September 4, 2015

In Memoriam: The Heritage Community Speaks Out on Destruction in Syria and Iraq

It’s human nature to want to memorialise someone who has recently died. We want people to know who they were by allowing friends and family to come together and provide thoughts, insights and memories of the departed. 

From the beginning when the first news of heritage destruction in Syria and Iraq began making world headlines, individuals in the heritage protection community have been asked to give interviews, express their outrage, contribute analysis and provide commentary for numerous articles as the situation goes from first initial shock to resigned sadness at the continues destruction.

Unfortunately most of these comments give impact to specific incidences only or disappear as soon as the next new tragedy makes front page headlines.  None of these individual articles singularly conveys how deeply concerned the heritage community is about how this war has taken such an extreme toll on Syria and Iraq. 

In this space, ARCA will attempt to display some of the many statements and tributes given by heritage lovers on what has been lost and will link to their original sources when not directly submitted.  If you would like to contribute a new quote of 250 words or less please follow us on Twitter at @ARCA_artcrime or ARCA on Facebook and leave us your thoughts in a message and we will post it formally here.

“But the wanton destruction of archaeological sites and cultural monuments will continue so long as the global community continues to express shock and outrage each time it happens. The 
perpetrators want just such a reaction. If the destruction of objects and sites in 
Syria grab bigger headlines than the ongoing plight of the Syrians themselves, 
this may lead hopeless people there to sympathise with the IS and 
regard the rest of the world as having its priorities. 
We ought to pay attention to Syria for the sake of its people — those refugees who risk drowning and commit to living forever displaced from their homes, those living in shelters and camps trying to avoid the fighting, and those staying behind to defend the homes they have lived 
in all their lives. We can care about sites and monuments too — not because 
they are important for “us”, but because they are part of communities 
where people have been working, living and dying for thousands of years. 
'Saving culture' does mean preserving objects. But it also must mean safeguarding the people and communities that live with it and carry it into the future. ” 
- Alexander A. Bauer

“In Palmyra the world saw what the smashing of the idols looks like. It is not an edifying sight.” “If the ruined ruins of Palmyra could speak, they would marvel at our shock. After all, they have 
been sacked before. In their mute and shattered eloquence, they spoke for centuries not 
only about the cultures that built them but also about the cultures that destroyed 
them—about the fragility of civilization itself, even when it is incarnated in
 stone. No designation of sanctity, by God or by UNESCO, suffices to protect the past. The past
 is helpless. Instead these ruins, all ruins, have had the effect of lifting the past out of 
history and into time. They carry the spectator away from facts
 and toward reveries.”
- Leon Wieseltier,  Contributing editor at The Atlantic and author of Kaddish. 

“The war ruthlessly strikes throughout Syria and Iraq. Thus, the old city of Aleppo, an endangered World Heritage Site, has become a front line where fighters deploy all possible means
of destruction, from Molotov cocktails to TNT barrels, and including mortars,
rockets, tanks, so called 'hell cannons' and tunnels packed with explosives or
simple small arms.”
“The looting of archaeological sites and the illicit traffic of their treasured objects, such as Apamea, Doura Europos and Mari, finance the continuation of the savagery of this war and irretrievably
 erase the pages of our history that scholars could still have written.”
—ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites

“There will not be a ‘before’ in history. So there will not be an ‘after’. They are saying: ‘There is only us’. The people of Palmyra can compare ‘before’ and ‘after’ now, but in 
10 years’ time they won’t be able to compare. 
Because then no one will be left to remember.  
They will have no memory.”
- Joanne Farchakh, Archeologist 

“I don’t think we need to know the dollar value or the ranking of this income stream to know that we are all losing our cultural heritage and knowledge of our history through the looting,” 

- Patty Gerstenblith, Distinguished Research Professor of Law

Heritage is what answers the big question 'where do we come from? Without connection to the past there is no future to aspire to. 
 - Ivo van Sandick, Art Conservator

“Our past defines us.  From its bearings we can judge our path into the unknown future. To remove it denies us the foundation on which so many cultures are built, and offers us a future stripped of the achievements of generations. Without it, we risk losing any meaningful understanding of the true diversity of a land—Syria—that stood at the crossroads of a multiplicity of cultures, of the achievements that have inspired countless other cultures across the world, and of those who found ways to coexist in peace and to offer each other mutual support, despite the divides between them. Attacking Syria’s culture destroys both their history and ours, and the evidence of that great achievement of finding a path to peace whilst retaining the vibrant diversity that has made Syria so special. The systematic erasure of Syria’s proud and diverse archaeological, cultural, and historical heritage—first as a casualty in the civil war, and now through deliberate acts of mindless and criminal destruction—is a stain on humanity. On top of the untold thousands of deaths caused by the war, the damage done to Syria’s survivors by eradicating their past will make it all but impossible for the country, and for the Syrian people, to recover.
            - Staff, Heritage for Peace

“This is the thing about cultural heritage -- once it's gone, it's gone. We cannot actually recreate it,” “It won't grow back in a hundred years, so there will be no other
Bel Temple ever to look at again.”
- Clemens Reichel, Professor of archeology and Associate Curator, Royal Ontario Museum

“The things that ISIS are destroying aren’t just religious monuments, they are the first major monuments of the entire Arab people,” “It’s colossally sad.
- John Grout, Ph.D. student, London’s Royal Holloway University

“The temple of Bel in Palmyra, 
dedicated when Tiberius was emperor and Jesus was alive. 
For 1983 years it stood largely intact. Now it's gone.
- Tom Holland, Author and Historian - London

The systematic destruction of cultural symbols embodying Syrian cultural diversity reveals the true intent of such attacks, which is to deprive the Syrian people of its knowledge, 
its identity and history.
- Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

“Quasi peggio che durante il nazismo: Hitler aveva ammassato a Praga infiniti oggetti con cui costituire il "museo della razza estinta". Qui, invece, si estinguono i musei e i monumenti. Per carità: sempre meglio che gli uomini, ma ....

“Almost worse than under the Nazis. In Prague, Hitler amassed an infinite number of objects for a museum which allegedly was to be called 'the Museum of an Extinct Race.'
Here in this case however, they extinguish the museums and monuments. To be clear, its always better (to save) men, but still….
--Fabio Isman, Journalist 

“I am too deeply sad and dissapointed in humanity, giving where I am coming from, to actually be able to verbalize it. I thought the crimes of World War II taught us something.
- Magdalena Kropiwnicka, Activist and Consultant

“Even earthquakes would have been less horrible,” he said. “The temple was the most iconic and one of the most beautiful in Syria, and we have lost it.” 
“We have lost all hope. We have lost all hope that the international community will resist and we lost hope of any international movement to save the city,”
- Maumoon Abdul-Karim, the Director-General of Syria’s Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) 

“The cultural cleansing ISIS has inflicted on historic sites like Nimrud, and Palmyra are graphically visible wounds, but the violence caused by the destruction at these sites is more insidious.  Its not just the loss of a singular temple or palace or its artwork.  By not protecting these sites we passively watch the destruction of a culture’s memory.  When we stand by and allow the roots of shared identity to be destroyed by iconoclasts like ISIS we eliminate the opportunity for future generations to share in and learn from their past. This is by far the greater tragedy.
--Lynda Albertson, ARCA


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