Italy and UNESCO have signed an agreement to create a special Italian task force to protect art, cultural sites, and ancient artifacts that are located in areas of war or conflict around the world. They will also form a center in Turin to train cultural heritage experts. The agreement arose from a proposal presented by Italy last October that was backed by 53 countries and the UN Security Council.
Conceived as the cultural version of the Blue Helmets — the UN’s peacekeeping forces — the group will initially be composed of 30 police detectives specializing in art theft, and 30 archeologists and art restorers and historians, who “are already operational and ready to go where UNESCO sends them,” said Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Culture, during the ceremony to sign the agreement.
“The establishment of a Task Force bringing together cultural heritage experts and the Italian Carabinieri force specialized in the fight against the illicit trafficking in cultural property will enhance our capacity to respond to future emergencies,” UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokovathe, said in a press release. Unlike the original Blue Helmets, this operative unit won’t be engaged militarily, but rather will focus on preventing art trafficking and repairing the damage caused by crises and natural disasters.
While the Italian initiative aims to protect cultural monuments in the event of both natural disasters and armed conflicts, it was the destruction of the ancient site of Palmyra in Syria by the Islamic State in August 2015 that spurred the definitive support for the initiative by the members of the UN.