Showing posts with label cultural heritage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cultural heritage. Show all posts

April 27, 2016

US Government sends H.R. 1493 to the US President’s desk for signature.

Late in the day, April 26, 2016 and with final House passage, the US government has approved its final amended version of H.R. 1493, "The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act" agreed to in the Senate by Unanimous Consent. The proposed law will now head to the US President’s desk for signature.

H.R. 1493 was drafted to deny ISIS Funding and to save Syria’s antiquities through the trafficking of its material culture.

The bill was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on March 19, 2015 during the 114th Congress, First Session by Representative Eliot L. Engel, [D-NY-16] via the House - Armed Services; Foreign Affairs; Judiciary; Ways and Means Committee and also referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.  The bill calls for the protection and preservation of international cultural property at risk due to political instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters, and for other purposes.  

Since that time the House and Senate have debated the bill separately and offered amendments (ultimately approved as amended by the Senate on April 18, 2016, before the bill went on to all of the US Congress for a full vote. The amended version includes a stronger "safe harbour" measure for Syrian antiquities and deleted a the proposed State Department "Cultural Property Czar."  

As both the Senate and the House have now voted approving the finalized amended version of the bill, it will now go forward to Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, for his signatory approval.


ISIS earns tens of millions annually from looting and trafficking antiquities to fund terror.  A UN Security Council resolution passed in February calls on all nations to help defund ISIS by preventing trade in Syrian antiquities. 
America’s allies have already imposed import restrictions on trafficked Syrian and Iraqi artifacts.  Congress established similar restrictions for Iraqi artifacts in 2004 but has yet to act for Syria, leaving Syrian artifacts open to looting and trafficking by ISIS.
H.R. 1493
  • Imposes import restrictions on illicit Syrian artifacts to undercut looting and trafficking.
  • Provides for antiquities to be temporarily protected by U.S. institutions until they can be safely returned to their rightful owners.
  • Expresses congressional support for establishing an interagency coordinating committee to better protect historical sites and artifacts at risk worldwide. 
  • Improves congressional oversight of efforts to save cultural property.
This bill has been publicly endorsed and supported by the American Alliance of Museums, the American Anthropological Association, the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works, the Archaeological Institute of America, Preservation Action, the Society for American Archaeology, the Society for Historical Archaeology, the United States Committee of the Blue Shield, and the U.S. National Committee of the International Council of Museums.

Once signed by President Obama and by imposing import restrictions on Syrian material culture, the U.S. will be joining the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the European Union in taking steps to protect trafficked antiquities from Syria.

A complete copy of the approved amended Bill is located here

Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs welcomed the Senate passage of his legislation. 

On the House floor Chairman Royce spoke about combating ISIS’s destruction and looting of artifacts from the birthplace of civilisation.  Below is a video that includes Chairman Royce’s remarks.  A written transcript of his remarks can be found here




September 8, 2015

Destroying and Protecting the World’s Shared Cultural Heritage: Iconoclasm and Psychological Warfare

By Dr. Joris D. Kila
Heritage Researcher,  Lt. Col. (retired), International Military Cultural Resources Working Group and Senior Researcher, Centre for Cultural Heritage Protection, University of Vienna
The Hague, Netherlands

The world’s shared cultural heritage is under threat. Substantial damage has already been inflicted during armed conflicts that have taken place or are still ongoing, especially in parts of Africa and the Middle East.  To protect the world's heritage, it is important to gain knowledge about key concepts and mechanisms that underpin heritage destruction and protection including new phenomena, stakeholders and concepts such as urbicide (a term which literally translates as "violence against the city."), the military roll in heritage destruction and or preservation and the psychological warfare of heritage destruction.

Libya Appolonia artifacts hidden during the revolution November 2011
(c) photo Joris Kila
‘Cultural property’ that is, the legal term used  to describe the world's cultural heritage, is currently not only threatened by time, nature, and man-made development, but increasingly by armed conflicts and upheavals. In this context we see the return of iconoclasm driven and legitimised as an excuse for eliminating perceptions of heresy as well as the ‘’recycling’’ of antique monuments originally built as defence works like the Crusader castle, Krak de Chevaliers, Palmyra’s Fakhr-al-Din al-Ma'ani Castle or the now destroyed Temple of Bel in Palmyra which the Burids transformed into a citadel in 1132.

But Iconoclasm is not only directed at immovable heritage, it also aimed at written heritage making manuscripts and books equally at risk. The majority of today's warring parties are guilty of abuse and destruction whether intentionally or by accident, disregarding that cultural property is ‘’protected’’ under (inter)national laws. To make matters worse there has been an increase in the looting and illicit traffic of artefacts, the revenues of which are used to finance, and thus extend conflicts.

A museum guard displays a manuscript burnt by fleeing occupation forces
 at the Ahmed Baba Institute in Mali.
Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters © The Guardian
There is a distinction between material and non-material heritage. Materials are, for instance, sculptures and paintings but also libraries, archives, monuments and archaeological sites. Immaterial, also referred to as intangible heritage, includes languages, national anthems, and historic traditions. All heritage is strongly connected with identities and therefore potentially politically and socially sensitive especially in connection with conflict and disputes.

Within this framework, written heritage has a dual status: libraries, archives and manuscripts are material cultural properties but simultaneously carriers of intangible heritage like ideas and by extension, identity. Dualism can be seen too in overlaps between cultural and natural heritage, such as cultural landscapes like Ayers Rock and in ivory that is often smuggled.

In general terms books and documents can be considered to be containers of identity. Simultaneously the material manifestation of a book or manuscript can be an artifact or a sacred and thus religiously sensitive object. Specifically, archives can contain cultural heritage for a national society or smaller community as well as information that makes them strategic targets for the warring parties e.g. working archives can hold tactical information about persons and political issues. Military experts connect this information with military intelligence.  Additionally, libraries and archives themselves can be historic monuments.

Apart from the fragile characteristics there are many more issues within the realms of heritage. They include shifting insights on conservation, restoration, authentication (forgeries) and developments concerning digitization, manipulation, political propaganda, illicit trafficking, and legislation. Current attacks on cultural heritage show elements of psychological warfare, cultural genocide and, as acknowledged by the United Nations, war crimes.

This makes Cultural Property Protection (CPP) a complicated multi-disciplinary topic with stakeholders that include the military, police, diplomats, legal specialists, auctioneers, antique dealers, and religious experts to name a few, all of which represent and defend their own interests. Transnational crime is also present, not to mention collateral damage inflicted during battle.

Considering the complexity and the seriousness of today’s heritage conditions it seems fair to acknowledge that safeguarding issues cannot be taken care of by only as small number of cultural experts or enthusiasts who are not afraid to be pro-active and often need to act as private individuals. The main concern is that there is presently no operational protection concept being implemented based on international cooperation and coordination. Legal obligations and sanctions are not sufficiently implemented and enforced – for instance,  some cultural war crimes could and should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.

Although there are moral and legal obligations, funding is not in place for CPP training, education, research, and the deployment of ‘’new’’ stakeholders like the military who are equipped to operate in war zones.  Most contemporary asymmetric conflicts in which (written) heritage is endangered take place in the Muslim World. A lot of the world’s heritage from antiquity is located there but it is also critical to pay special attention to protection and restoration of Islamic heritage before the cultural and historical memory rooted in these regions is erased from the world’s common consciousness and lost to future generations.

To meet some of these challenges, the Islamic Manuscript Association in partnership with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has organised a course this coming October entitled Manuscript Collections in Conflict Zones: Safeguarding Written Heritage. This multidisciplinary course will also gives a general introduction about Cultural Property Protection and destruction in the event of conflict. The course will take place October 5th, 6th, and 7th at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall, London.

Confirmed speakers include:

Colonel Matthew Bogdanos,
Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan

Mr. Marco Di Bella,
Freelance Book and Manuscript Conservator and UNESCO Consultant

Mr. Karl von Habsburg-Lothringen,
President of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield

Dr. Joris Kila, Chairman,
International Military Cultural Resources Working Group

Professor Roger O’Keefe,
Chair of Public International Law, University College London

Mr András Riedlmayer,
Bibliographer in Islamic Art and Architecture, Harvard University

Professor Franck Salameh,
Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Boston College

Dr Christos Tsirogiannis,
Research Assistant, Trafficking Culture Team, University of Glasgow

Dr Hafed Walda,
(Pending) Deputy Ambassador to the permanent Libyan delegation at UNESCO

Dr James Zeidler,
Associate Director for Cultural Resources, Colorado State University

For information about course lecturers and how to register to attend, please contact the Islamic Manuscript Association linked here

September 4, 2015

In Memoriam: The Heritage Community Speaks Out on Destruction in Syria and Iraq

It’s human nature to want to memorialise someone who has recently died. We want people to know who they were by allowing friends and family to come together and provide thoughts, insights and memories of the departed. 

From the beginning when the first news of heritage destruction in Syria and Iraq began making world headlines, individuals in the heritage protection community have been asked to give interviews, express their outrage, contribute analysis and provide commentary for numerous articles as the situation goes from first initial shock to resigned sadness at the continues destruction.

Unfortunately most of these comments give impact to specific incidences only or disappear as soon as the next new tragedy makes front page headlines.  None of these individual articles singularly conveys how deeply concerned the heritage community is about how this war has taken such an extreme toll on Syria and Iraq. 

In this space, ARCA will attempt to display some of the many statements and tributes given by heritage lovers on what has been lost and will link to their original sources when not directly submitted.  If you would like to contribute a new quote of 250 words or less please follow us on Twitter at @ARCA_artcrime or ARCA on Facebook and leave us your thoughts in a message and we will post it formally here.


“But the wanton destruction of archaeological sites and cultural monuments will continue so long as the global community continues to express shock and outrage each time it happens. The 
perpetrators want just such a reaction. If the destruction of objects and sites in 
Syria grab bigger headlines than the ongoing plight of the Syrians themselves, 
this may lead hopeless people there to sympathise with the IS and 
regard the rest of the world as having its priorities. 
We ought to pay attention to Syria for the sake of its people — those refugees who risk drowning and commit to living forever displaced from their homes, those living in shelters and camps trying to avoid the fighting, and those staying behind to defend the homes they have lived 
in all their lives. We can care about sites and monuments too — not because 
they are important for “us”, but because they are part of communities 
where people have been working, living and dying for thousands of years. 
'Saving culture' does mean preserving objects. But it also must mean safeguarding the people and communities that live with it and carry it into the future. ” 
- Alexander A. Bauer

“In Palmyra the world saw what the smashing of the idols looks like. It is not an edifying sight.” “If the ruined ruins of Palmyra could speak, they would marvel at our shock. After all, they have 
been sacked before. In their mute and shattered eloquence, they spoke for centuries not 
only about the cultures that built them but also about the cultures that destroyed 
them—about the fragility of civilization itself, even when it is incarnated in
 stone. No designation of sanctity, by God or by UNESCO, suffices to protect the past. The past
 is helpless. Instead these ruins, all ruins, have had the effect of lifting the past out of 
history and into time. They carry the spectator away from facts
 and toward reveries.”
- Leon Wieseltier,  Contributing editor at The Atlantic and author of Kaddish. 

“The war ruthlessly strikes throughout Syria and Iraq. Thus, the old city of Aleppo, an endangered World Heritage Site, has become a front line where fighters deploy all possible means
of destruction, from Molotov cocktails to TNT barrels, and including mortars,
rockets, tanks, so called 'hell cannons' and tunnels packed with explosives or
simple small arms.”
“The looting of archaeological sites and the illicit traffic of their treasured objects, such as Apamea, Doura Europos and Mari, finance the continuation of the savagery of this war and irretrievably
 erase the pages of our history that scholars could still have written.”
—ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites

“There will not be a ‘before’ in history. So there will not be an ‘after’. They are saying: ‘There is only us’. The people of Palmyra can compare ‘before’ and ‘after’ now, but in 
10 years’ time they won’t be able to compare. 
Because then no one will be left to remember.  
They will have no memory.”
- Joanne Farchakh, Archeologist 

“I don’t think we need to know the dollar value or the ranking of this income stream to know that we are all losing our cultural heritage and knowledge of our history through the looting,” 

- Patty Gerstenblith, Distinguished Research Professor of Law


Heritage is what answers the big question 'where do we come from? Without connection to the past there is no future to aspire to. 
 - Ivo van Sandick, Art Conservator


“Our past defines us.  From its bearings we can judge our path into the unknown future. To remove it denies us the foundation on which so many cultures are built, and offers us a future stripped of the achievements of generations. Without it, we risk losing any meaningful understanding of the true diversity of a land—Syria—that stood at the crossroads of a multiplicity of cultures, of the achievements that have inspired countless other cultures across the world, and of those who found ways to coexist in peace and to offer each other mutual support, despite the divides between them. Attacking Syria’s culture destroys both their history and ours, and the evidence of that great achievement of finding a path to peace whilst retaining the vibrant diversity that has made Syria so special. The systematic erasure of Syria’s proud and diverse archaeological, cultural, and historical heritage—first as a casualty in the civil war, and now through deliberate acts of mindless and criminal destruction—is a stain on humanity. On top of the untold thousands of deaths caused by the war, the damage done to Syria’s survivors by eradicating their past will make it all but impossible for the country, and for the Syrian people, to recover.
            - Staff, Heritage for Peace

“This is the thing about cultural heritage -- once it's gone, it's gone. We cannot actually recreate it,” “It won't grow back in a hundred years, so there will be no other
Bel Temple ever to look at again.”
- Clemens Reichel, Professor of archeology and Associate Curator, Royal Ontario Museum

“The things that ISIS are destroying aren’t just religious monuments, they are the first major monuments of the entire Arab people,” “It’s colossally sad.
- John Grout, Ph.D. student, London’s Royal Holloway University

“The temple of Bel in Palmyra, 
dedicated when Tiberius was emperor and Jesus was alive. 
For 1983 years it stood largely intact. Now it's gone.
- Tom Holland, Author and Historian - London

The systematic destruction of cultural symbols embodying Syrian cultural diversity reveals the true intent of such attacks, which is to deprive the Syrian people of its knowledge, 
its identity and history.
- Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

“Quasi peggio che durante il nazismo: Hitler aveva ammassato a Praga infiniti oggetti con cui costituire il "museo della razza estinta". Qui, invece, si estinguono i musei e i monumenti. Per carità: sempre meglio che gli uomini, ma ....

“Almost worse than under the Nazis. In Prague, Hitler amassed an infinite number of objects for a museum which allegedly was to be called 'the Museum of an Extinct Race.'
Here in this case however, they extinguish the museums and monuments. To be clear, its always better (to save) men, but still….
--Fabio Isman, Journalist 

“I am too deeply sad and dissapointed in humanity, giving where I am coming from, to actually be able to verbalize it. I thought the crimes of World War II taught us something.
- Magdalena Kropiwnicka, Activist and Consultant

“Even earthquakes would have been less horrible,” he said. “The temple was the most iconic and one of the most beautiful in Syria, and we have lost it.” 
“We have lost all hope. We have lost all hope that the international community will resist and we lost hope of any international movement to save the city,”
- Maumoon Abdul-Karim, the Director-General of Syria’s Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) 

“The cultural cleansing ISIS has inflicted on historic sites like Nimrud, and Palmyra are graphically visible wounds, but the violence caused by the destruction at these sites is more insidious.  Its not just the loss of a singular temple or palace or its artwork.  By not protecting these sites we passively watch the destruction of a culture’s memory.  When we stand by and allow the roots of shared identity to be destroyed by iconoclasts like ISIS we eliminate the opportunity for future generations to share in and learn from their past. This is by far the greater tragedy.
--Lynda Albertson, ARCA