Fwd: Iraq National Museum Tragedy

From: Keith Miller (kbmill@ksu.edu)
Date: Thu Apr 24 2003 - 10:42:27 EDT

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    More updates on Iraq antiquities.


    > NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE (Vol. 9, #16; 17 April 2003)
    > by Bruce Craig <rbcraig@historycoalition.org>
    > National Coalition for History (NCH)
    > Website: http:www2.h-net.msu.edu/~nch
    > *****************
    > 1. Situation Iraq -- Amid Ruins, Heritage Community Acts With One Voice
    > 2. Transportation Law Reauthorization Sparks 4(f) Legislative Battle
    > 3. Legislative Update: Bills Passed, Bills Introduced
    > 4. Bits and Bytes: E-Government Survey Results; Edited Version of the
    > New Secrecy EO; Lynne Cheney Donates to Museum; Black History Museum
    > Report Issued
    > 5. Articles of Interest: "History Scholars Fight Present War" (The
    > Philadelphia Inquirer; 10 April 2003); "Not All Freedom is Made in
    > America" (New York Times; 13 April 2003)
    > Given the coverage of the war in the nation's press, it is hard not to
    > be aware of the large-scale looting and destruction of priceless
    > artifacts in Iraq's Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad. The
    > institution's collections documented the Babylonian, Sumerian,
    > Assyrian, and Islamic civilizations. Last Sunday (13 April 2003) for
    > example, a front-page story and poignant photo in the Washington Post
    > showed a tearful Nabhal Amin, the museum's deputy director, crying as
    > she surveyed the destruction of an estimated 170,000 artifacts. The
    > museum's collection contained objects dating back thousands of years
    > and was worth billions of dollars in monetary terms, but was priceless
    > to scholars of Mesopotamia and Near Eastern antiquity. The card catalog
    > documenting the collection was also destroyed.
    > The National Coalition for History (NCH) has learned that the loss
    > caused by the frenzy of looting extends far beyond what was initially
    > reported. First it was the antiquities museum, then came word that the
    > National Library that housed precious books, had been ransacked,
    > gutted, set on fire, and left a smoldering shell. Then word that the
    > Iraq historical archives building -- the "House of Wisdom" -- the
    > repository for a priceless treasure of Ottoman historical documents,
    > including the old royal archives of Iraq as well as the documentary
    > evidence of the country's more recent history, was also
    > ablaze. Eyewitnesses reported flames shooting 200 feet in the air with
    > charred handwritten letters and papers raining down on
    > streets. Finally, word came that the library of Korans at the Ministry
    > of Religious Endowment was burning out of control.
    > For days, near universal scorn poured down on Pentagon officials who,
    > according to press accounts were apparently "specifically warned"
    > months ago about the need to protect Iraqi heritage sites including the
    > Museum of Antiquities. Defense department officials retorted, that
    > Coalition troops were too occupied by combat to intervene, and
    > furthermore, senior Pentagon officials stated that the military had
    > never promised that the buildings would be safeguarded though they were
    > included on the American military's "no-target list" in response to
    > scholars' warnings. General Richard Myers, chair of the Joint Chiefs
    > of Staff, later stated that protection of the museum had been
    > considered but it was assigned less importance than ongoing combat
    > operations; that the military had acted first to secure oil wells,
    > dams, and other critical sites ahead of the troops' main advance, and
    > that once in the city, Coalition forces placed a priority on securing
    > the oil ministry offices to keep looters there at bay.
    > In his statement to reporters, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld
    > characterized the loss merely as "the price of liberation" and blamed
    > the destruction of the museum on "the chaos that ensures when you go
    > from a dictatorship to a new order...we didn't allow it. It happened
    > and it's unfortunate." Later, during a press conference, Secretary of
    > State Colin Powell defended the administration's priority decisions and
    > stated that "The United States understands its obligations and will be
    > taking a leading role with respect to antiquities in general, but this
    > museum in particular."
    > (http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/2/hi/entertainment/2947251.stm).
    > During a subsequent Pentagon briefing, Secretary Rumsfeld also declared
    > that the US had begun that process and was offering rewards for those
    > who return plundered items or helped in recovering them.
    > According to one Iraqi museum official though, had five American
    > soldiers posted at the door of the antiquities museum, "everything
    > would have been fine." However, some evidence is beginning to emerge
    > that some pillaging of the museum may have been conducted prior to the
    > rampaging mob by trained antiquities thieves. Their actions, along
    > with later ransacking of the building collectively resulted in the
    > theft and destruction.
    > American heritage officials speculate that a full accounting of what
    > was lost -- not just at the museum but at the library and archives as
    > well -- will take months. The status of other regional Iraqi cultural
    > institutions in other parts of Bagdad and in other cities now occupied
    > by Coalition forces remains unknown. Concerns are very real, as during
    > the Gulf War nine of Iraq's 13 regional museums were ransacked; items
    > in their collections later showed up on the international art market.
    > As Pentagon officials defended American military actions before the
    > press, the scholarly community throughout the world began to
    > respond. Most expressed outrage at the seeming "inaction" by Coalition
    > forces. On 14 April, over 250 scholars petitioned the United Nations
    > urging measures be implemented for the safeguarding of Iraqi cultural
    > heritage (http://users.ox.ac.uk/~wolf0126/petition.html). (Individuals
    > and organizations that wish to add their names and institutional
    > affiliation may do so by sending a message to: mesop2003@yahoo.com.)
    > The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
    > (UNESCO) also quickly acted. UNESCO called an emergency meeting in
    > Paris to begin to assess the damage and attempt to inventory missing or
    > destroyed antiquities. Interpol was also alerted and requested to
    > enforce the 1970 UNESCO Convention strictures prohibiting the illicit
    > import, export, and transfer of ownership of cultural property. Several
    > international non-governmental bodies such as the International Council
    > of Museums (ICOM) issued statements warning art dealers, auction
    > houses, collectors, and museums against acquisition of objects that
    > belong to the Iraqi heritage (see http:www.icom.museum).
    > In the United States, on 16 April, representatives of 16 heritage
    > organizations, including representatives of the archaeological, museum,
    > library, archival, and history communities came together at a hastily
    > called special meeting of an expanded Heritage Emergency National Task
    > Force (a loose coalition of many major national heritage organizations
    > in the United States) at the offices of the American Association of
    > Museums to discuss what united actions the American heritage community
    > should take. During the meeting, a representative of one scholarly
    > organization stated that their members were "outraged" and wanted their
    > boards of directors to pass strongly worded statements, fixing blame
    > and getting to the heart of culpability. A letter by Martin E.
    > Sullivan tendering his resignation as Chair of the President's Advisory
    > Committee on Cultural Property was also circulated. In that letter,
    > Sullivan stated that in his view the tragedy could have been prevented
    > but was not, "due to our nation's inaction."
    > During a roundtable discussion, it became clear that there were a lot
    > of unknowns. For example, there was no clear indication of the true
    > extent of the damage to museums, archives, and other cultural
    > institutions from voices of heritage professionals inside Iraq. The
    > group believed that more information needed to be gathered and that it
    > presently was impossible to determine how best to provide
    > assistance. To rectify that situation, a recommended course of action
    > was outlined and agreed to (http://aam-us.org/files/iraqmeeting.cfm).
    > First, the group recognized the need to issue public calls for the
    > "immediate protection of all forms of heritage in Iraq" by Coalition
    > forces.
    > Second, there is a need to "communicate with cultural heritage
    > professionals in Iraq to obtain a list of needs and priorities." The
    > group felt that this type of interaction with Iraqi colleagues was
    > needed before American organizations could be of immediate and
    > continuing assistance. To that end, a team of specialists representing
    > various areas of heritage expertise may be assembled and sent to Iraq
    > to gather information and conduct a needs assessment in conjunction
    > with Iraqi heritage professionals. Several representatives present at
    > the meeting also reported that their organizations had already started
    > to compile Internet-based catalogues of stolen/missing artifacts from
    > museums that would be of use to Customs and other policing officials in
    > reclaiming stolen goods.
    > Third, there needs to be a "call for the inclusion of cultural heritage
    > needs in the U.S. Agency for International Development's list of
    > reconstruction activities for Iraq." (see
    > http://www.usaid.gov/iraq/). The USIA is one such governmental agency
    > that provides humanitarian and reconstruction assistance and mitigates
    > the impact of emergency situations.
    > Fourth, the group recognized that there was a need to identify
    > "private, business, and government funding to support the cultural
    > heritage reconstruction work in Iraq." To that end, the Getty
    > Conservation Institute has already pledged assistance (organizations
    > wishing to participate in this funding effort should contact the AAM at
    > (202) 289-1818.
    > The Task Force urged heritage organizations throughout the country to
    > issue statements reflecting these four consensus points.
    > Gustavo Araoz, representing the United States Committee, International
    > Council on Monuments and Sites, (US/ICOMOS) circulated a draft letter
    > to President Bush signed by over twenty organizations. The letter
    > included several of the action points agreed to by these
    > organizations. The US/ICOMOS letter called for: 1) immediate
    > protection of heritage sites including "historic sites, historic urban
    > districts, cultural landscapes, buildings of unusual aesthetic values,
    > archeological sites, museums, libraries, archives, and other
    > repositories of cultural property and human memory;" 2) immediate
    > protection of Iraqi professionals and scholars who work in these places
    > and thereby enable them to carry out their stewardship duties; 3)
    > implementation of the UNESCO Convention for illegal traffic of stolen
    > goods; and 4) the US government needs to insure that funds destined for
    > post-war recovery and reconstruction will provide sufficient funds for
    > the field of cultural resources. On behalf of the American
    > historical/archival professions, the National Coalition for History
    > became a signatory to this letter. The letter is posted on the webpage
    > of the Archaeological Institute of America
    > (http://www.archaeological.org) and should also be soon be available on
    > the USICOMOS webpage (http://www.icomos.org/usicomos) as well as the
    > NCH webpage (http:www2.h-net.msu.edu/~nch).
    > In the very near future the National Coalition for History will also be
    > issuing a model "Statement" on the Iraq heritage crisis for historical
    > and archival organizations to consider using as the basis for their own
    > organizational statements. Organizations wishing a copy may contact the
    > NCH at rbcraig@historycoalition.org.

    > FBI: Looted Iraqi Antiquities Already Surfacing on World Art Markets,
    > One
    > Suspected Piece Seized
    > http://abcnews.go.com/wire/World/ap20030422_201.html
    > "Some of the ancient artifacts stolen from Iraqi museums are already
    > appearing on the international art market and at least one suspected
    > piece
    > was seized at an American airport, FBI officials say. Lynne Chaffinch,
    > manager of the FBI Art Theft Program, said art collectors and dealers
    > in the
    > United States have reported contacts from overseas suggesting they have
    > access to some of the thousands of stolen items. Internet searches
    > have also
    > turned up some items of interest, she said."
    > Check out what's missing so you can join the search:
    > http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/IRAQ/iraq.html

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