Municipalizing Historical Sites Denounced

Municipalizing Historical Sites DenouncedMunicipalizing Historical Sites Denounced

Cultural heritage officials have commended the recent attention given to historical sites in the proposed economic, cultural and social development plan (2016-21), but at least one section of the plan has irked activists: transferring ownership of some historical sites to municipalities.

An article in the plan states that ownership of historical and cultural heritage sites in cities with a population above 100,000 that are not inscribed on the National Heritage List will be granted to municipalities.

When reports first emerged about the Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization’s decision to put municipalities in charge of the sites, activists and academics alike voiced dismay, prompting numerous news outlets to report that the ICHHTO might scrap the section altogether.

However, ICHHTO chief Masoud Soltanifar dismissed the reports, stressing that the measure “will remain in place,” making it all but clear that arguing against municipalization of cultural heritage sites is an exercise in futility.

Speaking to ILNA, Hekmatollah Mollasalehi, an Iranian archeologist and academic based in Athens, Greece, said the measure will “impose a heavy cost on the country’s history.”

“Measures like that have no place in the next economic development plan, because they allow a few individuals to take undue advantage of valuable historical sites for personal profit,” he said.

Drawing a contrast between historical structures and modern buildings, the expert argued that “it is dangerous” to hand over the reins of cultural heritage to an entity

(municipalities) whose basic expertise lies in making money by demolishing old structures to build skyscrapers.

  Harming History

Taking a swipe at the proponents of privatizing ancient sites, Mollasalehi said, “The historical texture of any city is like a mirror to the past, and those pushing to sell them to private enterprise are intentionally harming our history.”

The academic is a known and vocal opponent of privatization of historical sites, but only in Iran.

“In countries such as France and Britain, the private sector understands the value of historical sites. People in these countries have had centuries of experience in protecting cultural and historical heritage.

“Even the municipalities (in France and Britain) are known for their efforts to raise public awareness toward heritage conservation,” he said, recalling the dangers posed to the UNESCO-listed Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan due to the construction of Jahan Nama Tower as an example of the private sector’s gross indifference toward historical sites in Iran.

About a decade ago, UNESCO officials who were in Isfahan to evaluate the conservation of Naqsh-e Jahan Square warned cultural heritage officials that they would list the site on World Heritage in Danger List unless the height of the tower was reduced.

In their report, the international assessors said the 14-storied structure “has defaced Naqsh-e Jahan and its skyline” and gave Iranian officials a deadline to address the problem, which was complied with.

“Europeans have had success passing historical sites over to municipalities and private firms because they have clear and verifiable conservation plans that they stick to, unlike in Iran,” Mollasalehi noted.

The ICHHTO is a proponent of transferring ownership of cultural heritage to other entities, often citing low budget and high costs of maintaining and renovating the tourist attractions.

But the archeologist says that that is indeed a lame excuse that is unacceptable.

“Instead of offloading these sites to other parties, why not empower the sole entity in the country that is qualified to protect historical heritage?” he asked as a matter of fact.