For more than 30 years, Iraq has been trying to have the biggest and oldest historical site in the world recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as a heritage site.
In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm adopted a convention concerning the “Protection of the world cultural and natural heritage for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry”. According to this treaty, the listed sites are entitled to receive monetary aid under specific conditions.
Babylon has not been included in UNESCO’s list owing to interference the site has experienced over several decades. In 1987, under the presidency of Saddam Hussein, several buildings were constructed violating the architectural and historical regulations.
In the 2003 war and its aftermath, multi-national troop units used the city as a base, which led to the destruction and looting of many of its historical artefacts in the Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar museums, according to Mekki Mohamed, a tour guide in Babylon.
“The site was closed for a long time, and it was used as a military base from 2003 to 2009,” Mohamed added.
Since 1983, Iraq has been lobbying for the 4,000-year-old site to be added to the United Nations' prestigious list of protected locations. This year, the UN World Heritage Committee met in the Azerbaijan capital Baku where the 21 convening countries unanimously voted to include it.
The Iraqi government was given a deadline till February 2020 to complete the inclusion requirements, including the removal of all wastes and annexes added to the site. According to a statement by the Parliamentary Committee of Culture and Information, UNESCO "had earlier urged authorities to conserve the tourist structure of Babylon, and to perform some maintenance work in the site".
Following the announcement of naming Babylon being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dozens of Iraqi activists and citizens headed to the ancient city, which is located some 90 kilometres (60 miles) south of the capital Baghdad, to celebrate the historic event.
“It’s great news to be back on the world map,” Murad Al-Bakry, an activist and journalist, told 7Dnews.
Dr Said Ibrahim, an academic who launched the hashtag #Babylon_World_Heritage which became a slogan for the media campaign, said that the central and local governments have to play a role in breathing life into the ancient city and maintaining its infrastructure in order to restore its position as a tourist attraction.
#Babylon_World_Heritage has turned into a world trend, especially on Twitter and Facebook, according to Iraqi Digital Media Centre, an independent organisation monitoring social media.
Sadiq Madloul, a member of the parliament’s financial committee, told 7Dnews that nearly $50 million had been allocated to maintain ancient monuments in Iraq. For his part, the Minister of Culture Abdel-Amir Al-Hamdany has stated that his ministry allotted $200 million to remove any infringements.
Governor of Babylon province Karrar Al-Abady said the inclusion of ancient Babylon in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites will boost its economic and cultural status.
“It will eventually attract both local and foreign investment and create jobs, which will in turn reduce the unemployment rate in the province,” Al-Abady added.
Prior to the UNESCO decision, many cultural and civil efforts took place in a bid to show Babylon as a city of peace, culture and coexistence. Dozens of festivals were held during the past two years with the participation of international entertainers, in addition to fashion shows and poetic salons.
Salam Adel, an Iraqi journalist, sees that UNESCO’s decision has helped to boost the image of Iraq as a country endeavouring to stand on its feet once more after regaining the territories it lost to Isis.
“Now Iraq is ready to regain its historical position and join the international community once again,” Adel said.