Intentional destruction of cultural heritage: Evidence and responses in Syria and Iraq

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

Intentional destruction of cultural heritage during intrastate and ethnonationalist conflict is a well-known but little studied phenomenon often designed to erase the presence and history of a rival social or ethnic group. Cases of purposeful damage have been widely reported during recent events in Syria and Iraq. Yet despite considerable scholarship directed toward violations of civil and political rights during these and other conflicts, there is a general tendency to view damage to cultural heritage as an unfortunate collateral outcome, rather than as a common tactic of intimidation and subjugation. Although prior research suggests that the purposeful destruction of cultural heritage may escalate a conflict, few studies have identified factors leading to escalation or what practical measures may protect heritage sites and the people who care about them in a conflict situation. This symposium explores this problem in the context of recent events in Syria and Iraq. In looking at a series of cases of the intentional destruction to heritage sites, panelists will discuss the social dynamics involved, methods employed in documentation, interventions that have occurred or are currently underway, the legal implications of damage to cultural heritage, and the responsibilities of museums and other heritage professionals.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-10 of 10)

  • Documents (10)

  • Community archaeology and emergency responses to heritage in crisis (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Brian Daniels.

    How are we to respond to the current intentional destruction of heritage occurring in Syria and Iraq? The international regime of heritage protection rests upon the consensus of actors within the modern system of nation-states. But in the present crisis, one actor, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, rejects that system. Furthermore, in the case of Syria, UNESCO and other international preservation organizations find themselves locked into a structural situation where they are obliged to...

  • Coursework in disaster preparedness and emergency response in Iraq: Meeting immediate training needs at the Iraqi Institute (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Brian Michael Lione. Jessica Johnson.

    Decades of regime rule, war and economic sanctions resulted in reductions in professional staff, isolation from the international community, and ultimately; neglect and deterioration of Iraqi cultural heritage. During a period of relative stability, the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage (established through US funding in 2008) began offering academic programs in architectural conservation, artifact / object conservation, and archaeological site preservation to...

  • Emergency care training workshops for Syrian museum collections (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Salam Al Kuntar.

    Amidst the atrocities of Syria’s civil war, Syrian curators, heritage professionals, and activists courageously risk their lives to protect the country’s cultural heritage. Working in areas outside of the Assad regime’s control, these individuals have managed to safeguard collections salvaged from damaged museums, religious institutions, and looted sites. This paper discusses a workshop, held in Turkey, which brought together museum curators, heritage professionals, and other members of civil...

  • High-resolution satellite imagery for comprehensive monitoring of cultural heritage in conflict: Syria and Iraq methodology (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Susan Wolfinbarger. Eric Ashcroft. Jonathan Drake. Katharyn Hanson.

    The growing availability of high-resolution commercial satellite imagery provides unprecedented capabilities for monitoring events in conflict zones- areas that are often inaccessible through traditional methods. This capability is particularly needed when conflict creates long-term inaccessibility and multiple actors overlap in space and time, leading to conflicting accounts, and incomplete or inaccurate information. Proactive monitoring of cultural heritage sites, coupled with time-series...

  • Intentional destruction of cultural heritage: Evidence in Syria and Iraq (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Katharyn Hanson.

    The current conflict in Syria and Iraq serves as a dramatic case study of intentional damage to cultural heritage during conflict. This paper details examples of damage that can be detected using high-resolution satellite imagery in coordination with local ground documentation and verified media reports. These examples are part of the analysis done by the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Geospatial Technologies Project "Developing a Research Community and Capacity for...

  • Legal responses to the intentional destruction and looting of cultural sites: The paradigm of Syria (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Patty Gerstenblith.

    The civil war in Syria, now in its fourth year and with multiple parties, has engendered probably the most widespread and numerous examples of destruction, damage and looting of cultural sites since the Second World War. Several international legal instruments, including the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its First Protocol, were drafted in the wake of World War II to prevent the repetition of such harms inflicted on cultural...

  • Museums and the destruction of heritage (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Richard Leventhal. Brian Daniels.

    What are museums to do during times of war and with the destruction of cultural heritage in conflict zones? This is a question that came into focus during World War II, and more recently in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Middle East. What are the professional and ethical responsibilities of museums in the United States, in western Europe, or in other parts of the world when destruction of cultural heritage is planned or occurring? Do museums in the West have additional...

  • New observations of looting at archaeological sites in southern Mesopotamia (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Zaid Alrawi.

    Archaeological sites in Iraq have suffered the consequences of unstable political conditions. Due to this volatile situation law enforcement has been inconsistent and allowed antiquities looters to vandalize southern Mesopotamian sites. This resulted in differential rates of damage among the country’s cultural heritage sites. By focusing on the ancient archaeological site of Girsu (modern-day Telloh) and its hinterland, I used Digital Globe imagery, remote sensing techniques and recent...

  • Smithsonian's role in cultural heritage disasters (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Corine Wegener.

    The environment for cultural heritage disaster management has grown increasingly complex; destruction of heritage during ethnic and sectarian violence is on the rise and global climate change threatens to increase extreme weather events. Few organizations are positions to help our colleagues with disaster response and recovery efforts. The Smithsonian Institution proposes to establish the Cultural Crisis Recovery Center (CCRC), an operational organization to provide emergency response for...

  • The Syrian heritage task force and the importance of preserving Syria's cultural heritage (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Amr Al-Azm.

    Currently many of Syria’s famous heritage sites are in territory outside of the control of the Assad regime and are at great risk from looting, damage as a result of conflict, or deliberate attack. This is not only causing irreparable damage to Syria's cultural heritage but also destroying the common history that provides Syrians with a shared sense of identity. In order to help protect this heritage and preserve it for the future, a Syrian Heritage Task Force (SHTF) was recently established....