Blue Shield International was honoured recently to receive a gift and letter of thanks from the Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) for our support to LAF for the protection of damaged historic buildings following the Beirut explosion last August.
In conjunction with the Lebanese Blue Shield National Committee and supported by the Austrian National Committee, BSI has been working in Lebanon since 2013 helping to train LAF and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on cultural property protection (CPP). It was one of the key factors that made it possible for BSI to respond so quickly to the Beirut emergency, in partnership with both of them.
The gift, an inscribed plaque, was presented to BSI by General Sami Houyek, Head of the Beirut Forward Emergency Response, and given to Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly, of the Lebanese National Committee of the Blue Shield, standing in for BSI President, Professor Peter Stone. BSI’s then president Karl von Habsburg visited Beirut within days of the explosion to offer support and one of Stone’s first actions as the new President was a second follow up visit in October.
The building in question was the historic palace that housed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“About two thirds of the roof had been lost. So one of the things that we were able to do with LAF and UNIFIL working together was to put a temporary roof back on and then pull the walls back together that were already beginning to pull apart.” Peter remarked. “It was an astonishing four-way partnership, because, of course, the government’s Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA) was involved as well.”
Volunteers from Blue Shield Lebanon have worked tirelessly with UNIFIL and the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA) to secure buildings such as the registered historic Ministry of Foreign Affairs Building (DGA video).
Funding for BSI’s emergency work on the palace, museums, libraries and other damaged historic buildings in Beirut was provided by the Prince Claus Fund, ALIPH, The UK’s Cultural Protection Fund, and the Gerda Henkel Foundation. Many other people also offered to help showing an incredible motivation and sense of solidarity. “We were very lucky that the Lebanese National Committee has got some very good and enthusiastic members,” Peter recalls, “supported by volunteers and by a local population who value their cultural heritage enormously. They were all wanting to lend a hand.”
In his letter of thanks, addressed to “To the President of Blue Shield International and its members”, General Aoun, Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, expressed:
“sincere acknowledgment and gratitude for your kind initiative of providing materials and tools to the Lebanese Armed Forces to enable the securing of the palace housing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its contents. Your initiative is highly valued by the Lebanese Army Command for the cooperation it represents with Lebanon in general, and with the Lebanese Armed Forces in particular, after the Beirut blast.
“It was because we had confidence in them, and more importantly they had confidence in us, that they were willing to deploy personnel and equipment to work with us on one of the biggest problems for the historic buildings that were damaged.
One of the things that we always say is that you have to do CPP training long term. It really shows what can be done if you build relationships over time.”
explains BSI President Peter Stone.