Between Crisis and Hope: Reconstructing Cultural Heritage in the Middle East Webseminar 10.12.2020

The material cultural heritage in the countries of the Middle East is exposed to a constant danger from crises and wars. Many of our scholarship holders, alumni and partners are involved in the care, preservation or reconstruction of architectural monuments in their fields of study or in their professions. The aim of the event was to bundle this expertise of our network for the first time and to present perspectives from different fields. The 52 participants of this web seminar “Between Crisis and Hope: Reconstructing Cultural Heritage in the Middle East”, led by Dr. Nora Kalbarczyk and Santra Sontowski, were scholarship holders and alumni of various programs who joined in from different countries: Among them were scholarship holders from the Middle East studying in Germany as well as scholarship holders and alumni from the Third Country and In-Country  scholarship programs studying in Jordan and Lebanon. The range of countries included our focus countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Syria) as well as Iraq.

First, the event was opened by a spiritual impulse by Fr. Dr. Jules Boutros from our Lebanese partner board – the impulse dealt with the importance of dreams for our spiritual and worldly life starting from St. Joseph. Afterwards there was a short introduction to KAAD to bring all participants – whether new scholars or alumni – on the same level.

The first lecture, entitled “Rebuilding Beirut, Rebuilding Hope,” was given by Dr. Ziad Fahed, a member of our Lebanese partner board and director of the University Mission Office at the University of Notre Dame Louaize in Lebanon, as well as founder of the NGO Dialogue for Life and Reconciliation (DLR). Dr. Fahed, who earned his doctorate in France and then returned to Lebanon, demonstrated how much individuals in community are capable of contributing to the well-being of their fellow people, despite all adverse and often precarious circumstances. The devastating explosion that destroyed a large part of Beirut on August 4, 2020, claiming quite a few lives and leaving many Beirut residents homeless and traumatized, hit Lebanon in the midst of an economic and political crisis of unprecedented proportions. Despite the difficult conditions in Lebanon, many volunteers in the DLR organization, whose primary concern is to promote peaceful coexistence among Lebanon’s many religious communities, are now engaged in rebuilding destroyed homes of people in need. The effort is not to leave the country to those who have led it to the abyss, but instead, to advocate for change and for a “civilization of love, solidarity and hope” themselves.

In the second presentation, “Safeguarding Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis. The Activities of ArcHerNet (Archaeological Heritage Network) and the Stunde Null Projects”, former KAAD scholarship holder Dr. Nathalie Kallas presented the so-called “Stunde Null” project of the German Archaeological Institute and the Archaeological Heritage Network, of which she is the project leader. The term “Stunde Null” (‘zero hour’), which originally came from the military jargon and was later used to describe Germany after the end of World War 2, depicts in this context the situation of cultural heritage in war zones after the end of the military operations. The project aims to strengthen local stakeholders in their efforts to care for and preserve tangible and intangible cultural heritage on different levels. One level, for example, includes advanced training courses for architects, archaeologists, preservationists, building researchers, urban planners, and especially craftsmen to deepen their technical knowledge. On another level, book projects for passing on intangible cultural assets such as fairy tales are being promoted, among other things.

The discussions after the presentations were very lively, followed by an exchange in small groups. It was suggested that a KAAD expert group be founded in the field of architecture and spatial planning or cultural heritage. Thus, it can be stated that this seminar has set a special example, both in terms of the format and the topic.