Cultural ministry delegations from a total of 83 countries gathered at the ongoing world exposition in Italy's Milan on Friday to highlight the importance of cultural heritage and cultural dialogue.
During the first "International Conference of Culture Ministers", which runs on Friday and Saturday, ministers and ministry representatives will examine how culture can serve as a tool to improve peace and strategic responses to extremism and radicalization, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said here at the conference opening at Expo Milano 2015.
The conference, Renzi stressed, was an opportunity to work all together to strengthen protection measures in conflict situations.
"If we are women and men, we cannot be blind to what is happening in the world, where in places of beauty pages of pain have been written. We cannot pretend that nothing happened," he added.
"With culture we can react to terrorist attacks ... we are here to say that all together we can react," Renzi went on saying referring to the recent destruction of cultural heritage as a frontline act of violence perpetrated in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, and closely linked to the persecution of civilians there.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a video message that he intends to submit a plan of action on preventing violent extremism to the UN General Assembly.
"Preventing violent extremism requires an integrated approach. We cannot defeat terrorism with weapons alone," he said.
"We must win the battle of ideas by uniting behind the universal values of human rights and dignity. That is why it is essential to promote cultural literacy, heritage education and enhanced understanding of diverse traditions and history," Ban underlined.
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said "when culture is attacked, the possibility of dialogue and creation of peace are menaced too ... as culture is much more than buildings and stones, it means identity and values."
"This is why I am convinced that culture is part of the path to sustainable development and peace, and is also fundamental for security," she stressed.
The conference's agenda also tackles the preservation of cultural heritage in the face of natural disasters. Kripa Sur Sherpa, culture minister from Nepal, where an earthquake devastated the population and heritage on April 25, took part in the event. The Nepal Pavilion had been the first one visited by Renzi when the Expo Milano 2015 kicked off on May 1, just days after the disaster.
The delegations were invited to watch The Barber of Seville opera at the renowned Teatro alla Scala opera house in Milan on Friday night and visit Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper on Saturday morning, accompanied by Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, organizer of the conference.