Remarks by Ambassador Patricia M. Haslach at the Completion ceremony of preservation work at Biet Gabriel Raphael

Remarks by
Patricia Haslach
U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia
Completion ceremony of preservation work
at Biet Gabriel Raphael
Sunday, June 5, 2016
Lalibela, Ethiopia

(As prepared for delievery)

H.E. Engineer Aisha Mohammed, Minister, Ministry of Culture and Tourism

Aba Woldetensay, Administrator of the Lalibela Churches

Ato Melkamu Mamo, Mayor of Lalibela City Administration

Respected fathers of the Lalibela Churches

Ladies and gentlemen

I am pleased to be here today at the beautiful historical and cultural site of Lalibela to jointly inaugurate the completion of the preservation of Biet Gabriel Rafael Churches and re-consecration of the Churches, which was made possible by a grant from the U. S. government’s Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.

This project was a joint partnership and I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the American people, government and my-self, to convey our high appreciation and sincere thanks to the tremendously capable partners: the World Monuments Fund, the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the National Scientific Committee, and the local Committee, all of whom worked hard to successfully complete this ground-breaking project.

I have visited Lalibela five times since arriving in Ethiopia three years ago.  I have also travelled to other parts of Ethiopia, and visited numerous other cultural sites across the country. I am glad that I was able to have witnessed the tremendous cultural heritage of Ethiopia and, through this project, to contribute to preserving this rich historical legacy.

The American government and people are very proud to support the preservation of the Lalibela churches, which is one of the most important heritage sites in Ethiopia. Its historical, architectural and cultural significance is unparalleled. For the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, it is hugely important as a place of pilgrimage, and for Ethiopians as a whole it is regarded as a cultural icon and symbol of national identity. It is also increasingly important economically. Tourism is now a significant part of the country’s economy and Lalibela is the best known and most visited destination in Ethiopia.

The project was a major success not just because it successfully restored two UNESCO World Heritage churches, but because it broke significant new ground in the field of conservation in Ethiopia.  It had and continues to have the full support of the Ministry of Culture and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and added value to Ethiopian conservation experts to how they can conduct similar work with local materials and human resources. The project made significant progress in terms of restoring two important World Heritage churches. The process involved techniques for preservation that rely on local materials and expertise in order to make future work more manageable, cost effective and practical. This led to developing and strengthening local capacity in undertaking future preservation work.

As a result, this project earned the praise of senior Ethiopian preservation experts for successfully addressing a difficult issue at Lalibela that others had been reluctant to address due to the cultural sensitivity of the site. That issue was developing a local, sustainable and cost effective solution to address and mitigate potential rain and water damage to the rock-hewn churches in a way that maintains the natural beauty of the site. As you are well aware, some local and international experts had been afraid to attempt to develop a new solution to that issue, but the World Monument Fund (WMF) took it head on and developed a successful alternative (based to a significant extent on a UNESCO developed plan) that has won local and national praise, and promises to be a path for the future in Lalibela and in other churches across Ethiopia.

In celebrating the inauguration event, the American Embassy hopes that the Ethiopian people and government and other interested local and international funding agencies will work together to continue to raise awareness about the importance of cultural preservation. A commitment by everyone is vitally important.

In fact, I believe there are other international institutions and Embassies that are also interested in supporting cultural preservation partnerships.  In that vein, the U.S. Embassy will organize a meeting with representatives of some of these institutions to share the lessons we have learned from this project and see if we can develop additional partnerships to support preservation at other sites, of course in close collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, religious institutions, and the local communities.

In conclusion, thank you for having me here today, congratulations on the successfully completed Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation Project and I wish you all every success with your future preservation endeavors.