Tuesday, November 8, 2016 - Sulaimani (KRG), Iraq: A 2-day conference (October 30th and 31st) brought together national and international experts to explore new approaches to monitor, protect and preserve the cultural heritage of all Iraq. This was the first time that such a conference has been held in Iraq covering this topic, and we hope it will not be the last.
The conference, jointly organized by the AUIS Center for Archaeology and Cultural Heritage (CACHE), the University of Oxford Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East & North Africa (EAMENA) project, and the University of Sulaimani, drew upon the experience of projects and approaches that have been successful throughout the wider Middle East in protecting local cultural heritage.
The conference was opened with speeches by Mala Awat who leads the General Directorate of Antiquities in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Qais Hussain Rasheed, Director-General of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, Baghdad.
In his keynote speech, Dr Robert Bewley, director of EAMENA, discussed future strategies for the project with specific reference to Iraq. He stressed the importance of looking beyond conflict as an agent of destruction; the impact of agricultural intensification, urban development, mining and extraction and dam building is also significant in damaging archaeological sites. A better understanding of these threats is key to minimising future damage to heritage in the region.
Other projects represented at the conference, such as the ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiative and the SHIRIN collaboration for Syria, discussed the scale of cultural destruction in the last few years alone. ASOR in particular noted that Daesh targeted Islamic heritage, provoking retaliation from Shia militia and further damage to religious buildings. Professor Roger Matthews, President of RASHID, proposed the establishment of a Blue Shield Committee for Iraq (Blue Shield being cultural heritage’s equivalent of the Red Cross, with an international committee and many national committees around the world).
Local officials and practitioners discussed their own experiences of challenges facing cultural heritage in Iraq, especially the lack of available funds given the ongoing war against Daesh, and proposed practical approaches by the international community that can make the greatest difference on the ground. Dr May Shaer, UNESCO Iraq, is creating games and cartoons to make the past accessible to the next generation. Dr Bijan Rouhani of the Global Heritage Fund is a leading member of the AMAL project which has designed a free smartphone app to allow anyone to help protect heritage. Dr Abdullah Khorsheed Qadar showed what is being done to conserve heritage, with great effect, at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage, in Erbil. Dr Tobin Hartnell from AUIS pointed out that we need to support capacity building on the ground for cultural heritage and tourism now or risk future generations growing up without a heritage and without a job.
A highlight of the meeting was a panel session featuring local and international experts, which focused on the destruction of heritage in Mosul, including archaeologists and heritage professionals from Mosul displaced by the occupation by Daesh. Professor Roger Matthews (President of RASHID) suggested we “think global, but act local” for Mosul’s future, and that we do not rush into decisions regarding reconstruction of damaged monuments, without full consultation with local and national stake-holders.
This conference has been made possible with the generous support of our partners, including the European Union Delegation to Iraq, The Barakat Trust, and The Gerald Averay Wainwright Fund. All participants were very grateful to the translators who provided a simultaneous commentary in Kurdish, Arabic and English.
See photos of the conference on our Facebook page: http://bit.ly/2fAKacH
More information on the conference, speakers and the programme can be found at www.protectingthepast.com. Follow us on Facebook @protectingthepast and @auisofficial and on Twitter @eamena123 and @auis_news for the latest updates, photos, videos and podcasts from the event.
For media enquiries or interview requests, please contact Mehr Zahra, director of communications at AUIS, at mehr.zahra [at] auis.edu.krd or +964(772)339-9305. If you wish to contact EAMENA, please email eamena [at] arch.ox.ac.uk.