Measure to Safeguard Iraq's World Heritage

Dr. Fekri A. Hassan
Petrie Professor of Archaeology, Institute of Archaeology, University College London
Vice-President of the World Archaeology Congress
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The most recent tragic pillage of Iraq National Museum in Baghdad, and other cultural properties in Iraq, calls for immediate measures by UNESCO to retrieve stolen artefacts, restore damaged objects, and protect remaining cultural properties in Iraq. The American administration and its allies are liable for the damages and must provide UNESCO with a special fund for the gargantuan task ahead. UNESCO in collaboration with concerned international organizations and scholars have the following tasks to undertake post haste:

(1) Ensure the safety of museums, archaeological sites, store-rooms, libraries, academic institutions, mosques and churches and in other establishments holding cultural properties.

(2) Ensure the safety of Iraqi archaeologists, restorers and others entrusted with the study, protection, conservation, and preservation of Iraqi cultural heritage.

(3) Provide immediate measures for the restoration and conservation of cultural properties subjected to damage during the war or in its aftermath.

(4) Take active measures to prepare a computerized data-base (with descriptions, photos, measurements and accession numbers) objects that were kept in Iraq National Museum and other museums looted and pillaged during the war or its aftermath. This may be achieved by piecing together whatever has been left of the registers, publications, or notes in the custody of individuals or institutions all over the world. A call for information is recommended.

(5) Disseminate the data-base via the internet and make it especially accessible to all concerned with the retrieval of stolen properties.

(6) Coordinate efforts with the Interpol to retrieve and apprehend officials and perpetrators of theft or damage to cultural properties

(7) Confront and counteract any actions such as those perpetuated by the so called "American Council for Cultural Policy" that seek to undermine the integrity of Iraqi measures to regulate export or purchase of cultural properties.

(8) Call of an international campaign to safeguard the world cultural heritage of Iraq, which would include assistance to create a national register, to undertake surveys and rescue excavations as needed, to assist Iraq in adding the seven sites on the tentative list to the world heritage list (considering that efforts since the late 1970s have been hampered and only one Iraqi site is on the world heritage list), and assist in the capacity building of the Iraqi cultural heritage bodies.

(9) As a matter of urgency, considering a glaring deficiency in services adequate for the protection, conservation and presentation of cultural heritage and for the study and research of antiquities, UNESCO, perhaps in collaboration with the Arab League, must foster the establishment of a regional centre for training in the protection, conservation and presentation of the cultural heritage and encourage scientific research in the field, according to article 5 of the CONVENTION CONCERNING THE PROTECTION OF WORLD CULTURAL AND NATURAL HEIRTAGE, 1972.

From another perspective the apparent lack of effective protection of the cultural heritage of Iraq, much of which is of great world value by the American-British authorities and their allies, as well as by all concerned organizations, after repeated warnings by concerned scholars of the imminent danger to antiquities and cultural properties in the aftermath of the war, calls for a special international conference to re-consider existing mechanisms to safeguard world heritage, beyond conventions and well-meaning statements. It is high time for translating the vision to protecting world heritage to effective action on the ground. It is high time to become pro-active rather than reactive. The unbelievable magnitude of destruction of cultural properties held in the Iraq National Museum of Baghdad is perhaps a sign of a tragic turn of events downgrading, devaluing and demeaning international efforts to promote a vision of shared world heritage as a means for peace-building. All efforts must be made at this time to take note of the deep philosophical and ethical dimensions of these tragic events and to call upon all nations, institutions, civic organizations and individuals to bolster the idea of world heritage as a means of safeguarding our human prospects.