Sredharan Metair: Oran, birth of a heritage consciousness

The introduction of the texts of the speakers at the meeting of 2 March 2013 in Venice (see the presentation of the meeting and see the texts already online) continues. Here is the text of the speech by Sredharan Metair, president of the Bel Horizon Association in Oran. Why and how to involve the inhabitants and heritage communities in the cultural heritage and with what results? The experience of the Bel Horizon Association in Oran, Algeria. The heritage consciousness is very recent in Algeria. The Law on the protection of the heritage, Law 98/04, was promulgated in 1998 and the decrees of application in 2003. Meanwhile, our country has lost whole parts of its heritage. Before that, heritage defenders were recruited into journalists, architects and some elites only.  But in the absence of adequate legal framework, their action remained limited. The most edifying example was the construction, in the years 80, of a 17-storey building in the heart of a classified heritage site, located in the city centre, with the concurrence of the Ministry of Culture, in charge of heritage protection! Today, 30 years later, this unfinished, concrete carcass still sits in this site that has completely deteriorated! The urban restructuring, bulldozed, demolished, in record time, what the elders took centuries to build. Old Oran, a historic city, is fallow and looks like a neighborhood that has been bombarded. With the beginning of the democratic opening of the years 90, heritage protection associations or NGOs were born. They have contributed significantly to the dissemination of heritage culture and to the awareness of citizens and public authorities, based on provisions of law 98/04, which open up good prospects for intervention to civil society: Article 91 any legally constituted association proposing by its statutes to act for the Protection of Cultural property may be a civil party in respect of offences under this Act. Moreover, Article 17: (...) The monuments are subject to the order of the minister responsible for culture after the opinion of the National Commission of Cultural Property, on his own initiative or any other person having interest. However, despite this progress, our country suffers from a particular problem, namely that heritage heritage is not shared for ideological reasons. Indeed: Our country has an exceptional heritage stratification: a prehistoric period of more than 100 000 years, Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine, Arab-Muslim, Ottoman, Spanish, French, but this richness is not perceived As such, since it was the product of a story, certainly rich, but tumultuous and complex. A history punctuated, for centuries, by wars, conquests and extremely violent colonizations. Therefore our perception of the heritage in Algeria is not common: are the monuments reminiscent of the French period considered, by all, as National heritage? We take this example because it is a recent history with a very large number of monuments and other remarkable buildings. Law 98/04 has come to propose a shared conception of the heritage as a whole, since article 2 specifies: Under this law, the cultural heritage of the nation is considered to be all property culturelsimmobiliers, real estate by Destination and existing furniture on and in the soil of the buildings of the national domain, belonging to natural persons or legal entities of private law, as well as in the basement of the national inland and territorial waters bequeathed by the various Civilizations that have succeeded from prehistory to the present day. This common perception, advocated by the law, allows us to envisage the appropriation of the heritage as a whole, whether it be the inheritance of colonization or otherwise! We have offered to give visibility to this Oran heritage, whose characteristic is to be a stratified heritage, diversified but unfortunately, again, not yet totally shared:

  • Prehistory:
  • Antique:
  • Arab Muslim:
  • Spanish:
  • Ottoman:
  • French:

It is from this observation and from this legal framework that we have undertaken, over the last 10 years, an awareness-raising work in the direction of young people, in particular and of the general population:

  • Through the training of young heritage and city guides (3 promotions of 20 young people each time),
  • By a work of inventory of historic sites and monuments, followed by the publication of a guide to historic sites and monuments,
  • Through the organization of workshops on the subjectivity of heritage and the layout of patrimonial circuits,
  • And finally the creation of several thematic circuits, adapted to the target audiences and to the different communities:, female landmarks of the heritage Oran, remarkable tree circuits, sites and historical monuments, landmarks Camusiens and Roblésiens, Architecture of the twentieth Art Deco and Neo-Moorish etc.

But the brand of our association remains the hiking on the heritage circuits. Organized once a month, with an average of one hundred participants, the heritage hike takes a spectacular look the may1 of each year, with thousands of participants and in a large social mix.  This mass activity is wanted spectacular to precisely strike the imagination and arouse the wonder of being together, to discover together what can bring back the heritage in terms of improving the environment of life and desire to "live together"! All of these actions have helped to involve the communities in gradually appropriating their heritage in its entirety. The public authorities are announcing real prospects of taking over old Oran. We propose to accompany these actions, through the mobilization of the communities, to ensure that the heritage serves also and above all the cultural needs of these populations and avoid the tendency to want to muséifier these heritage spaces. In conclusion, we can say that the heritage awareness has been affirmed at all levels. Heritage associations exist throughout the country and are organized in the form of networks, one of which has been animated by our association for the last ten years and which we have called "plural inheritances".  We also fully adhere to the objectives of the Faro Convention, hoping that one day we can organize a meeting like this in Oran. A whole program! Sredharan Metair, Venice, March 2013

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