Showing posts with label iconoclasm. Show all posts
Showing posts with label iconoclasm. Show all posts

June 9, 2020

Tuesday, June 09, 2020 - No comments

Iconoclasm in the eyes of the beholder

Illustration of the Beeldenstorm
F. De Witt Huberts
The siege of Haarlem.
Op/Ed - By Lynda Albertson

History tells us that our predecessors had a word for iconoclasm, εἰκονοκλασία. In Ancient Greek it gets its roots from two words:

εἰκών - figure, image, likeness, portrait

κλάω - to break, to break off, to break into pieces, to be broken or deflected; to break, to weaken, to frustrate.

The Romans referred to it as Damnatio Memoriae; condemnation of memory.  In a world with no photography, and with what little remains of writing from that period, anything that was erased during these periods was likely lost from public memory.

The OED, the definitive record of the modern English language, defines an iconoclast as an individual who challenges "cherished beliefs or venerated institutions on the grounds that they are erroneous or pernicious".

During war, much has been written about protecting the history of our vanquished enemies.  Article 56 of the regulations respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV) speaks to the property of municipalities and calls for penalties for the prohibitive seizure, destruction or damaging of cultural property protected by international law.  Likewise, the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunal regarded the pillage and destruction of foreign property, including cultural objects, as a war crime.

But things get blurry when civil conflicts are the cause of iconoclasm, especially when the incidences are internal to a country's borders, politics, or religion. Or at least so thinks the iconoclasts involved, who see their actions as wholly reasonable, and in some cases downright righteous.   

A little more than 500 years ago, Augustinian friar Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses against the Church's indulgences to Albrecht, the Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg.  This event is believed by some to have fuelled the start of the Bildersturm, the "picture storm" of the Protestant Reformation in Germany and the Netherlands.  Later and for many of the same reasons, the wave of Puritan religious fervor carried over to England, sometimes using state-approved civic channels to remove objects that no longer sat well with the majority, as was the case with the removal of the Cheapside Cross, voted on and approved for demolition by London’s Common Council on 27 April 1643.

Crowds tear down the Cheapside Cross, 2 May1643
Other incidences were religiously-sanctioned, handed down to churches in the reign of Edward VI, like the defacing of the 14th Century devotional statue of St Margaret and thousands of others ecclesiastic artworks which once highlighted English churches in the late medieval period.  Destroyed with the formal approval of Anglican reformers, Edward VI’s 1547 instructions ordered the devout to "to take away, utterly extinct and destroy all shrines, coverings of shrines, all tables, candlesticks, trindles or rolls of wax, pictures, paintings and all other monuments of feigned miracles, pilgrimages, idolatry, and superstition so that there remain no memory of the same within their churches or houses. And they shall exhort their parishioners to do the like within their houses."   After this purge, so little religious art was left, that it would be easy to assume that there was no native painting and very little sculpture in pre-Reformation Britain. 

Watching their past pulled down and in some cases white-limed, those in disagreement, sometimes, tried to save what they had been mandated to destroy. Church monuments were hidden away haphazardly from the angry iconoclasts when and how they could.  Sometimes, they even buried them in the ground, perhaps as one last defiant act of solemn funerary respect, or perhaps hoping the artworks could be retrieved once the anger-fueled storm had passed.  

In the wet soil of England, moisture, as well as time, wreaked havoc on these once venerated objects, stripping them of their finishes and leaching away much of their vibrant color.  Time erased what artists had worked so hard to create, as the statues and icons were never meant to be subject to the dampness of English weather. 

Saint Margaret at St Andrew Church, Fingringhoe, Essex
Some, like St. Margaret, depicted above, were found years later on church grounds, then painstakingly restored, as best as was possible, to sit once again inside the church they once decorated.  Others, less fortunate, eventually traveled miles from their sacred homes, turning up on the art market at European art fairs like BRAFA or TEFAF.  These traveling masterpieces were snapped up by specialized galleries, like Fluminalis and Galerie Brimo de Laroussilhe, who long have known that selling Art médiéval, touched by iconoclasm, can earn a dealer a princely sum for the pains and remains of the past. 

And while these Christian Reformations are now a distant memory, we watched in digital horror recently, as history repeated itself in new and even more disturbingly theatrical ways, at the hands of the Islamic State.  The group's own brand of religious politics, like others before them, believed that rending asunder a past incongruent with the caliphate's beliefs was righteous; so much so that they digitally curated their destructive handiwork at well known cultural heritage sites like Palmyra in Syria, the Mosul Cultural Museum, Nineveh, and Nimrud in Iraq rather than retain them for posterity.

Da'esh militant taking a pneumatic drill to the last fully preserved colossal Lamassu.
Nergal Gate, Nineveh
And while it is easy to see the wrongness of denominational iconoclasm throughout history, a portion of the public, and even some academics, have recently shown that they view ideological iconoclasm through differing filters, picking and choosing what is worth retaining and what is worth destroying, based in part upon the stresses and tears an object creates in the social fabric of society in a given place or time. 

Take for example the reliefs of victory and torture illustrating the futile cycle of the rise and fall of empires of long ago, etched onto the walls of Neo-Assyrian king Ashurbanipal's grand royal residence in the citadel of Nineveh.  One depicts the Assyrian battle at Memphis in 667 BCE.  

Parts of this extraordinary relief are mesmerizingly graphic, as well as tragically poignant.  The panels vividly document the Assyrian aesthetic of memorializing its violent and gruesome deeds in furtherance of their rule.   This panel explicitly illustrates the fate that awaited the defeated soldiers of King Taharka.  Five of the captured Nubians can been seen being marched off single-file, handcuffed, humiliated, and bare-footed. At the rear of the line, two Assyrian soldiers triumphantly hold the decapitated heads of two of their vanquished opponents. 

"Panel 17, Room M" of the North Palace at Nineveh
On display at the British Museum 
Another relief, from King Sennacherib's Palace Without Rival at Nineveh. illustrates the conquest and destruction of Lachish after the siege of 701 BCE.  Likewise, it is meticulously carved in grisly detail, with parts of the relief depicting the unfortunate members of Lachish's ruling government being tortured to death.  Nearby, what remains of the city's townspeople, are seen as they are led away into a life of slavery, dominated by their conquerors.  Yet today these images are seen as a record of histories long past.  

The defeated citizens of Lachish led away as prisoners by the Assyrians.
On display at the British Museum 

Neither of these artworks evoke a visceral horror as they would, had the events occurred in the more recent past. Seen with eyes unmoved by emotions, they are considered, simply, historical representations of war, or even art.  As ancient artifacts they are admired for their violent realism, and take pride-of-place in some of the world's prestigious museums.

Perhaps these reliefs are treasured because the footprints of the citizens of Memphis and Lachish who fought in these battles, and the cemeteries where their corpses lie, are not our own forefathers.  The blood of these historic fighters has long since soaked into the ground where other civilizations took root, grew and now walk.

But in the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic killing, some pains are fresher, and instead of suggesting unifying ways to reconcile ourselves with our own distasteful pasts and presents, some professors and curators have seen fit to encourage their own iconoclastic storms.  One, in a series of tweets, even provided a "hypothetically" detailed instructions on how to destroy public monuments as a public service announcement.

Others don't even hide behind carefully-worded innuendo. Instead, they go straight for enhancing the public spectacle of destruction even using the skills they were taught in conservation and historic preservation, but now turned towards demolition.

But as proper historians know deep down in their entrails, ridding ourselves completely of unwanted history is farcical.  And while the new vanguard of undoing a wrong, by removing monuments to oppression might come from a good place, and might make us feel like we are contributing to something good, the act itself will not bring absolution.  Nor does it pay sufficient penance for the years we stood idly by, remaining silent, while others were mistreated, abused, and killed.

Citizens standing over a toppled statue of Joseph Stalin
23 October 1956
History is littered with the broken statues of distasteful oppressors, toppled time and time again, in justifiable anger-filled rage and resentment.  Some are bashed to bits by angry mobs, others are discreetly removed, sometimes under the cloak of darkness, to be tucked into less offensive spaces in deference to those injured by what the statue represents.   But even if we could deface, pull down or blow up every morally reprehensible visual representation of the world's tyrants and bullies, we won't ever be washed free of their sins, or our own complacency in idly letting their atrocities take root and happen.

Tweeting out instructions for taking down statues seen as images of slave oppression will not erase the shattering consequences of that era in America's history.  Nor will it stop tomorrow's injustices when it comes to race, or tomorrow's killing of another black man at the hands of police brutality, or when George Floyd's name joins the list of the only vaguely remembered black men who have been abused or killed, while little else changes.

Erasing the history of the confederacy and the South's poor choices in these monuments won't erase the racial hatred which historically allowed these monuments to be erected. And time would be better spent wrestling with the present and asking why, in 2020, we still have an environment that allows racial and ethnic hatred which kills.

Having said all that, let me be clear, I am in no way advocating for the preservation of these morally repugnant monuments. If I had my druthers, they would be procedurally and physically dealt with in a way that addresses the painfulness of the argument listening to the voices of the voiceless.

What I am against are these kinds of performative acts which are often more about political capital than the hard-grinding work of enacting real social change.  We need change much more than simply sweeping old bronzes under unresolved rugs, where the undercurrents of racism still creep and grow, like bigger and bigger dust bunnies, threatening to choke us all.

The end of a statue is not the same as the end of the bitterness and in the end toppling them does little to heal anyone.

We need to do better.  We need to be better.  We need to do better.  Every single one of us, needs to do better. 

October 9, 2019

5th Annual New Zealand Art Crime Symposium

Image Credit:  City Gallery Wellington
Event:  ArtCrime2019 - the 5th Annual New Zealand Art Crime Symposium
Location: City Gallery Wellington (Māori: Te Whare Toi)
Te Ngākau Civic Square, Wellington, New Zealand
Date: Saturday 19 October 2019

Hosted by the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, in conjunction with City Gallery Wellington and other sponsors, ArtCrime2019 will encompass a wide range of presentations on issues and aspects of art crime in New Zealand and elsewhere, under the umbrella of the overall theme of "iconoclasts, vandals and artists".

The event includes a range of presentations, plus ample opportunities for networking.

Schedule of Event

9.30am Welcome given by Elizabeth Caldwell, Director of City Gallery, Wellington and Arthur Tompkins, Chair, NZ Art Crime Research Trust

9.35am Opening Address by Sir David Carruthers

9.40am Introduction to Session One - Penelope Jackson

9.40 am The Vandalism of Art: When Critiquing Goes too Far - Catherine Gardner

10.10am Public Art and Vandalism - Sue Elliott

10.40 am Q & A

10.45am Morning tea

11.05am Introduction to Session Two - Ngarino Ellis

11.05am Towards a Concept of Curatorial Property to Protect Culturally Significant Artworks from Destruction - Jonathan Barrett

11.35am Must Rogues Fall? Iconoclasm and the Mathematics of Monuments - Ewan Morris

12.05pm Q & A

12.15pm Lunch

1.15pm Introduction to Session Three - Louisa Gommans

1.15pm Crook Cook’ and other targets for vandalism in an era of historical rebalancing - Linda Tyler

1.45pm Colonial Cabinet Makers and their Disregard for Copyright - William Cottrell

2.15pm Q & A

2.25pm Afternoon tea

2.45pm Introduction Arthur Tompkins

2.45pm Civil Law Remedies for Breaches of Duties Owed to Owners of Art Work - Rod Thomas

3.15pm Vandalism and Censorship of Maori Carving - Ngarino Ellis

3.45pm Q & A

3.55pm Presentation from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage: An Art Loss Register for New Zealand - Sebastian Clarke (tbc)

4.25 pm Louisa Gommans talks with Penelope Jackson about her new book, Females in the Frame: Women, Art, and Crime.

4.50pm Closing comments and final Q & A - Arthur Tompkins

Those interested in registering should click on the following link. 

For further information please see ehe New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust  symposium website page

July 28, 2019

Conference: 5th Annual New Zealand Art Crime Symposium - Save the Date and Call for Presentations

Image Credit:  City Gallery Wellington
Event:  ArtCrime2019 - the 5th Annual New Zealand Art Crime Symposium
Location: City Gallery Wellington
Te Ngākau Civic Square, Wellington, New Zealand
Date: Saturday 19 October 2019

Hosted by the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, in conjunction with City Gallery Wellington and other sponsors, ArtCrime2019 will encompass a wide range of presentations on issues and aspects of art crime in New Zealand and elsewhere, under the umbrella of the overall theme of "iconoclasts, vandals and artists".

The event will include a range of presentations, plus ample opportunities for networking.

Those interested in presenting are invited to submit 200-word abstracts for 20-minute presentations, within the broad ambit of the overall theme by Friday 9th August 2019 to:

Abstract proposals should be pasted into the body of submission email and include a short biography (up to 350 words, and including were appropriate short summaries of relevant publications and previous conference or symposia presentations). 

Successful presenters will be notified by email by Friday 30 August 2019 and will have their Symposium's registration fee waived. 

For further information please see ehe New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust  symposium website page

December 18, 2017

Monday, December 18, 2017 - ,, No comments

Islamist iconoclast attacks statue in Sétif, Algeria

Faiza Mostafa, an Alegerian journalist based in Paris, France, has published an account of a new attack against culture, this time in Sétif, Algeria.  Earlier this morning, a sledgehammer-wielding Islamist iconoclast attacked the emblematic Ain El Fouara Fountain by French sculptor Francis de Saint-Vidal, chiseling away at parts of the statue. 

Mostafa wrote on her Facebook page:

Reminiscent of the Taliban’s attacks on the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan and ISIS attacks in Syria and Iraq,  the culprit, dressed in a qamis, was caught in the act as he pounded furiously on the iconic fountain statue. Apprehended by authorities, he obliterated the statue's face and breasts while a crowd gathered below, some of whom filmed the incident as it was happening.

A second video, taken from another angle, shows the angry crowd in Sétif, Algeria taking action against the vandal from a safe distance, hurling multiple objects, including a police baton, from a relatively safe distance.  This was done perhaps out of concern for being struck themselves or out of concern that the culprit might have explosives.

At one point the vandal turns to retaliate against the crowd, attempting to strike out at the citizens intervening, only to angrily return to hammering away at the hundred-year-old artwork, not solely to the statue's breasts and face.

Shortly thereafter, another civilian, dressed in striped jogging pants, approaches the man while swinging a shovel and twice attempts to strike him in response to his actions.

This counter-attack allowed police the window of opportunity to scale the fountain base and ultimately apprehend the Islamist before he could do further damage.

Unfortunately this is not the first time that the statue of a naked French woman gracing a fountain fifty meters from the central mosque of Sétif has been the subject of religious controversy and mistreatment. 

In 2015, an imam from a mosque 71 miles away in Aba Dhar El-Ghifari, El Khroub, told his followers, "Beware of you if you prostrate yourself before anyone other than God, beware of prostrating yourself before the statue of Ain Fouara." In his sermon about sinful (Arabic: haram) actions which constituted apostasy (Arabic: kofr), the imam signalled that it was wrong for the faithful to drink water from the treacherous fountain, as to do so could be considered bowing in prostration before the image of a nude woman. 

On February 28, 2006 another young man also attempted to deface the statue with a hammer, and in the early morning hours of April 22, 1997 the fountain was broken in several places after dynamite was placed at the base of the statue, toppling her over.

Another incident, captured by Google Streetview.

July 14, 2016

Thursday, July 14, 2016 - ,, No comments

“What light through yonder window breaks?” The Case of Corey Menafee and a stained glass window at Yale University

In history as today, vandalism is an act imbued with meaning and the gap between how heritage professionals react to deliberate damage of artworks and the perceptions of the agents of these changes and the groups they represent presents interesting food for thought.  

On June 13, 2016 a cafeteria worker, Corey Menafee, took a broomstick and smashed a historic stained glass window depicting two slaves picking cotton at Yale University's Calhoun College residence hall.  Confessing to the crime, he was arrested shortly thereafter.

Existing US criminal law does not distinguish art vandalism from vandalism in general and typically classifies the deliberate destruction of artwork under the general category of criminal mischief.  In Connecticut the offence falls under the state’s General Statutes § 53a-115a.  This law addresses persons who acted "with intent to cause damage to tangible property of another and having no reasonable ground to believe that such person has a right to do so, such person damages tangible property of another in an amount exceeding one thousand five hundred dollars."

As a result of his actions, Menafee was charged with first-degree criminal mischief, which is a felony, as well as second-degree reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor.  For his actions, under Connecticut law, Manafee faces up to five years in prison on the felony charge and up to two years of incarceration on the misdemeanor offense.  

Menafee apologised for his actions and subsequently resigned. 

The residence hall's namesake, John C. Calhoun, is significant in that he was a well known 19th century American statesman and political theorist from South Carolina who served as Vice President under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.  Calhoun was an outspoken supporter of slavery as well as an 1804 graduate of Yale University.  For years students concerned staffers alike have advocated against the name and imagery of the building, saying that it takes a heavy toll on all persons of color who live and work within the historic building. 

But despite the illegality of his actions, students, alumni and members of the New Haven community chose instead to rally around Menafee.  Taking to social media, they voiced their support for his actions and created a petition calling for all charges to be dropped. Other supporters established a GoFundMe account, set up to help him raise money for his defence.

Based on the sensativity of the issue, Yale University released a statement that it would not advocate for Menafee to be prosecuted and would not seek restitution for the loss of the stained glass artwork. 

Additionally, the destruction to the historic window led to a new review by Yale’s Committee on Art in Public Places of other historic windows in answer to petition created for the Yale administration which stated that artwork such as the window “conveys disrespect toward black perspectives, and serves a barrier toward racial inclusiveness.” 

On Tuesday July 12th Yale issued the following statement:

“After the window was broken in June, the Committee recommended that it and some other windows be removed from Calhoun, conserved for future study and a possible contextual exhibition, and replaced temporarily with tinted glass. An artist specializing in stained glass will be commissioned to design new windows, with input from the Yale community, including students, on what should replace them.”

Acts of violence against art such as these explore and challenge society’s ideas of what constitutes “civil disobedience” or “vandalism”.  It also exemplifies why we occasionally deem some crimes against art, such as the deliberate damage to symbolical art which records painful pasts, as acceptable, while other destruction is opposed as negative.

In today’s conflict-filled world, where war is no longer about conquering territory but about changing the perceptions of those under your control ancient statues and historic sites are mutilated or smashed because they are seen as pagan idols. In the past, deliberate attacks against statues depicting Saddam, Stalin and Lenin underscored the end of dictatorial regimes. Each of these examples show how society's interpretation the destruction of art can be a political symbol, and as such, as a weapon for change.  Each shows that art vandalism can be interpreted as positive or negative depending on the eyes of the beholder.

The broken window at Yale reminds us that context authorship and intention of the vandal often play an important role in how society perceives, interprets, accepts, rejects or adjudicates an criminal act deeming one as backward, another as revolutionary, or in the case of Yale's stained class, perhaps a wrong that long since needs to be righted.  It probes the concept of when art destruction is acceptable and when it isn't and forces us to rethink the ways that we interact with art and react to its power to shock or subdue.

By Lynda Albertson

July 7, 2016

Thursday, July 07, 2016 - ,,, No comments

ISIS Releases Video showing its destruction of the Palmyra Museum's Artifacts.

ISIS has released a new "heritage snuff" video that shows its destruction of the Palmyra Museum's Palmyrene funerary portraiture as well as desecration of the museum's mummies which DGAM personnel had stored in a protective bricked-sealed enclosure at the museum prior to ISIS overtaking the city in May 2015.

The 57 second video shows militants lifting funerary reliefs from shelving and dropping them forcefully onto the floor.  Other historic artifacts are subjected to repeated blows with sledgehammers, filmed for cinematic effect. 

More disturbing however is the footage of the desecration of human remains that had once been stored on exhibit within the museum.  Lined up on a sandy street in Tadmur, the mummies were crushed with what appears to be a heavy military vehicle. 

On display at the Palmyra museum since August 4, 2005 thanks to a Japanese grant and the efforts of archaeologists from Italy and France who helped extract them, the mummies of two men and two women were originally found wrapped in many layers of cloth in the Palmyra valley.  Well preserved, they provided a fascinating glimpse of the area's funerary practices during the first and second century C.E.  Given their age, they were considered to be a cultural and biological patrimony of inestimable value for the Syrian city.      

Italian archaeologist Professor Paulo Matthiae once compared the find of the mummies to those found in Egypt. In a book on the ancient Syrian city of Ebla, Matthiae states

"The valley of the tombs of Palmyra is one of the most wonderful places of the region of antiquities in the Graeco-Roman world like the most famous tomb valleys in Egypt." 

ISIS considers worshipping or mourning at grave sites to be equal to idolatry and have often destroyed burial sites throughout areas under their control.

May 14, 2016

Heritage Destruction in the Mediterranean Region

By Guest Editorial: Joris Kila, PhD
Cultural Adviser, The Hague Senior Researcher
Kompetenzzentrum Kulturelles Erbe und Kulturgüterschutz,
University of Vienna

This article is being released online in advance of publication in the IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook 2016 print issue. (

All over the news we see cultural property, the legal term widely used for cultural heritage, often connected to the cradles of civilisation, being damaged, smuggled and abused. Currently much devastation is taking place in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, more specifically the Mediterranean area, e.g. Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt. Within the size limitations of this article I will indicate some problems, causes and possible solutions regarding safeguarding cultural property. These examples will hopefully stimulate discussion, research and a more pro-active approach towards short and long-term solutions.

Problems and Deficiencies

Because of recent conflicts and upheavals, some of which are ongoing, substantial parts of the world’s cultural resources, which are not just artworks but also containers of identity and memory, have been lost or are under threat. In modern asymmetric conflicts, cultural property protection (CPP) is a complex and serious issue due to the variety of stakeholders with unbalanced interests, its multidisciplinary character and the potential sensitivity of heritage issues, which is often connected with local, national or religious identities. 

Since institutionalised CPP emergency activities as mandatory operations under national and international law are virtually absent, a small number of cultural experts, often acting as concerned private individuals without funding, took matters into their own hands to give a good example for official CPP institutions. This resulted in a modest number of relevant and innovative activities like undercover on-site emergency assessments and engagements with military stakeholders resulting, for instance, in cultural no-strike lists, as was used in Libya in 2011 and the development of CPP doctrines for military operational planning (Kila & Zeidler 2013, Kila & Herndon 2014).

Notwithstanding this, CPP should no longer be taken care of solely by the purview of this small group of concerned people. Phenomena like using cultural property to finance conflicts, iconoclasm, military aspects, CPP and global security, strategic communication (parties as protectors or destroyers of culture) and conflicting interests of old and new stakeholders need structural research and organisation. Furthermore, the links with identity, counterinsurgency, transnational organised crime and illicit trafficking, including its related transnational finance flows, heritage as a resource for local development and the overlap between cultural and natural resources need attention. Worldwide cooperation is also dependent on new stakeholders like military organisations, crime experts, tourism organisations and cultural diplomats. 

Although legal frameworks for heritage protection appear in place (e.g. The Hague 1954, the Rome Statute 1998), today’s state of cultural property in conflict areas clearly illustrates that the effectiveness of policies and strategies (to be) implemented by institutions tasked with CPP in the event of conflict are insufficient. Most institutions seem to lack pro-activity and tend towards bureaucratic and risk-avoiding behaviour (Wilson 1989, Kila 2012. Kila, Zeidler 2013). The latter relates to (over) politicising heritage because of sensitivity caused by identity, religion and economic issues. Consequently, essential developments concerning the changing status of heritage, its economic value, heritage protection as an instrument in counter-terrorism denying the enemy financial means to prolong a conflict and legal developments, e.g. the criminalisation of offenses against cultural property in international criminal law, are not studied in a coherent transdisciplinary context.

Organisations themselves claim lack of funding as a major reason for their indolence. In the meantime devastation continues, whereas the international cooperation, coordination and research that should drive transdisciplinary, interagency and emergency endeavours, as well as the necessary funding, is either lacking or misspent. In this context a recurring misconception is that although protection of heritage is important, aid to those in need because of conflicts and natural disasters should have priority. This line of argument does not hold water because one does not exclude the other. CPP and humanitarian aid are substantively and financially separate. No funds are withdrawn from monies allocated to humanitarian disasters when heritage is protected.

Europe and CPP

One could say that CPP including combating illicit trade in artifacts is not the specific capability of the EU. Certainly it is not stated per se in the treaties, but it does fall within several areas of EU competence. Examples of this are the internal market, freedom, security and justice (AFSJ) and culture along with common foreign and security policy (CFSP).

The EU probably has no CPP expertise capability but there are experts that can provide  knowledge on this. Stakeholders like NATO*,  Europol, INTERPOL and the International Criminal Court, all based in Europe, share identical problems (lack of cultural expertise and funding), so potentially this burden can be shared making it less costly and more efficient. An example: a potential step forward was made by creating the EU CULTNET,** in  theory a platform for networking, expertise and knowledge sharing. 

In 2015, the EU Parliament called on Member States to take necessary steps to involve universities, research bodies and cultural institutions in the fight against illicit trade in cultural goods from war areas. Instead of just calling the usual re-active institutions, and in an attempt to really act without delay, a task force including cultural experts with proven track records and strong networks is highly advisable. Such an entity can be created at short notice to provide expert advice for all stakeholders. Simultaneously Europe should start coordination, research and education regarding CPP and the implementation of (legal) instruments to safeguard cultural property.  Currently the  United   States  do more  than  Europe,  and unfortunately there is little cooperation with them on this topic; maybe this will change when Europe follows in taking responsibility for CPP in the context of conflicts.

The Mediterranean Region

Cultural heritage can suffer from multiple types of damage and offences related to conflict. Typical examples include collateral damage, vandalism, encroachment as part of development, iconoclasm and looting. In Libya and Syria all these phenomena occur simultaneously; Syria is already seriously affected and Libyan heritage is, for the most part, still under threat. 

Moreover, we should consider that, according to several sources, substantial numbers of artefacts looted and smuggled out of the Mediterranean region are likely hidden in secret depots. These will enter the market in the future. As the NY Times put it: "Long-established smuggling organizations are practiced in getting the goods to people willing to pay for them, and patient enough to stash ancient artifacts in warehouses until scrutiny dies down. ***

Some Case Examples


Many important sites, libraries, archives, churches and mosques in Syria were destroyed in 2015. All warring parties are guilty of devastation and illicit trade, but  IS  drew  the  most  attention. We all remember images of temples and graves in Palmyra being blown up by IS, not to mention the execution of Palmyrian archaeologist Khaled  al-Asaad in August 2015.

In Syria, we see the return of iconoclasm driven and legitimized as an excuse for eliminating perceptions of  heresy  as well  as the  'recycling' of antique monuments  originally  built  for defense, like Krak de Chevaliers, Palmyra's Fakhr-al-Din al-Ma'ani Castle or the destroyed Temple of Bel. Iconoclasm is not only directed at immovable heritage but also at written heritage making manuscripts and books equally at risk. 

The majority of today's warring parties are guilty of destruction intentionally or by accident while disregarding cultural  property's protected status under (inter)national laws. The increase in looting and illicit traffic of cultural property, the revenues from which are used to finance conflicts, implies that CPP can be a military incentive (force multiplier) denying the enemy the means to prolong a conflict. 

CPP should therefore be part of military operational planning processes (OPP). NATO could play a role in this, helped by cultural experts, by supplying CPP doctrine planning models to Member States. The ICC should investigate possibilities of prosecuting cultural war crimes in Syria through international criminal law and certain treaties that give the ICC jurisdiction in Libya. Cultural expertise is needed for organizations like the ICC and, therefore, funding has to be in place.


Present-day Libya is divided in two parts controlled by two rival 'governments ': in Tripoli and (recognized internationally) Tobruk. Negotiations are taking place under supervision of the United Nations to unite the country again. The latest news is the announcement of a new government of national accord temporarily based in Tunis. The Department  of Antiquities  in Tripoli is still active (January 2016) and has made urgent demands for international help in order to assess the nature  of the  threats  against  Libyan heritage in situ and to find simple and cheap solutions. 

Libya has five UNESCO World Heritage sites: the ancient Greek archaeological sites of Cyrene; the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna; the Phoenician port of Sabratha; the  rock-art  sites  of  the  Acacus Mountains in the Sahara Desert; and old Ghadamès, an oasis city. 

Sites like Leptis Magna are out in the open and exposed to all kinds of threats, especially theft and urban encroachment. The Benghazi area suffers from a lack of security, and Cyrene is not only threatened by looting, but  also by (illegal) commercial developments destroying precious heritage. 

At the end of 2015, pro-ISIL militants took temporary control of part of the town of Sabratha to free members seized by a rival militia. Libya's anti- government Islamic militants have aligned with IS and are active in the surrounding areas of Sabratha, which people fear will fall victim to iconoclasm and looting. 

Iconoclastic attacks have already taken place against Sufi tombs and mosques, amongst others, in Tripoli. Several international structures and organizations exist that could and should deal with CPP in Libya but they are not doing so (effectively) because they are (or feel) restricted often by their own governments, due to possible political implications.


Cultural heritage abuse and destruction are rampant. Old phenomena like iconoclasm are back in strength. Iconoclasm arose in Europe in the iconoclastic rage of 1566 in which the Calvinists destroyed statues in Catholic churches and monasteries. Apart from being driven by religious motives, the destruction of antiquities and cultural objects of heritage in the Mediterranean region seems to be used as a modern form of psychological warfare. Attacks on cultural heritage also show elements of cultural genocide and, as acknowledged by the United Nations, war crimes or even crimes against humanity.

Monuments and cultural objects stand for the identity of groups and individuals. lf you want to hurt a society or a nation at its heart or erase their existence from historical memory, then their cultural heritage is a grateful prey. The main concern is that there is presently no operational protection system being implemented based on international cooperation and coordination. Legal obligations and sanctions are not sufficiently implemented and enforced - for instance, cultural war crimes should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.  

Can we stop the destruction of our shared cultural heritage in the Mediterranean area? 

This is hard to say, but we, especially Europa, should now, more than ever, resist the dismantling of our shared identity and become pro­ active.

--Mr. Kila will be speaking at the Saint Petersburg Institute of Oriental Manuscripts Conference: "Facing the Chaos. Tangible and Intangible Heritage Protection in the XXI century" on May 19, 2016.

* Military organizations especially NATO do not have CPP expertise nor are they hiring experts to educate the military and to bring CPP into operational planning doctrines.
** Council Resolution 14232/12 of 4 October 2012 on the creation of an informal network of law enforcement authorities and expertise competent in the field of cultural goods  (EU CULTNET).
***Source accessed on 20 January 2016. 



KILA J. and HERNDON C. "Military  involvement  in Cultural Property Protection: An Overview by Joris Kila and Christopher Herndon" in Joint  Forces Quarterly, JFQ 74, 3rd Quarter 2014 July 2014.

KILA J. and ZEIDLER JA "Military Involvement in Cultural Property   Protection   as   part   of   Preventive Conservation'  In   Cultural  Heritage in  the Crosshairs: Protecting Cultural Property during Conflict, Kila, J. and Zeidler, J. (Eds), Leiden­ Boston 2013. Conclusion, Joris D. Kila and James A. Zeidler ibid. Pp. 9-50 and Pp.351-353.

KILA J. Heritage under Siege. Military implementation of  Cultural  Property Protection following the1954 Hague Convention Leiden-Boston 2012.

WILSON J. Bureaucracy. What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do it, New York, 1989.

August 30, 2015

Confirmed - Islamic State has Destroyed the Ancient Temple of Bel in Syria's Palmyra

Just one day after UN training and research agency UNITAR had confirmed via satellite images that Palmyra's Baalshamin Temple was destroyed by Islamic State militants, ARCA has received word from multiple direct and indirect sources that The Temple of Bel has also been targeted.  The temple is aligned along the eastern end of the Great Colonnade at Palmyra and its epigraphic remains attest to the temple's dedication in 32 C.E.  After that, it underwent changes through the course of both the first and second centuries. Since the spread of Islam in the 7th century the Temple of Bel has been used as a mosque though the 1920s.

Temple of Bel - North Adyton Ceiling, North Adyton and South Adyton 
The Temple of Bel's cella are unique.  Two inner sanctuaries, the north and south adytons ((a restricted area within the cella of a Greek or Roman temple) are dedicated as the shrines of Bel and other local deities. Both the North and the South chambers had monolithic ceilings. The Northern chamber’s ceiling highlighted seven planets surrounded by twelve zodiac carvings as well as a camel procession, a veiled women, and what is believed to be Makkabel, the god of fertility.  While many believed the temple's repurposing as a mosque would have offered it protection, this imagery may have been the target for destruction under Daesh idiology.

The Islamic State took control of the historic site of Ancient Palmyra on the May 21, 2015.  The extent of the damage to the Roman-era structure is still being investigated.

Due to the number of conflicting reports, ARCA has been continually aggregating reports on the status of the Temple of Bel as more conclusive information came in and could be corroborated.

Update September 01, 2015 07:30 GMT+1 At 7:30 this morning, ARCA posted word that the UN Training and Research Agency (UNITAR) had confirmed that satellite images received have confirmed that the Temple of Bel, in the ancient city of Palmyra in northern Syria has been destroyed. Tom Holland, and London-based writer and historian gave this sad, but fitting eulogy, which we have included in the satellite photo caption below.

"The temple of Bel in Palmyra,
dedicated when Tiberius was emperor and Jesus was alive.
For 1983 years it stood largely intact. Now – confirmed, gone
--Tom Holland
UN Training and Research Agency (UNITAR) posted news of their satellite and image analysis shortly after midnight.  Their written statement reads "We can confirm destruction of the main building of the Temple of Bel as well as a row of columns in its immediate vicinity."

Einar Bjorgo, manager of UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme - (UNOSAT) said a satellite image taken Monday "unfortunately shows the destruction of the temple's main building as well as a row of columns in its immediate vicinity."

Image Credit/Image analysis: UNITAR-UNOSAT Copyright Airbus Defense and Space - Findings , based on two images: one taken on Aug. 27 which showed the main building and columns still intact and one post destruction.

Update August 31, 2015 15:10 GMT+1 Speaking to the Associated Press via Skype today, an Islamic State operative has said that the temple (of Bel) had been destroyed, without elaborating. The individual spoke on condition of anonymity because members of the group are not allowed to speak to journalists.

Update August 31, 2015 15:10 GMT+1 Director-General of Syria’s Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) issues a formal statement on their website which reads, in part, "DGAM could not verify this news with confident resources, so the act is not sure nor the size of destruction, hoping it is not true."

Update August 31, 2015 14:30 GMT+1 New York Times article, quoting Syria's Director-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), Maumoon Abdul-Karim, seems to indicate the two inner sanctuaries, the north and south adytons, were the target in this attack on Palmyra's immovable heritage.

Update August 31, 2015 14:15 GMT+1 Reached in Damascus, Maumoon Abdul-Karim, the Director-General of Syria’s Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) has told the Guardian “The temple structure is on a raised terrace that can be seen from afar, and our information is that the temple is still there,” 

Update August 31, 2015 13:36 GMT+1 Speaking to the Associated Press via Skype today, an Islamic State operative has said that the temple (of Bel) had been destroyed, without elaborating. The individual spoke on condition of anonymity because members of the group are not allowed to speak to journalists.

Update August 31, 2015 09:38 GMT+1 A report by Business Insider stated that Mohamed Hassan al-Homsi, an activist from Tadmor who uses a pseudonym, had indicated that the group has used explosives to destroy the inner part of the temple.  Al-Homsi is reported to have said

"They laid the explosives today, using booby-trapped boxes and barrels that were already prepared by IS”

The report also stated that Maumoon Abdul-Karim, the Director-General of Syria’s Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) was reached by phone in Damascus, but that he could not yet confirm the destruction.  Professor Abdul-Karim said

"Rumours about these ruins are always coming out so we have to be careful about news like this."

Update August 31, 2015 03:38 GMT+1 Report via the Washington Post states that a contact in Hom’s outside Islamic State territory, using the pseudonym, Khaled al-Homsi, collaborates reports that the Temple of Bel was blown up Sunday afternoon.

Update August 31, 2015 00:36 GMT+1 An Al Jazeera reporter in the Syrian city of Homs was told that ISIL on Sunday detonated more than 30 tonnes of explosives.  Note: 30 tones would be a significant amount of explosives. If this is correct, the size and sound of the explosion would likely have resembled something similar to what is seen in this video. 

Update August 30, 2015 23:15 GMT+1 AP and CBS and news reported that a resident, possibly from Tadmor and going by the name "Nasser al-Thaer" reported that a substantial blast went off at 1:45 pm Sunday afternoon. This contact also reported "it is total destruction" and that "the bricks and the columns are on the ground."   This witness may be the same person who spoke with AP reporters who confirmed the destruction of Palmyra's Baalshamin Temple Destruction and who previously reported to Syria Deeply on July 21, 2015 that bombs had been planted in the historic temples of Bel and Baal Shamin. 

Update August 30, 2015 22:10 GMT +1 The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has also received word that the temple was targeted but has no further information on the extent of the damage.

Image Credit: Khan Academy

August 22, 2015

Saturday, August 22, 2015 - ,, No comments

Cultural Terrorism in Moscow: The Enemies of Classical Art in Russia and their Protectors

Article reprinted in its entirety with the consent of the author, Alexander Baunov, senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center.  The original link to this article can be found here. 

On August 16 a group of ultra-conservative activists vandalized an art exhibition in Manege Square next to the Kremlin in Moscow. Shouting that the exhibition was offensive to Christianity, they smashed sculptures and ripped canvases by well-known Russian artists Vadim Sidur and Megasoma Mars.

What happened at Manege Square has been described as "disorderly conduct" and it may be prosecuted as such if the case comes to trial. But it is more appropriate to call it a terrorist attack by religious extremists, like the acts of cultural destruction carried out by ISIS in Palmyra, Nineveh or Mosul.
Alexander Baunov is a senior
associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center
 and editor in chief of Twitter: @BAUNOV
In Moscow, at first glance, the target of the wrath of the zealots was even more of a surprise than their actual behavior: they attacked classical Russian rather than modern art. Thirty years after his death, Vadim Sidur has become a classic, exhibited all over the world. The gallery at the Manege is a state museum. This seems to be have been part of the attackers' plan: a mainstream gallery in the center of the capital was an effective forum to air an extremist statement, demanding the government change its policies on culture.

The Russian government condemned the Manege vigilantes--after a brief pause. Prominent parliamentarian Konstantin Kosachev called the attack "a disgusting story." But as with the murder of liberal politician Boris Nemtsov in February, the attack on the art exhibition presents the government with a dilemma. When Nemtsov was killed, the government wavered between blaming enemies of the state like the dead man himself saying, “we are sorry for the loss, but he reaped what he sowed,” and condemning the murder and risking alienating its most fanatical supporters.

Russia's radical conservatives are becoming more brazen. There are attempts to censor Pushkin and calls to ban Tolstoy from the school curriculum because he was excommunicated, cover up John the Baptist or St. Sebastian below the waist (the Pushkin Museum beware!). 

Paradoxically, attacking the Vadim Sidur exhibition in Moscow under religious slogans, the believers of today attacked an exhibition of religious art that had great meaning for their co-religionists just one or two generations ago.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when Christianity was persecuted in the Soviet Union, Sidur depicted Christian themes and scenes from the Gospels, such as "The Deposition from the Cross." Sidur's Christian contemporaries rejoiced in the fact that a modern artist was not turning out effigies of Lenin but was making modern Christian art.

Yet today's Orthodox Church reacted to the attack on Sidur in an extraordinary fashion. Vakhtang Kipshidze, spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchy, alleged -- entirely implausibly -- that Sidur's work was done on the orders of the Soviet government of the time. Another high-ranking Church official, Vsevolod Chaplin, condemned the attack but simultaneously said that Russian society had a problem with "the desecration of objects and symbols revered by the faithful." He then added, "Incidentally, it may have been no accident that some of these works were not allowed on public display during the Soviet era.”

Not only did a sculptor who could not be exhibited at the time because of his “pacifism”, “mysticism”, and religious imagery, incur the wrath of today's religious fundamentalists. Official Church spokesman of today referred back to Soviet-era practices when they discussed how Christian art should be treated.

An attack on an art exhibition is an attack on modernity, but the religious extremism on display both in Moscow and in the Middle East is, paradoxically, also an extreme form of modernism. Its perpetrators are not interested in antiquity but what can be termed "archaization," an artificial process of reconstructing the past anew to suit their image of the present.

It is not just extremists who feel this urge. Russians vaguely remember that President Barack Obama made a speech (it was last fall at the UN Generally Assembly), listing Russia as a global threat alongside ISIS. Many Russians joked that they were insulted to lose the "Most Terrible" status to the Ebola virus. We could not understand how Americans could think that we were worse than the sadists of ISIS. And yet we made it to the list of global threats for expressing sentiments similar to theirs -- something confirmed by the Manege attack.

Like many Muslims, many Russians are dissatisfied with their place in the modern world. It has not worked out for us in the present, so we seek sustenance in contradictory personalities and episodes from different historical periods. We both revere tsarist officers and take offense at the toppling of Lenin statues. We flaunt our religiosity and wax enthusiastic about the Soviet Union. Russian patriots feel good in the past, alongside Yury Gagarin, the Great Victory of 1945 and the empire stretching from Alaska to Warsaw -- and uncomfortable in the present.

Many of the world's Muslims harbor similar sentiments, harking back wistfully to the era of the Caliphate and feeling uneasy in the modern world. Religious fundamentalists, feeling insulted and threatened, conclude: “You ignored us and now you will shake in terror!” They try to compensate for their loss through destruction -- and end up killing their own culture and citizens. 

Unfortunately, the Russian state is playing the same game of artificial conservatism, of "It was better in the past than in the present." It tells people to accept the concepts of the Russian World (Russky Mir) or Novorossiya as something primordial, even though no one had even heard of them a year ago. Russians are told: accept what we concocted for you a year before and share this new identity, this cocktail of Orthodox Christianity, homophobia, hatred for the West, otherwise, you are bad Russians. It is as though the great tradition of Russian Europeans never existed, there were no Peter the Great, Pushkin, Kandinsky or celebrated Russian agnostics and atheists. 

The Russian authorities have cautiously condemned the pogrom at the Manege, but have not demonstrated that they are seriously committed to stopping it happen again. And we can understand why. As long as the state itself remains a force of archaism discontented with modernity, it will have a hard time stopping those who destroy statues or shred canvasses. The actions of the vandals, however extreme, reflect sentiments that are at the core of the current Russian ideology.

February 26, 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015 - ,,,, No comments

A Museum in Mosul That Needs a Break, Not Breaking

Today we have discouraging information on the fate of the collection of the Mosul Museum.  The museum which opened in 1951 specializes in antiquities from the Assyrian empire which flourished within the provincial borders of present-day Province of Nineveh.  It also houses a significant collection of sculptures and other stone relics from Hatra – the capital of the first Arab Kingdom.  By most estimates it is the most important museum in Iraq outside of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad.

In June 2014 it was rumored that militants had destroyed parts of the museum collection.  This rumor was then briefly dispelled by journalists speaking with Iraqi's museum authorities saying that miltants had entered to the museum but left its contents untouched, but not before adding that it had been marked for destruction.  Afterwards they set about attacking and destroying one Shia mosque and shrine after another but verifiable news on the fate of museum's collection was not forthcoming despite whispers in late 2014 and early 2015.

February 27, 2015 the Islamic State group released a video showing militants using sledge hammers, pneumatic equipment and their bare hands to topple or smash antiquities and plaster casts of objects housed within the museum as well as outside at the Nirgal Gate of the Assyrian city of Nineveh on the Tigris River opposite the modern city. 

Eleanor Robson, Professor of Ancient Near Eastern History at University College London and the British Institute for the Study of Iraq's voluntary Chair of Council was the first to confirm that the video is authentic. ARCA has elected to remove its original link to the video in an effort not to franchise the caliphate's corporatized terror.

A speaker on the video is seen standing in front a partial relief of a lamassu (a winged bull) saying that "These ruins that are behind me, they are idols and statues that people in the past used to worship instead of Allah." Citing that the Prophet Mohammed took down idols with his bare hands when he conquered Mecca, apparently in reference to the Muslim prophet's destruction of 360 idols in the the Ka'b, the team of insurgents is then filmed destroying numerous objects from within the collection in what looks to be its four ground-floor galleries.

The Mosul Museum sits on the west side of the city not far from the Provincial Governor's Office. Located on grounds that once were the gardens of the former palace of King Faisal, the museum has been shuttered since April 2003 plagued by both looting in 2003 and ongoing security concerns.   

At that time of the museums closing staff removed approximately 1,500 of the more portable objects in the collection transferring them to the Baghdad Museum for safekeeping.   Unfortunately shortly thereafter both the Mosul Museum and the Baghdad Museum were hit with looting and vandalism.  

During the April 2003 looting 30 bronze panels that once decorated the gate leading into the Assyrian city of Balawat were taken.  Other pieces that were left behind were heavily damaged, including a life-size stone lion from the Hellenistic site of Hatra.  It is unclear at this time which part of the Mosul collection inventory was lost from the 2003 looting incidents and which part survived.  It is also not clear if the transferred pieces of the Mosul collection were returned from Baghdad in advance of the museum's anticipated reopening,  which was anticipated to occur in 2014 before insurgents took over the city. An UNESCO report from 2009 seems to show that the museum was in  a state of preparatory transition, but ARCA has identified no imagery from the interim period of 2009 to 2015 which would demonstrate if an opening was in fact in the works.

What is known is that when the museum was shuttered in 2003 heavier objects, including several pieces of cuneiform-inscribed brick; stone reliefs from Hatra kings; and the Mihrab (prayer niche) of the Mosque of Banal al Hasan in Mosul were left behind as they were either too heavy or too delicate to be relocated, as were several of the heavier statues one can see in the propaganda video. Analysis of the video also shows that museum authorities had made preparatory attempts to protect objects from potential damage and dust by wrapping statuary and reliefs in plastic sheeting.

The galleries in the museum are organized into four sections.  One gallery is dedicated to Assyrian antiquities (Nimrud), one to artifacts from the ruins at Hatra, one to Islamic artifacts, and a fourth to prehistoric artifacts excavated by archaeologists at Hassuna and other sites around Mosul. The images to the right of this blog post, taken from a 2009 UNESCO report on the Preliminary Assessment of Mosul Cultural Museum Mosul, match video footage seen at 2.54 and 3.35 minutes into the destruction propaganda video.

For further image stills of the video, please see the excellent report by Dr. Sam Hardy here. 

Not being a stone mason, it looks like the objects at minute marks 1.21, 1.28. 1.51, 2.47, 2.49, 2.54 2,56 and 3.55 are casts or partially consolidated cast and stone artifacts.  Objects at 2.44, 2.53, 3.24, 3.50, 4.26, 4.33, and 4.45 appear to be original. 

Mosul sits in the middle of 1,791 registered archeological sites, including four capitals of the Assyrian empire.

     By Lynda Albertson

August 6, 2012

Classics Scholar Llewelyn Morgan and the “Buddhas of Bamiyan”: For more than 1,200 years a Buddhist icon reigned over an Islamic Trading Post

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

One of our ARCA subscribers alerted me to a book published this year by Profile Books (UK) and Harvard which tells of the long history of the gigantic Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban’s anti-artillery weapons in Afghanistan in 2001. My only knowledge of these objects is the furor created on international news of the videotape that showed the destruction of these cliff icons. YouTube has a video, “Afghanistan Taliban Muslims destroying Bamiyan Buddha Statues”, which supposedly interweaves the religious justification for this act of iconoclasm. But the destruction of the statues is not the point of Llewelyn Morgan’s book, which focuses on ‘their remarkably long lives’ (See "The Buddhas of Bamiyan by Llewelyn Morgan - review" by Samantha Subramanian in The Guardian, May 18, 2012).

Via Skype and email, Llewelyn Morgan, a lecturer in Classics at Oxford University, discussed his book, which tells of the survival of these symbols of Buddhism alongside one of the major trading routes of Afghanistan, a limb of the famous “Silk Road”, for more than 12 centuries. His book is based on
the recorded impressions of travelers such as Xuanzang, journeying through Bamiyan en route elsewhere…. Writings of surveyors, soldiers and antiquarians of the Raj … texts by Muslim travelers allow Morgan to parse the surprising malleability, over the ages, of Muslim attitudes towards this Buddhist iconography. [The Guardian, Subramanian]
Buddhism arrived in the Bamiyan valley in the 1st or 2nd century AD.

A German visitor in the 1950s photographed
 another tourist's car at the foot of the Buddha.
Photo Courtesy of Edmund Mlzl.
ARCA blog: How long did it take you to write this book? And what drew you to this subject?
Dr. Morgan: It took me from starting research to submitting final proofs about 14 months. I had an interest in Afghanistan from a couple of sources. Like a lot of Classicists I was fascinated by the legacy of Alexander the Great and the Greek culture that persisted in Central Asia for centuries after him. Years ago, I was staying at my grandmother’s house (after her death), and was sifting through the antiques and knick-knacks she obsessively collected. I found a samovar and discovered that it was from Kandahar in 1881 during the Second Afghan War. Later I made friends with someone who was in charge of clearing mines in Afghanistan and he persuaded me to celebrate my 40th birthday by visiting the country.
ARCA Blog: What are your personal feelings after studying the history of these statues?
Dr. Morgan: It remains a terrible tragedy that they were destroyed. What I hadn’t realized before doing the research is what an immensely rich history that they had and what very significant monuments they had been for a variety of cultures. They were a wonder for three separate cultures, the Buddhists that created them, the Islamic peoples who followed, and then, in the 19th and 20th centuries, for the Western world. The 19th Century, when British and European travelers and spies rediscovered the statues, is a particularly fascinating period of history. The best way to compensate for an artistic crime is to fill in the proper meaning of these monuments.
ARCA Blog: Is this like the story of a murder victim?
Dr. Morgan: Indeed. Parallel to a murder victim. Rather like the Buddhas, most victims are anonymous until they are murdered. These Buddhas were very celebrated in the western world in the 1830s/1840s because so many people were writing about them. But their celebrity waxed and waned. In 2001 nobody had heard about them, their name recognition was restricted. Yet when I started talking about these statues, many people in their 50s and 60s who had visited as hippie travelers in Afghanistan brought me their photographs. The Buddhas of Bamiyan are now famous because they have been destroyed, and because of the circumstances in which they were destroyed, because their destruction was followed by the more serious events of 9/11. 
Key to the story of the Buddhas is that there were on this major route between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, not the only route through the mountains of the Hindu Kush, but one favoured for its comparative easiness. Traders, missionaries and armies moved through there. For the British in 19th century, and in this they followed armies going back centuries, Bamiyan was a critical strategic military location, occupied by them in 1839/40 (a bulwark against the threat they believed was posed by the Russians). 
The strategic location of Bamiyan and its position on the trade routes, all help to explain what made it a thriving Buddhist centre in the first place. Buddhism is a religion with very strong commercial instincts. Buddhist monasteries were banks and commercial operations as well as straightforwardly religious institutions. The gigantic Buddhas advertised the piety of this place to visitors, but also blazoned its wealth and power. The Buddhists of Bamiyan would have seen no contradiction in that, I don’t think. Buddhists and Muslims coexisted for a period at Bamiyan, we believe. But by 900 AD, there are no longer any Buddhists around. For 1100 years it has been a strictly Islamic community that surrounds it. But the statues had become an integral part of those Muslims’ home environment. The Muslims of Bamiyan are predominately Shiite, and the statues were incorporated into the Shiite mythology of the area, for example believed to be images of the last pagan king of Bamiyan and his wife, converted to Islam by Hazrat-I Ali, a kind of Islamic St George.