Signet Roerich Pact

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The Treaty on the Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments or Roerich Pact is an inter-American treaty. The most important idea of the Roerich Pact is the legal recognition that the defense of cultural objects is more important than the use or destruction of that culture for military purposes, and the protection of culture always has precedence over any military necessity.


Nicholas Roerich

Russian painter and philosopher Nicholas Roerich (1874–1947) initiated the modern movement for the defense of cultural objects, for the idea of "Peace of Civilizations". Besides the recognition as one of the greatest Russian painters, Roerich's most notable achievement during his lifetime was the Roerich Pact signed on 15 April 1935 by the representatives of American states in the Oval Office of the White House (Washington, DC). It was the first international treaty signed in the Oval Office.

Nicholas Roerich was born on 9 October 9, 1874, in St. Petersburg. His parents encouraged him to study law, but seeing their son's inclination for painting, they allowed him to study both, which he did with much success. In 1900, Roerich went to Paris to take lessons from Fernand Cormon, the well known tutor of Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec. Upon his return to St. Petersburg, he married Helena Shaposhnikova, who later developed the Agni Yoga philosophy. Soon Roerich became quite a successful painter. One of his paintings was purchased by Russian Tsar Nicolas II himself. Roerich also worked as stage and costume designer for several operas and ballets by Maurice Maeterlinck and Igor Stravinsky, premiered in St. Petersburg.

In 1917 Roerich went to live near a lake in Finland, to strengthen his health. After the border between Russia and Finland was closed in 1918 in the context of the October Revolution and Finnish Civil War, the family travelled across several Scandinaviancountries to Great Britain and eventually left for North America in 1920. There, Roerich founded two cultural institutions: "Cor Ardens" (Flaming Heart, a fraternity of artists from several countries)  and "The Master Institute of United Arts" (an organization for education, science, and philosophy).

In 1923, the Roerich Museum was founded in New York. In 1929, it moved to a new building. Presently, the Roerich Museum is located in Manhattan, at the corner of 107th Street and Riverside Drive. In 1929, Roerich's work towards the pact was recognised through a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

After leaving America, the Roerichs settled at Naggar in the Kullu Valley from which their estate looked towards the Himalayas. Here they established the Urusvati Institute which remains in Naggar with an exhibition about the pact. Nicholas Roerich died of a cardiac arrest on 13 December 1947.

Origins of the Roerich Pact

An idea about the protection of cultural monuments was formulated for the first time by Nicholas Roerich in 1899. During his excavations at Saint-Petersburg province, Roerich began to point to the necessity of protection of cultural monuments, which reproduce a world-view of ancient people for us.

In 1903, Roerich together with his wife Helena Ivanovna Roerich toured through forty ancient Russian cities, including Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Vladimir, Suzdal, Yuriev-Polsky, Smolensk, Vilnius, Izborsk and Pskov. In 1904, proceeding the expedition, Nicholas Roerich has visited Uglich, Kalyazin, Kashin and Tver. During these travels Roerich created a large series of architectural studies, created near 90 paintings of the visited sites. Later many Russian churches were destroyed and these paintings remain the only documenting images.

Summarizing this trips, the painter admired the beauty of the ancient monuments. Roerich, expressing his feelings for the state of their protection, in his article "Along the old times" (1903): "Last summer I had an occasion to see many our true antique and little love to it".

In 1904, Roerich gave a report to the Emperor's Russian Archeologist Society about the sad state of historical monuments and the necessity to take prompt actions to protect them.

During the Russian-Japan war (1904–1905), Roerich expressed an idea about the necessity of a special treaty for the protection of institutions and cultural monuments. In the course of several years after his travel in 1903-1904, Roerich repeatedly pointed out the state of antique monuments. He wrote several articles dedicated to the poor state of the churches. In the article "Silent Pogroms" (1911) Roerich wrote about the unskillful restoration of St. John the Forerunner Church at Yaroslavl: "Who would defense a beautiful antique from mad pogroms? It is grievously when the antique dies. But it is more terrible when the antique remains disfigured, false, imitation ...".

In 1914, Roerich appealed to the high command of the Imperial Russian army, as well as the governments of the United States and France with an idea of conclusion of an international agreement aimed on the protection of cultural values during armed conflicts. He created a poster "Enemy of Mankind" denouncing the barbaric destruction of cultural monuments, and picture "Glow" expressing a protest against World War I.

In 1915, Roerich wrote a report for Russian Emperor Nicholas II and Great Prince Nicholas Nikolayevich containing an appeal to make real state measures for national protection of cultural values.

In 1929, Roerich, in cooperation with G.G. Shklyaver (a.k.a. Georges Chklaver), a doctor of international law and political sciences at Paris University prepared a project of the Pact for protection of cultural values. Simultaneously Roerich proposed a distinctive sign to identify the objects that are in need of protection – the Banner of Peace. It represents a white cloth with a red circle and three red circles inscribed in it.

The Roerich Pact

In 1929 Roerich in collaboration with Paris University professor G.G. Shklyaver (a.k.a. Georges Chklaver) prepared a draft of an international treaty dedicated to protection of cultural values. The scheme was to be a cultural analog to the Red Cross for medical neutrality.

In 1930, text of draft agreement with accompanying Roerich's appeal to governments and peoples of all countries was published in press and distributed in government, scientific, artistic and educational institutions of the whole world. As a result, the committees supporting the Pact were established in many countries. The draft pact was approved by Committee for Museum affairs at League of Nations and also by the Committee of the Pan-American Union. Ultimately, the Pact was signed by 21 states in the Americas and was ratified by ten of them.

In the aftermath of World War II, the Roerich Pact played an important role in forming of international law standards and public activity in the field of protection of cultural heritage. In 1949, at the fourth UNESCO General Conference, a decision was accepted to begin the work for international law regulation in the field of cultural heritage protection in case of armed conflict.

Ideas of Roerich Pact still are not implemented in the international law, especially its principle of the almost unlimited preference of the preservation of cultural values to the military necessity.

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1Ebreju grautiņš ("pogroms") RīgāEbreju grautiņš ("pogroms") Rīgā23.10.1905lv

Sources: wikipedia.org


    Name Born / Since / At Died Languages
    1Franklin RooseveltFranklin Roosevelt30.01.188212.04.1945de, en, fr, lt, lv, pl, ru, ua
    2Nikolai RerikhNikolai Rerikh09.10.187413.12.1947en, lv, ru
    3Nikolajs II RomanovsNikolajs II Romanovs19.05.186817.07.1918lv, pl, ru
    4Grand Duke Nicholas  Nikolaevich of RussiaGrand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich of Russia18.11.185605.01.1929de, en, fr, lv, pl, ru
    5Vincent van GoghVincent van Gogh30.03.185329.07.1890de, en, lt, lv, pl, ru, ua