12.12.2012 -

Looking Back and Moving Forward: 20 Years After the Inscription of Angkor on the World Heritage List

@UNESCO/Chanthul Suos - Adhoc experts visiting Srah Srong, Siem Reap

14 December 2012 is the 20th anniversary of the inscription of Angkor on the World Heritage List. Stretching over some 401 km², including the forested areas, the Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century.

Angkor does not refer only to Angkor Wat but also to Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple, and the hydraulic structures and other monuments around it. Angkor has become an integral part of the Cambodian identity and continues to attract millions of national and international tourists every year.

This year’s International Coordinating Committee for Angkor (ICC-Angkor) meeting which will take place from 5-6 December will serve as an opportunity to launch the 20th anniversary of the inscription of Angkor on the World Heritage List. The celebration which was planned for the 20th anniversary of this inscription, however, has been postponed until June 2013 due to the national mourning period for His Majesty the King Father, Samdech Preah NORODOM Sihanouk. It is a timely occasion to reflect and appreciate the key role that the King himself had played in inscribing Angkor to the World Heritage List for his country.

On 21 September 1991, HM the King Father NORODOM Sihanouk, Former-Chairman of the Supreme National Council of Cambodia, launched an appeal to UNESCO to safeguard the Angkor monuments. On 30 November 1991, in response to the request of the King, Federico Mayor, the former Director-General of UNESCO, officially launched the “Save Angkor” appeal to safeguard one of the world’s finest complexes of historical monuments. This call for international cooperation was imperative to save the park and was quickly followed by international action.

In December 1992, at the 16th session of the World Heritage Committee, Angkor was inscribed on the World Heritage List and was simultaneously listed as World Heritage in danger. Angkor quickly captured the imagination and attention of the international community, which led to the first conference on Angkor in Tokyo in October 1993, and soon, the establishment of the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC-Angkor).

The creation of the ICC-Angkor was one of the conditions given by the World Heritage Committee to accept the Angkor Site on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Since that time, the ICC-Angkor has convened regularly twice a year, thus consistently following up with all operations being carried out on the site. It is a remarkable mechanism with a strong international and multilateral perspective. As many as 30 international teams from 16 countries have been working on restoration, conservation, research and sustainable development efforts in Angkor, and the ICC has successfully coordinated and pulled together numerous efforts to maximize project impact.

Over the years, ICC-Angkor has successfully fostered a true community of experts from all over the world, those who lead the work in conservation and sustainable development through dialogue and debate. Mr. Philippe Delanghe, UNESCO Culture Programme Specialist, when asked about the greatest achievement of the ICC, he says: “I think the biggest achievement of ICC is the fact that due to its good work, Angkor has been saved for posterity. Secondly, ICC has been a force that has driven the international community together, to be united in achieving a particular goal.  Different countries have very different ideas regarding the best way to do conservation and restoration work, but at ICC, these communities have to sit around a table and discuss the best way. For 19 years, this has been successful. ICC contributes peace to the world. Normally people do not think of conservation and restoration work as a way to bring about peace, but ICC does in a way, as everyone from all over the world is brought together for a single purpose.”

Due to the efforts of the ICC-Angkor, in 2004, Angkor was removed from the World Heritage List in Danger. Currently, the UNESCO Phnom Penh Office continues to work with the Royal Government of Cambodia and the international community on three major restoration projects namely at the Angkor Wat Temple, the Bayon Temple in the Angkor Thom Complex, the former capital of the Khmer Empire and the Srah Srang Royal Basin Group, respectively supported by the Japan and Italian Governments and a private institution. One development project called the “Angkor Heritage Management Framework” is financially supported by the Government of Australia and the Royal Government of Cambodia. These restoration and conservation projects are long-term, focusing on the technical aspect of restoration, community development and the training of a new generation of promising Cambodian experts.

This 20th anniversary is an important juncture to look back and triumph at the past successes, consider new challenges, and reflect on the future path of Angkor. It is hoped that the international community, the Royal Government of Cambodia and UNESCO will continue their efforts for decades to come in order to protect and promote this site of Outstanding Universal Value

For more information, please contact Ms. Jamie Lee, Communication and Information Focal Point, at hj.lee(at)unesco.org

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