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Culture as a Catalyst for Development in Syria


Please also see: Press Release in Arabic

A model of revitalisation, the Souq al Saghir project in Masyaf was inaugurated on June 26th 2003 under the patronage of the Governor of the Hama Province.A model of revitalisation, the Souq al Saghir project in Masyaf was inaugurated on June 26th 2003 under the patronage of the Governor of the Hama Province.Damascus, Syria, 26 June 2003 - A model of revitalisation, the Souq al Saghir project in Masyaf was inaugurated on June 26th 2003 under the patronage of the Governor of the Hama Province. One of several activities of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in Syria, the project uses cultural heritage and the built environment to catalyse social and economic development in Masyaf. The initiative is a collaborative endeavour between the City of Masyaf, the proprietors of the Souq, and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network. All activities undertaken by the AKDN in Syria are implemented under the Framework Development Agreement signed in November 2001 by His Highness the Aga Khan and the Government of Syria.

In addition to the Souq al Saghir, the AKTC is restoring the Masyaf Citadel and the Old Serai - a historic Ottoman municipal building - and creating pedestrian access between several historical sites in the old city. Restoration activities are part of a wider area development strategy for Masyaf including the development of a master plan for the old city, the creation of a public park, the provision of housing improvement loans, and the establishment of micro credit facilities aimed at stimulating income-generation in the community of Masyaf.

"The Souq has become a focal point for tourists and a source of pride for the residents of Masyaf," said Mr. Tayseer Haj Hussain, Chairman of the Souq Committee. "As shop-owners, we believe that improving the physical appearance of the Souq will bring more visitors to the area and stimulate economic activity."

The project features the rehabilitation of 76 traditional shop facades including the restoration of public areas and the installation of new street roofing. The project has capitalized on the resourcefulness of local people to repair buildings, clean and replace stone facades, and install new amenities such as salsabils, ponds, information panels, and disposal facilities.

"The aim of our project is to restore the Souq - which dates back to the early 20th century - to its original commercial and cultural importance," said Adli Qudsi, representative of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Syria. "The project was driven by the active participation of the local community and exemplifies how investing in culture can catalyze economic development and bring about social revitalisation, a process we have seen in other areas where the Trust is active."

The Souq neighbours the historic Masyaf citadel, originally built during the Byzantine period. The citadel was host to various communities throughout its history and was used as a base by the famous 12th century leader Rashid al Din Sinan. Restoration of the Masyaf citadel is carried out in close collaboration with the Syrian Department of Antiquities and includes rehabilitation of the physical structure, excavation of rain-water harvesting systems, preparation of visitor facilities, and the injection of local lime mortar - replacing cement used in previous restorations - which lasts up to 800 years.

In addition to the Citadel of Masyaf, the AKTC is participating in the rehabilitation of the citadels of Salah al Din and Aleppo. At Salah al Din, the Trust has completed restoration of the 12th - 13th century Ayyubid complex, consisting of a mosque, a madrasa, and a palace. In Aleppo, the project focuses on the rehabilitation of the citadel, the creation of a strategic urban plan to conserve areas within the old city, and the provision of loans for income generation and housing improvement, targeting communities surrounding the citadel.

In all cases, AKTC activities are carried out in close collaboration with the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums within the Syrian Ministry of Culture. Apart from physical conservation, the Trust conducts onsite training designed to build capacity and cultivate expertise amongst Syrian staff.

Investing in culture is part of an integrated approach to development taken by the Aga Khan Development Network in Syria. Projects of the Network are complementary in nature and designed to improve the lives of people by increasing opportunities and encouraging self-reliance. Other projects of the AKDN in Syria consist of interventions in health, education, early childhood development, water management, and microfinance. The Network is currently active within the Governorates of Aleppo, Hama, Tartous, and Lattakia.

The AKDN is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies and institutions that seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities. Active in over 30 countries, the Network's underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society and its agencies and institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of origin, gender or religion. For more information please visit www.akdn.org.  

For further information, please contact:
Mr. Aleem Walji
Programme Coordinator
Aga Khan Development Network
Damascus
Syria
Tel: +963.11.334 3610/11
Fax: +963.11.334 3613
Mobile: +963 93 229906
E-mail: aleem.walji@akdnsyria.automail.com  
or
The Information Department
Aiglemont
60270 Gouvieux
France
Tel: +33.3.44.58.40.00
Fax: +33.3.44.58.11.14
E-mail: information@aiglemont.org  

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