Samarra Shrine Restoration
Sites of cultural heritage often serve as military targets or flashpoints of political, ethnic or religious conflict. At the same time, cultural heritage – the spaces, the symbolism, as well as the expressions of intangible heritage – can serve as an instrument for dialogue, social cohesion, innovation and peace. As a creative force that helps people grow and societies change, culture provides a stock of resources upon which individuals and communities may draw inspiration and guidance.
On Wednesday, 22 February 2006, unidentified assailants bombed the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest Shia'a sites in Iraq, containing the shrines of Ali Al-Hadi and Hassan Al-Askari, two of the most important Shia'a Imams, and the mausoleum of Mohammad Al Mehdi, known as the "hidden Imam", and hosting millions of pilgrims annualy.
The bombing sparked a wave of anger throughout the country – scores of humans were killed and over 200 Mosques across the country were damaged in bouts of vengeance.
On 13 June 2007, in another major strike, the Al Askari Shrine was attacked again, resulting in the destruction of its minarets. UNESCO committed to play a leading role in the rehabilitation process, contributing in the restoration of stability and local dialogue, and advancing peace.
Through 4 long years, UNESCO undertook urgent intervention works and preparation for the restoration of the Al Askari Shrine. The rebuilding of the Samarra Shrine itself offered a unique opportunity for different communities to come together to resume dialogue and restore a sense of common ownership of shared heritage. During this period, Inter-sectarian dialogue was the pillar of this strategy that aimed to contribute to the Iraqi reconciliation process through collaborative restoration of cultural heritage.