Conflict and Living Heritage in the Middle East | The American University of Iraq Sulaimani

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Conflict and Living Heritage in the Middle East

AUIS Conference Hall
Tuesday, May 10, 2016 - 13:00 to Wednesday, May 11, 2016 - 14:30

May 10 - 11, 2016

Conflict and Living Heritage in the Middle East:  
Researching the Politics of Cultural Heritage and Identities in Times of War and Displacement

The Social Sciences Department at AUIS, in collaboration with the Institue français du Proche-Orient (ifpo), is hosting a two-day conference to discuss the conflict and living heritage in the Middle East on May 10-11, 2016. 

View or download the conference program
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About the Conference: 

Cultural heritage is central to the wars currently being waged in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. The international media and organizations, together with governments and heritage professionals – including academics – have looked at the issue mostly from the perspective of damages to archaeological property or sites and artefacts with a highly emblematic global value, at times framed as 'universal.' The local meaning of such heritage is generally disregarded, and so are other aspects of affected populations' living heritage that give them a sense of collective identities. Yet local knowledge and know-hows, popular arts, crafts and traditions, religious beliefs and rituals, language and oral expressions, together with religious and vernacular architecture are all forms of heritage that suffer in the on-going wars. In many instances, this living heritage is deliberately targeted by parties striving to perform cultural cleansing. What then happens to living heritage and collective identities in areas affected by war and under new political authorities? What about the heritage and identities of the millions who have been displaced as a result of the recent conflicts in the region? More generally, what can an examination and conceptualization of the practices and discourses of local actors reveal about the nexus between cultural heritage, identities, armed conflicts and population displacement in the Middle East  yesterday and today? The proposed topic calls for considering on-going and recent situations together with more ancient ones such as – but not limited to – the Armenian, Kurdish, Palestinian, or Lebanese cases, and for a comparative perspective.

The following themes will form the core of the discussions:

Theme 1: Heritage and Conflict

In conflict situations, cultural heritage tends to become a contested area where relations of domination and violence are expressed, and where competing groups strive to assert legitimacy. This is manifested through unequal control over space (within urban areas, or on emblematic sites and monuments), and the often brutal removal of cultural attributes or markers attached to collective identities (regional, ethnic, religious, gendered, etc.). Questions will be asked about how civilian populations, on the one hand, and political and military actors, on the other, engage through practices, discourses and representations with various forms of living heritage during and immediately after conflict. Discourses, representations, and practices will be considered to understand the role of heritage as a vehicle for violence between groups, or conversely as a medium to de-escalate conflict and reach comprise.

Theme 2: Heritage and Displacement

More often than not, people displaced by conflict experience violence (usually in gendered ways), a break-up of social ties, and a radical separation from their place of origin. Such situations can also brutally severe people's bonds with their tangible and intangible heritage, particularly when such heritage is targeted by warring parties. The interrelation between heritage and displacement opens up questions as regards the implications of the loss of identity reference points, the transformation and redefinition of heritage in exile, and the role heritage plays in the (re)construction of collective memory and cultural identity among refugees. Such issues call for an examination in different contexts and time-frames: in transient or liminal places and states (such as refugee camps, border or transit areas), and when exile endures near or far from the homeland. An important question relates to how experiences of exile become incorporated into new heritage discourses that serve as bases for collective memories and identities.

Conference Program:

View or download the program of the conference below. 


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