IT’S no small task, the collective mission in which Unesco is engaged. On Monday, November 16 Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, will be celebrating 75 years. Perhaps best known for its register of World Heritage Sites from the Taj Mahal to Cape Coast Slave Fort, to Great Zimbabwe and the Sydney Opera House, the work Unesco undertakes sustaining outstanding scientific, educational and cultural achievements, is immense. In recent years through the Unesco Global Geoparks and Biosphere Reserves even the rights of the land itself to protection and legal personality have emerged. North West Highlands and Shetland are our Geoparks and Wester Ross and Galloway and Southern Ayrshire, our Biospheres. The Unesco Chair in Sustainable Mountain Development at University of Highlands and Islands adds to this environmental focus with academic expertise.

With the Memory of the World project an immense archive of precious documents is preserved and Scotland’s entries in those catalogues include the Declaration of Arbroath, the evacuation of St Kilda film and photography, Royal Scottish Archives, Edinburgh and Lothian HIV/AIDS Collections, Company of Scotland, Registry of Slaves of the British Caribbean, and Aberdeen Burgh Registers. Scotland has three Unesco Creative Cities – Glasgow City of Music, Dundee City of Design and Edinburgh City of Literature, joining a powerful cultural network worldwide.

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The World Heritage Sites in Scotland are remarkable feats of engineering, and social visioning from New Lanark, to the Forth Bridge, ­Edinburgh and St Kilda to Neolithic Orkney, and the Antonine Wall. In the UK National Commission for ­Unesco’s Report on the national ­value of Unesco to the UK, the economic contribution of Unesco designations alone to the UK was calculated to be £151 million, but with social and environmental value also being incorporated and expanding the reach of the economic into ­areas of a wellbeing economy.

The Preamble to the Constitution of Unesco from 1945 declares that “since wars begin in the minds of men [sic] it is in the minds of men [sic] that the defences of peace must be constructed”. The language has been updated – men, women, people – and Unesco’s work has come to focus on cultures of peace, and education for peace and non-violence, through quality education and lifelong learning for all, through mobilising science knowledge and policy for sustainable development, addressing emerging social and ethical challenges, fostering cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and a culture of peace, and building inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication.

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These are indeed the mainstay of both liberal and also radical democracy. If Scotland aims to be a country in which all can flourish, then these aims are crucial. They do not, for instance, point to the need to increase the wealth of the few at the expense of the many, they do not aim to ­colonise knowledge but rather Unesco has quietly produced an immensely important project: The General History of Africa since 1964 with a view “to remedy the general ignorance on Africa’s history”. The challenge consisted of reconstructing Africa’s history, freeing it from racial prejudices ensuing from the slave trade and colonisation, and promoting an African perspective.

Unesco therefore called upon the-then utmost African and non-African experts. These experts’ work represented 35 years of cooperation between more than 230 historians and other specialists, and was overseen by an International Scientific Committee which comprised two-thirds of Africans. This is sobering indeed to those of us who think de-colonising the curriculum is a new task in 2020. It’s 56 year’s old and counting.

On Thursday, Patrick Grady MP launched an Early Day Motion in the UK Parliament with the present text as follows: “That this House congratulates the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Unesco, which celebrates its 75th anniversary on Monday, November 16, 2020; notes that the organisation was founded in London in 1945 to build peace through international cooperation in education, the sciences and culture; further notes that since then the organisation has built up a global network of 193 member states and has designated 1121 World Heritage Sites, 246 Creative Cities, 161 Global Geoparks and 701 Biosphere Reserves around the world, including 165 designations across the UK.”

These are grand figures and grand projects in scale and imagination. They are slow, and often bureaucratically unwieldy. That is how knowledge proceeds. But they are also vital.

Sadly, wars are still being made – just this week, and in this case ­accurately – in the “minds of men” – as Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia and Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea declared war on Tigray, in Ethiopia.

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Over the last 10 days, we have both been watching closely the news of war and violence in Ethiopia. The news headlines from the region read as follows: “Tigray regional government troops massacred civilians and destroyed army bases in Northern Ethiopia”; “Ethiopia’s Federal Government declared a state of emergency, waged war on Tigray”; “Civil war brewing in Ethiopia”; “Eritrea attacked Tigray forces”.

These headlines scratch the unhealed wounds of war that has been the unpleasant norm in the region for generations. And all that is in the middle of a pandemic. Suspended in violent stasis and state-imposed solitude, families and friends have no choice but to pray for peace to prevail. In the middle of such sad news, there comes a time for celebration.

ERITREANS make up a significant worldwide diaspora of people who have sought sanctuary and the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of this small country in the Horn of Africa is immense. It is not well known in Scotland. Those from the Eritrean diaspora are busy recovering from the torture camps of Sawa in Eritrea or Libya, and piecing their lives back together as refugees.

It’s easy, in a mood of national pride in Scotland, to focus on our own back yard. But the network of connections and commonalities between Creative Cities, World Heritage Sites, Memory of World artefacts and scholars gives the designations life.

This year, to celebrate Unesco at 75 the Unesco Chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts at the University of Glasgow will bring the Asmara World Heritage Site into the spotlight, with myself (Hyab) and Tesfalem Yehanne introducing you to the City of Asmara and its ­architecture, as well critically, to ­other sites in Eritrea, which have not yet made the register but are significant cultural sites.

To have the chance to share our world heritage with Scotland, through an online event at a Scottish Unesco designation, and to offer gifts to delegates from Eritrean culture is special, and an unusual occasion. It not only makes things less difficult to bear but also suppresses the worries, resets the mood and infuses hope – an expectation of a better future, of a peace, one that is not born yet.

To register for a “sensory” online experience of the Unesco World Heritage Site in Eritrea please register here and we will be sending out a special gift to the first 75 people to register. If you would like to receive your gift, please make sure to fill out your address details on the registration page:

Hyab Yohannes is Unesco RILA PhD Scholar at the University of Glasgow and Alison Phipps is Unesco’s Chair for Refugee Integration, also at the University of Glasgow