Alexander Whitcomb's latest article for Rudaw highlights the dangers to Iraq's and Kurdistan region's cultural heritage from extremist forces as well as unplanned and rapid development over heritage sites, as discussed by experts at the Iraq Cultural Heritage Symposium, hosted by the AUIS Social Sciences Department and the Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS).
The Department of Social Sciences and the Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS) at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), organized the first annual Iraq Cultural Heritage Symposium on April 26, 2015. The symposium, “Iraqi Cultural Heritage in Crisis: Strategies for the Future”, brought together prominent scholars, policy makers, government officials, cultural professionals, and journalists from the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, and beyond to discuss the complex and pressing issues relating to cultural heritage in the region. The Symposium addressed vital issues pertaining to preservation and management of Iraq’s cultural heritage in three different panels. The discussions were moderated by Tobin Hartnell, an archaeologist and professor of social sciences at AUIS. Panel 1: From Mesopotamia to Iraq: Valuing the Past for Iraq’s Future The speakers in the first panel spoke about the importance and value of cultural heritage and why it is important to safeguard and preserve it. They included: Gyorgy Busztin, Deputy-Secretary of UN Assistance Mission Iraq (UNAMI) - Building a Positive Future through Cultural Heritage Mala Awat, Director of the Erbil Directorate of Antiquities - Cultural Heritage in the KRG Hashem Hama Abdullah, Director of the Sulaimani Museum - Restoring the Museum and Future Projects Iqbal Kadhim Aajeel, Director of the Nasriyah Museum - Provincial Museums and Cultural Heritage: A Closer Look at Nasriyah Museum Marie Labrosse, Lecturer, AUIS - Preserving Archives against a Future of Conflict The discussion was followed by a musical performance by internationally renowned Kurdish musician and daf (frame drum) player, Hajar Zahawy. Panel 2: Destruction and Sale of Iraqi and Kurdish Civilization The second panel focused on the destruction of important heritage sites by the Islamic State (ISIS), as well as the smuggling and looting of antiquities in Iraq and Kurdistan. The speakers included: Axel Plathe, Director of UNESCO, Iraq - UNESCO’s Mission to Protect Cultural Heritage in Iraq Ahmad Kamel Mohammed, Director of Iraqi Museum in Baghdad - The Significance of Reopening the Iraqi Museum Bilal Wahab, Assistant Professor, AUIS - Funding ISIS with the Illicit Trade in Antiquities Muayad Said Damerji, Former Director of Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage - Managing Cultural Heritage during Sanctions Panel 3: The Future of Cultural Heritage Management in Iraq The final discussion focused on the future of the cultural heritage in Iraq. Speakers talked about government policies, training and international support for preserving and managing cultural heritage in the region. Experts presented examples of cultural heritage restoration in the Kurdistan Region using the latest methods and technology. AUIS Professor, Tobin Hartnell, also discussed the opening of an Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Center at AUIS in the future, one dedicated to training and educating local cultural heritage management professionals. The speakers on the third panel at the symposium included: Simone Mühl, Assistant Professor, Ludwig-Maxilimian-Universität - Rescue Excavations and Cultural Heritage Management Jessica Giraud, Research Fellow, Institut Français Proche Orient, Head of French Mission to Sulaimani - The Potential of Remote Sensing in Cultural Heritage Management Tobin Hartnell, Assistant Professor, AUIS - The Future of Archaeology at AUIS Kozad Ahmed, Head of Archaeology at University of Sulaimani - Investigating the History of Ancient Kurdistan Mustafa Ahmed, Research Fellow, Institut Français Proche Orient - Syrian Culture in Crisis The conference was held at a pivotal time, as ISIS is systematically destroying the cultural heritage of northern Iraq. However, the recent openings of the Baghdad and Nasriyah Museums highlight the positive role cultural heritage can play as an alternative to the extremist narrative. As cultural heritage management requires local, regional, national, and international collaboration to be successful; this symposium hopes to provide a regular platform for addressing these issues and build ever-closer collaboration between the most important stakeholders around the region and the world. The event was sponsored by Vinci, an architecture and interior design company in Sulaimani. See more photos of the event on our facebook page.