The people of the world have become deprived of many priceless artifacts that have come down to us from the ages of antiquity. The depravity of ISIS, in its warped religious fervor, continues its assault on the heritage of the “cradle of civilization”.
My heart aches when I hear of the destruction of such amazing places as the ancient city of Nimrud in Iraq. The place is one of the most rare and precious archaeological sites in the entire Middle East. Nimrud, first known as “Khalka” in Assyria, was the capital of the first great empire. It is famous in old literature and many sacred writings. Nimrud is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In February of this year ISIS systematically destroyed and burned thousands of books and original copies of rare manuscripts at the Mosul Library. The United Nations notes that the terrorists purposely destroyed one of the most valuable library collections of mankind. The ruination rivals that of the burning of the Library of Alexandria by religious authorities in 391 CE.
Many other amazing archaeological sites are being bulldozed and dynamited by the barbarians in their misguided attempts at cultural cleansing, destruction of heritage, and persecution of minorities. This is being done to destroy evidence of alternatives to ISIS’ barbaric fundamentalism. It is a slap in the face to the Roarich Pact and the Banner of Peace.
The Roerich Pact was authored and promoted by Russian artist Nicholas Roerich to protect the priceless treasures of humanity. In summary, the agreement provides for protections of artistic, educational, religious, scientific, and all other sites of cultural significance in the world. The Roerich Pact states that all culturally significant sites should be respected and protected by all nations during times of war and peace. It was signed in Washington, DC on April 15, 1935.
Nicholas Roerich was born on October 9, 1874 in Saint Petersburg in the Russian Empire. His father was descended from Swedish nobility and his mother came from a prosperous Russian merchant family. Roerich was educated in law and history at St. Petersburg University and took art lessons at the Academy of Art. As a student he became a member of the Russian Archaeological Society.
Following graduation and his marriage, he became interested in Slavic and Russian art and architecture. Roerich also became involved in Theosophy which was in style at that time in Russia. The belief system was a major influence on his life and work. Not only did he produce thousands of artworks, Roerich was an integral figure in Russian art culture. In 1910, he re-established the World of Art Society and became its chairman.
During World War One he raised funds for charity, especially for wounded soldiers and their families. This is the same time period that Roerich began to advocate for a “peace pact” to protect artistic and cultural treasures.
One of the other influential aspects of Roerich’s life and times was Buddhism. Prior to the Russian Revolution, he had become one of the leading experts on Buddhist philosophy in Russia. He spearheaded the construction of the “Datsan Gunzechoinei, a temple in St. Petersburg. Although the strong Russian Orthodox Church opposed it, the first service took place in 1913 and full consecration happened in 1915.
The political strife was unkind to the site. It was sacked during the revolution and used as a barracks for the Red Army. During the 1920s it reopened briefly, then was banned by 1929. During the 1930s the Buddhists of St. Petersburg were either imprisoned or executed.
During the Russian Revolution, Roerich was invited to Sweden. Stockholm became the stepping off point for his travels to Britain and then the United States. He had been invited to the US by the Chicago Institute of Art for a series of exhibitions across the country. Not only was his artwork warmly received, but also his advocacy for the preservation and popularization of art.
Roerich was instrumental in founding the association, “Cor Ardens” in the West as well as the Corona Mundi (Crown of the World) in India. In 1923, the Nicholas Roerich Museum opened in New York City. At this same time, he toured India and much of Asia, including Tibet.
Because he was unwelcome in his native Russia and because he had become fascinated with Asia, Roerich made his home in the Kullu region of northern India. It was there, he founded the Urusvati Institute of Himalayan Studies. This became his base of operations for more world studies and travels.
In 1931, an international artistic conference was held in Bruges, Belgium. It was there, that world leaders and authorities were exposed to Roerich’s “peace pact”. His first edition of statements and letters were published that year as “The Roerich Pact and Banner of Peace”. More conventions of the Pact were held in the early 1930s in the US.
In late 1933, the Pan-American Union in Montevideo, Uruguay passed a unanimous resolution to endorse the pact. The following year Pact and Banner of Peace committees were established in such places as Manchuria, and northern Europe. In the US, President Franklin Roosevelt assigned the Secretary of Agriculture, Henry Wallace, to represent American interests regarding the Roerich Pact.
It was on Pan-American Day, April 15, 1935, the pact was agreed to, by 21 nations of the Western Hemisphere. It was signed by Henry Wallace in the presence of representatives from South and Central American countries and President Roosevelt. The pact was soon signed by the other nations.
The symbol of the Pact and the movement is the Banner of Peace. It is derived from ancient examples of the symbol appearing on Stone Age artifacts. Many amulets of that age have been found that display three dots. Roerich interpreted the dots as representing Art, Science, and Religion. He included the circle surround to represent time.
To commemorate the adoption of the Roerich Pact and Banner of Peace, Roerich proposed the Universal Day of Culture to take place each year on April 15th. His wishes were posthumously granted in late 2008 by Nongovernmental Organizations from 14 nations and private individuals involved in the movement.