Cultural Heritage

Iraq’s al-Ahwar Marshes become UNESCO World Heritage Site

Yesterday in Istanbul, Turkey, during the afternoon of the last day of the 40th session, The World Heritage Committee added eight new sites to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Among the added sites is the Ahwar of Southern Iraq: Refuge of Biodiversity and the Relict Landscape of the Mesopotamian Cities in Iraq.

A Marsh Village in 1974.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention describes the site as such: “The Ahwar is made up of seven sites: three archaeological sites and four wetland marsh areas in southern Iraq. The archaeological cities of Uruk and Ur and the Tell Eridu archaeological site form part of the remains of the Sumerian cities and settlements that developed in southern Mesopotamia between the 4th and the 3rd millennium BCE in the marshy delta of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Ahwar of Southern Iraq – also known as the Iraqi Marshlands – are unique, as one of the world’s largest inland delta systems, in an extremely hot and arid environment.”

The marshes are located where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers meet. Despite being home to the Madan, or Marsh Arabs, as well as host to many different types of flora and fauna, the marshes have been continuously depleted for various economic and political reasons. The population dropped from an estimated 500,000 in the 1950s to a mere 20,000 and the total area was greatly reduced. However, following the 2003 American invasion, many of the dams were destroyed and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) did much to help restore the marshes.

Reflecting on the new UNESCO inscription today, Peter Wien, President of TAARII, said, “The inclusion of the Iraqi Marshes on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites is a milestone, not least in terms of an acknowledgement of the importance of cultural heritage preservation for the country on its way towards a sustainable future. Iraq is extremely rich in heritage sites of world renown, of which only a handful have been recognized so far. TAARII hopes that social and political developments in Iraq and the broader region will allow that this is only the beginning in a long line of new admission that highlight Iraq’s central position on a world heritage map.”

Katharyn Hanson, TAARII’s Executive Director, added, “This is really fantastic news!”

The Mesopotamian Site of Ur.

TAARII Supports the Penn Museum’s Statement on the Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq and Syria

The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq supports the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s Statement on the Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq and Syria:

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology deplores the devastating, ongoing destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria. The continued pillaging of archaeological sites and the destruction of irreplaceable artifacts and monuments are a catastrophe for the people of the region and for all humanity. As an institution dedicated to studying, preserving, understanding, and sharing knowledge of the world’s rich and diverse cultural heritage—and with an especially strong history of work and study in Iraq—the Penn Museum particularly laments the destruction of archaeological sites, museums, and libraries in and around Mosul. Alongside our colleagues throughout the world, we urge the international community and all relevant organizations to do all they can to find solutions to halt this abhorrent destruction.

Joint Statement on Cultural Destruction in Iraq—Archaeological Institute of America
Statement from the British Institute for the Study of Iraq

The Penn Museum is actively involved in this pursuit through its Penn Cultural Heritage Center (PennCHC) which is a partner of Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq Project (SHOSI), a consortium of the PennCHC; the Office of the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture at the Smithsonian Institution; the Geospatial Technologies Project at the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Shawnee State University; The Day After, a Syrian NGO; and the U.S. Institute of Peace. The SHOSI Project supports the efforts of heritage professionals and local communities in Syria and Iraq, who are working under dire circumstances to protect their cultural heritage for the future. The SHOSI Project’s ongoing work includes working with displaced heritage professionals and community members who are attempting to preserve cultural heritage, documenting high-risk sites in Syria and Iraq, first-aid conservation treatment of damaged sites, geospatial site monitoring, and periodic workshops and training activities.

For the original statement, visit the Penn Museum website.

Gathering in Washington, D.C., to Protest the Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq

On March 10, 2015, cultural activist Jabbar Jaafar and archaeologist Abdulameer al-Hamdani kicked off the first event of their campaign in response to an ISIS video that showed members of the terrorist group smashing irreplaceable artifacts, relics, and statues at the Mosul Museum. The March 10 event was a public gathering in front of the White House. Although it took place on a rainy day, a number of American and Iraqi activists and supporters attended the noon gathering to express their solidarity with the co-organizers.

The logo of the campaign for protecting Iraq’s heritage. The logo shows that the terrorist groups of ISIS have destroyed the ancient Mesopotamian antiquities. The winged-bull in the poster is a symbol of power in the Assyrian civilization. (Image credit: Ayad al-Hiti, 2015)

The objectives for the gathering were: (1) to urge and pressure the policy and decision makers in order to take immediate action against the terrorist group ISIS; (2) to familiarize a general audience in the United States with the savage and uncivilized acts that ISIS has performed against the people of Iraq and their heritage; (3) to inform the international community that Iraqis are civilized people who love their heritage and are determined to exert every effort to preserve their civilizations; and (4) to state that what is rumored by ISIS, that the statutes and relics of the ancient civilizations are forbidden by Islam, is absolutely untrue according to senior moderate Islam clerics.

People gathering in front of the White house holding posters that indicate that Iraq’s heritage is facing a new wave of destruction, and that the international community should act to stop the destruction and to support Iraqis to protect humankind’s heritage. (Photo Credit: Mustafa Al Shwaili, 2015)

Abdulameer al-Hamdani holds a poster that says “Stop ISIS… Stop Terrorism… Save Mesopotamian Civilization.” (Photo credit: Marie-Helene Carleton, Four Corners Media, 2015)

Jabbar Jaafar holds a poster in front of the White House. (Photo Credit: Marie-Helene Carleton, Four Corners Media, 2015)

TAARII Supports the Royal Ontario Museum’s Statement on the Destruction of Cultural Heritage Sites

The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq supports the Royal Ontario Museum’s Statement on the Destruction of Cultural Heritage Sites in Northern Iraq by ISIS/ISIL:

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the deliberate destruction of archaeological sites and museum collections, as well as the systematic looting and sale of artifacts in northern Iraq by the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Lebanon” (ISIS/ISIL). This destruction, occurring at an unprecedented scale, represents an irreparable loss of cultural heritage – not only for Iraq but for all humanity.

Since taking over Mosul province in June 2014, ISIS/ISIL has systematically destroyed monuments of cultural and religious significance, including mosques, shrines, churches, and temples. More recently, their focus turned towards indiscriminately attacking archaeological sites and museums. In late February, members of ISIS/ISIL engaged in the large-scale destruction of artifacts in Mosul Museum, Iraq’s second largest museum. These artifacts include reliefs and statuary from the Assyrian capitals of Nimrud and Nineveh (900 – 612 BC), and a large number of statues of kings and gods from Hatra dating to the Parthian period (300 BC – 100 AD). In early March, the attention of ISIS/ISIL turned to archaeological sites themselves, including those of Nineveh, Nimrud, Hatra and Khorsabad, Assyria’s capital during the reign of Sargon II (721-705 BC).

The destruction of some of the world’s most important archaeological treasures is a vile attack on the cultural heritage of all people. The Royal Ontario Museum is ready and committed to share its resources to help assess and limit the damage to archaeological sites and monuments, and to stop the sale of looted artifacts from Iraq. We call upon everybody to voice their concerns regarding the ongoing cultural devastation by ISIS/ISIL to political leaders and, further, to report to the authorities any suspicious appearances of cultural artifacts from Iraq on the antiquities market.

For the original statement, please visit the Royal Ontario Museum’s website.

TAARII Supports the WAC Statement on Mosul and Nimrud Destruction

The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq supports the World Archaeological Congress’ Statement on the Mosul and Nimrud Destruction:

The Executive Committee and members of the World Archaeological Congress (WAC) join other archaeological and cultural heritage organizations in denouncing the recent destruction of ancient artifacts at the Mosul Museum and architecture at Nimrud in Iraq. As noted in the recently published WAC Dead Sea Accord on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, it is a foundational belief of WAC that the expression and preservation of culture, both tangible and intangible, are basic human rights. Material culture informs our collective and individual identities and reflects the histories and experiences of humanity. Therefore the destruction of antiquities at the Mosul Museum and Nimrud has caused lasting harm to the people of Iraq and the entire world.

WAC calls on its membership to assist archaeological and other communities in this time of need by offering preservation assistance or other help. We also call on States and other parties to bolster and support legislation, at all levels, aimed at protecting the human right to culture and cultural heritage.

Finally, WAC wishes to highlight the roles cultural heritage can play in reconciliation and education in today’s world riddled with conflicts. Cultural heritage is the embodiment of human experiences that include suffering from, coming to terms with, and solving conflicts of various natures and scales. We should put our knowledge and efforts together to prevent the destruction of cultural heritage of this nature from happening again and protect our common human heritage.

For the original statement, visit the WAC website.

Click here for the text of the Dead Sea Accord.

TAARII Supports the Statement from the BISI Council

The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq supports the Statement from The British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI) Council 9 March 2015:

The British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI) greatly regrets the appalling damage that has been done to statues and reliefs in the Mosul Museum, to Assyrian gateway figures at Nineveh, and to the ancient sites of Nimrud and Hatra. This is a cultural disaster of  the greatest magnitude, and BISI urges the international community including UN and UNESCO to give all possible assistance to the government of Iraq in its struggle to protect the unique and irreplaceable heritage of Iraq.

Visit the BISI website for the original statement.

TAARII Supports the Oriental Institute’s Statement on Cultural Destruction in Iraq

The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq supports the Oriental Institute’s Statement on Cultural Destruction in Iraq:

The deliberate vandalism and destruction of heritage from Mosul’s Library, the Mosul Museum, and the archaeological site of Nineveh at Mosul constitute a moral and cultural outrage that adds to the growing spiral of despair from both Iraq and Syria concerning heritage, looting, and damage due to armed conflict. Without the past, we cannot understand our present, and without understanding our present, we cannot plan for our future. We hope that whatever remnants of this shattered heritage still surviving in Mosul may be salvaged and restored, but it is already clear that so much has been irreparably destroyed or looted.  Mosul’s heritage is an important part of Mesopotamian civilization and the heritage of the entire world.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago is a leading institution for the study of the ancient Middle East that focuses on research, heritage and knowledge preservation, and public education. Iconic  artifacts from Iraq on display in the Museum of the Oriental Institute are accessible today for all to see. Many are counterparts to objects on display in the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, that come from the Oriental Institute’s excavations in Iraq. The Oriental Institute’s colossal human-headed winged bull, or Lamassu, was excavated from Khorsabad, ancient Dur Sharrukin, several miles north of Mosul. Carved in the late eighth century BC during the reign of King Sargon II (721–705 BC), it is one of the finest examples of Assyrian sculptor’s art in the world. At the site of Nineveh and in the Mosul Museum, similar sculptures have been smashed and mutilated in minutes by the Islamic State. The Oriental Institute condemns this callous eradication of the cultural treasures of Mesopotamia. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of the people who are suffering in northern Iraq and Syria, and offer our support to the archaeological and heritage community of Iraq to help document, salvage, and restore the heritage of Mosul and other provinces of Iraq affected by looting and destruction.

We support the joint statement published by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), and the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), as well as statements from the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) and The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII).

Visit the Oriental Institute’s website for the original statement.

TAARII Supports Joint Statement on Cultural Destruction in Iraq

The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq supports the following Joint Statement on Cultural Destruction in Iraq:

The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), Society for American Archaeology (SAA), and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) released the following joint statement in response to news reports of the destruction of a gate of Nineveh and other works of ancient art in the Mosul Museum, Iraq.

The members of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), Society for American Archaeology (SAA), and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) deplore in the strongest possible terms the destruction of works of art held by the Mosul Museum. Pillaging of archaeological sites and cultural repositories to destroy irreplaceable cultural heritage and to disperse rare and important artifacts is reprehensible.  This has caused irreparable damage to the heritage of the people of Iraq and humanity worldwide.

In the face of the current crisis in Iraq, we urge all members with appropriate expertise to provide professional support to the archaeological community to repair damaged works to the degree possible and to identify and reclaim missing objects. We call on authorities, even in these unsettled times, to do what they can to protect the world’s archaeological and cultural materials. And we urge museums and archaeological communities around the world to alert the appropriate international authorities if they believe they have information regarding objects recently stolen from Mosul. While the full extent of the damage to Iraq’s cultural heritage will only become clear after greater stability is restored, the material culture from more than 5,000 years of history is under extremely serious threat and we must take immediate action.

Visit here for a full copy of the statement.

TAARII Supports the Blue Shield Statement on the Protection of Iraqi Cultural Heritage Sites

Blue Shield – June 17, 2014

Blue Shield is appalled by the great suffering and loss of life in the current fighting in Iraq and expresses great concern about the safety of Iraq’s invaluable cultural and historical heritage.
Blue Shield urges all armed combatants to observe the international laws that protect cultural heritage and to act responsibly, safeguarding the testimony of Iraq’s unique history for the enrichment of future generations.

Iraq is home to some of the world’s oldest and most significant archaeological and cultural sites. Iraq has three UNESCO World Heritage sites and twelve tentative World Heritage sites. Iraq’s museums, particularly the national museum in Baghdad and the regional museum in Mosul, are repositories for countless irreplaceable artefacts that record this unique history.

In the event of international military action, Blue Shield calls on any participating countries to be mindful of obligations under the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols; the 1972 UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage; the additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions; and customary international law to avoid targeting cultural heritage sites and repositories and to minimize collateral damage to cultural heritage wherever possible.

Iraq ratified the 1954 Hague Convention and its First Protocol in 1967, thereby acknowledging and committing to the protection and preservation of cultural heritage in the case of armed conflict. Blue Shield urges the international community to help Iraq fulfil its obligations to this Convention and also urges all parties to the conflict to abide by Iraq’s Antiquities Law, Law Number 55 of 2002.

Blue Shield is concerned that archaeological and cultural objects may be removed from museums, libraries, archives, and archaeological sites and placed on the illegal international art market. The actions of all governments in preserving this heritage should be consistent with the terms and spirit of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, of which there are ninety-six States Parties. Blue Shield implores auction houses and other art outlets to ensure that no illegally exported material is sold.

Blue Shield

Blue Shield is the protective emblem of the 1954 Hague Convention, the basic international treaty formulating rules to protect cultural heritage during armed conflict. The Blue Shield network consists of organizations dealing with museums, archives, libraries, monuments and sites.

Blue Shield intervenes strategically with decisionmakers and relevant international organisations to prevent and to respond to natural and man made disasters.