Bauer on the Implications of the Destruction in Syria and Iraq

Thge Temple of Bel complex in Palmyra Syria, taken in 2010, one of the best-known at-risk sites in Syria
The Temple of Bel complex in Palmyra Syria, taken in 2010, one of the best-known at-risk sites in Syria

Alexander Bauer, Chief Editor of the International Journal of Cultural Property has written an editorial arguing the destruction in Iraq and Syria though tragic also allows new approaches which can move beyond the old entrenched cultural property arguments. From the introduction:

In the dozen years I have edited the IJCP, I have chosen not to write editorials, as I have preferred to let the content of the journal speak for itself. As this issue was going to press, however, a series of events unfolded that I felt needed to be addressed. Over the past months, the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (“IS”)—an armed militia with neo-medieval political aspirations in war-torn Syria and Iraq—has undertaken a direct assault on the archaeological remains of northern Mesopotamia, claiming that such art is idolatrous and thus forbidden in Islamic law. While looting of archaeological sites has been widespread and systematic in the region for at least the past two years, the destruction garnered international headlines in February and March 2015 when IS put sledgehammers to Assyrian statues and other artifacts in the museum of Mosul, then proceeded to bulldoze and ransack the spectacular sites of Nineveh, Nimrud, and Hatra, among others. The wantonness and scale of these destructive acts have been shocking, and certainly for anyone concerned with the preservation of cultural heritage, a terrible tragedy. This almost immediately brings to mind parallels with the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, whose destruction fueled a resurgence of arguments in favor of Western museums’ collection of antiquities in order to “save” them from a similar fate. Of course, the Bamiyan episode was not so straightforward, and in some ways, the efforts of Western organizations to intervene on the Buddhas’ behalf may have made matters worse.  Arguably, the destruction in Iraq and Syria is even more widespread, insidious, and complicated. It is thus difficult to know how best to respond to it, and what the implications of any responses will be.

In spite of the complexity of the situation, I want to address and critically confront three reactions that are likely to develop or be reinvigorated within current debate on how to respond to such destruction. It is my hope that we can use these terrible events to discuss new ways of approaching the issues of heritage acquisition and preservation rather than fall back into old and counterproductive positions.

It’s an important statement, and one that the Journal has made publicly available free of charge.

Alexander A. Bauer, Editorial: The Destruction of Heritage in Syria and Iraq and Its Implications, 22 Int’l J. of Cultural Prop. 1 (2015).

 

 

 

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