19/06/2015

HERITAGE, A WAR VICTIM

Nimrud

By Marc-Henry Saillard

Tensions, geopolitical upheavals and crises that plague the Middle East in recent times have not spared men and women of these areas. But there are also more discreet victims. These victims, if they could speak, would probably say much more about the events they have been through in centuries.

These victims are the remains and evidence of past civilizations, such as the great dam of Marib n Yemen, dating from the eighth century BC, the ruins of the ancient city of Hatra in Iraq, the majestic colonnade and the temple of Baal in Palmyra in Syria, or the thousand-year-old souk of Aleppo. All these sites are in danger or are already destroyed.

UNESCO recently made an appeal for heritage preservation whether in Yemen or Syria. In its latest appeal -the 12th of June, 2015- the UNESCO said that “This heritage bears the soul of the Yemeni people, it is a symbol of a millennia history of knowledge and it belongs to all humankind”.

Research Institutes, less known to the general public are working on list of, classified inventoried destruction, such as the French Institute of the Near East (IFPO), the American Center for Oriental Research (ACOR).

Videos have been broadcasted all around the world, showing the destruction of remains and statues of Mosul Museum, with either hammers or power saws, under the yoke of the Islamic State.

Certainly this is very regrettable. Archaeologists, museum specialists and educated persons, who are indignant at such barbarity were right. Mosul’s libraries have been emptied of their books, book burning are perpetrated. Destruction of heritage is a redundant corollary of wars. After all, sovereigns off of the past ransacked entire cities in the wake of their conquest. Example: the siege and capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 BC remains famous, the various siege of Constantinople perpetrated by the crusaders, or the siege of Halicarnassus by Alexander the Great, to nail just a few.

What is currently shocking in the ongoing destructions, is the motivation of these organisations bhind these dstructions is to destroy a culture, a history and especially the classified cities which are protected today by an international organization, the UNESCO.

Making a clean sweep of the past, denning the complexities of a culture are the principals objectives of these groups. Like the Buddha of Bamyan in Afghanistan which were declared idolatry and thus destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. This heritage is no longer the case of a people or History. As soon as it is classified, heritage becomes de facto everyone’s business. Indeed according to the UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger. About a third of the 46 sites listed are located is in a country affected by war, in which it is extremely difficult to ensure the safeguarding and the protection of heritage sites.

Facing such an archaeological haemorrhage, the 27th of February 2015, the UN Security Council condemned the « barbaric terrorist acts » that occurred in the city of Mosul. The Security Council reiterated that the group « must be beaten and that intolerance, violence and hatred that he supports must be eradicated. » The Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, has also requested an emergency Security Council meeting citing a « cultural cleansing ».

But there is not only terrorists groups and looters who damaged heritage sites. In 2006 the US military was accused by the British Museum to have damaged historic sites in Iraq, including the city of Babylon, with the establishment of a military base on the site of the ancient city.

These destructions are certainly important and are a strike to the culture and the common good of humanity.

But heritage destructions should not hide the heavy loss in term of human lives due to the wars which have ruined these regions. We shall not forget the inhabitants of these regions, who work every day in harsh conditions to preserve their history, their cultures which face the destruction and ignorance erected by some as a cardinal virtue. For example by destroying traditional habitus in Sanaa or burning books in Mosul, terrorists are destroying their own legacies. Their wishes to destroy the past, affects also the future of their civilization because there are denying the historical reality.