Expert to assess Bagan ahead of UNESCO conference

By YE MON | FRONTIER

YANGON — An expert from the the International Council on Monuments and Sites will visit Myanmar next month to consider the government’s application for World Heritage Listing for the ancient city of Bagan.

The Australian expert, who will arrive on September 15, will prepare a report for submission to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Committee ahead of a decision next year, said Daw Ohnmar Myo, national project officer at UNESCO’s Myanmar office.

The 21-member committee is expected to decide on the Bagan application at a conference in Azerbaijan from June 10 to July 10, 2019.

“The expert will investigate everything that UNESCO needs to know to make a decision about world heritage status and then write a recommendation for the World Heritage Committee,” she said.

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The government will have the chance to explain to the expert about the steps it has taken to prepare for World Heritage status, she added.

In January, Myanmar submitted its final nomination dossier for Bagan to UNESCO. In submitting the dossier the government pledged to implement a management plan for the Bagan heritage zone that covers issues such as local businesses, social issues, agriculture, transportation and tourism.

Earlier this year it also formed the Bagan National Coordinating Committee (BAGANCOM) led by Minister for Religious Affairs and Culture Thura U Aung Ko, with the chief ministers of Mandalay and Magway regions as vice chairs. 

Aung Ko told Frontier that he was concerned that the Rakhine crisis might affect how members of the World Heritage Committee vote next year, because eight of the 21 countries represented are Muslim-majority.

“If the committee members don’t consider the Rakhine crisis, I am 90 percent sure Bagan will get World Heritage status,” the minister said.

Ohn Mar Myo said she was also concerned about how the composition of the committee might affect the outcome, as some of the countries “do not support conserving Buddhist heritage”.

But U Aung Aung Kyaw, director of the Department of Archaeology and National Museum, said that he did not think the Rakhine crisis would have any effect on the decision.

“I’m certainly hopeful that it will not be factor in the UNESCO decision,” he said.

U San Win, a retired director general of the department and chair of the team that drafted the listing application to UNESCO, said a bigger issue was ensuring that all development and commercial activity in the Bagan area was compatible with UNESCO rules for heritage sites.

“When the experts from UNESCO come to check its status, they will write a recommendation and the government should care about that,” he said. “If Bagan is rejected and doesn’t get World Heritage status, the Burmese people will grieve.”

According to a 2017 survey by the Association of Myanmar Architects, there are 3,822 monuments in Bagan, including temples, stupas, monasteries and pagodas.

In 2016 a powerful earthquake caused significant damage to monuments in the Bagan area. The Department of Archaeology and National Museum announced at the time that 300 structures would need to be renovated.

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