, the attention that France bestows on these communities forms part of an overall investment whose purpose is to build peace and prosperity in the region, an investment that is also profoundly beneficial for France.
This investment for the future is all the more urgent as these communities that have experienced terrible suffering in recent years – whose very existence is threatened by the millions who have died and the exile of hundreds of thousands of their members – are tempted to flee their country definitively and en masse. This would lead to the loss of the Middle East’s pluralistic nature, a deep-rooted portion of its cultural sources and its multi-denominational character. The unique bond between France and the Arabic world, these two communities that bridge the Mediterranean, would be irredeemably impaired.
This report focuses on two topics that may seem unconnected but which are, in reality, intrinsically interrelated, as they both serve to create a new social conscience in the Near and Middle East: support for heritage conservation and for Christian communities’ educational facilities.
The region’s Christian communities are custodians of two millennia of heritage. This multi-faceted legacy has suffered from the ravages of time, from the lack of resources to ensure its protection, and to this very day, from the furies of devastating war. In Syria and Iraq, civil war and iconoclastic violence by Islamist movements have seriously affected all communities – from Yazidis, to Sunni and Shiite Muslims alike. In other Arab-world countries, the risk stems more from a lack of protection against the pressures of unbridled urban development.
To develop and provide assistance in the field of heritage conservation, France can draw on a longstanding tradition of study and research into the oriental world, nurtured by French universities, libraries and museums. This rich fusion of knowledge and human bonds has, for some years, been complemented by an awareness of the fragility of this heritage of humankind. The distressing spectacle of the destruction of Palmyra and other emblematic landmarks has helped to create new modes of response. Thus, on the initiative of France, the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas was founded.
Thanks to this expertise and by means of these new tools, this report presents several proposals, specifically: to use French cultural institutions to highlight the rich Eastern Christian, Yazidi, and Jewish civilisations in the Middle East; to implement a concerted plan to protect written heritage; to strengthen cooperation in the sphere of cultural cataloguing; to make proposals to the ALIPH for restoration projects in these communities ; and to conduct projects to showcase this cultural heritage, via the French Development Agency.
By helping to protect these communities’ heritage, we are re-asserting that they are the custodians of art, ideas, and a faith that go back to the very roots of Arabic societies, and that these roots engender a will to help build the future of these societies and transmit a specific cultural identity that is open to the world.
The Christian communities wish to share the cultural heritage they have inherited and serve the societies to which they belong by making a concerted effort in favour of education for everyone; Christians and Muslims alike, rich and poor, people from all regions. The Christian school network is dense and standards are high. It advocates the principles of the French Republic and must be supported by France for two major reasons: firstly, because it is the principal vector of the French language in this region, and secondly, because it provides a space to build peace and fellowship. Children of all religions learn and grow up together in these schools.
As spaces of freedom, these schools must receive more support. They have to face a variety of challenges: political, financial, training issues, and the decline of the French-speaking environment. These are real, major challenges, but France can provide sufficient backing to ensure that, together, we can rise to them. It can do so by creating a support fund, by establishing public-private partnerships, by developing continuing education including for non-bilingual schools, by encouraging French-speaking volunteers, by spreading best practices to other countries, and by extending its appreciation to all the stakeholders in the network.
The Christian school network in the Middle East provides a public service with three benefits: it enables the Christian communities to envisage a future in their land; it gives the Arab states good-quality education that is open to all and open to the world; and it gives France an invaluable means to extend its cultural influence, a culture that it shares with the Near and Middle East.
Now, as these war-stricken countries begin to rebuild, at a time when efforts to secure stability and peace in the region must be intensified, by making a commitment to the Middle East’s heritage and the Christian community’s education network France is actually establishing part of its future relationship with the Near and Middle East. In order to achieve this ambition, various proposals – political and technical, ad hoc, or structural – are outlined in the following pages. They could be announced during one of the President of the Republic’s scheduled visits to the region (to Egypt, Lebanon, or Iraq) and monitored every two years, coordinated by the President’s diplomatic unit and implemented by the Ministry for European and Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for National Education and the Ministry for Culture. A special advisor could be appointed by the President of the Republic to follow the mission for the next three years, with a special remit to prepare the 2019 Paris conference on victims of ethnic and religious violence in the Middle East and implement the recommendations of the present report. Relating as it does to cultural and educational matters, it would be appropriate for the Institut de France to sponsor this action.