Greed often motivates cultural heritage trafficking. The illegal looting, smuggling, laundering, and sale of heritage objects is typically undertaken to earn cash. But a far more insidious crime is cultural heritage assault, which targets the identity of a community by attempting to obliterate its history and culture.
Cultural heritage assault takes the form of politically or religiously motivated iconoclasm, theft, and vandalism. Its purpose is to cause psychological distress or to incite racial, ethnic, or religious hatred. Assaults on heritage target monuments, art, religious institutions, and symbols and usually accompany acts of genocide or ethnic or religious cleansing.
History, unfortunately, is replete with examples of assaults on culture, flourishing because of silence or indifference. That is why people of goodwill are urged today to pay particular attention to the destruction of heritage occurring in Iraq.
Dr. Abdulamir al-Hamdani of Stony Brook University spoke about the demolition of Iraq’s heritage last week at the Iraqi Cultural Center. SAFE | Saving Antiquities for Everyone has published slides from his talk on its web site, which chronicle relentless assaults on archaeological sites, museums, monuments, churches, shrines, and more.
Deliberate attacks targeting religious groups pose the greatest concern. The radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), for example, has caused significant destruction to Christian heritage. The extremist fighters, who have spilled out from the Syrian conflict into northern and western Iraq with the avowed purpose to create a new “caliphate,” have forced the exodus of thousands of Christians occupying the area since the beginnings of Christianity. The imposed resettlement prompted Pope Francis to express public support for the community of believers as they abandoned their homeland under threat of persecution. Patriarch of the Syrio-Catholic bishopric in Mosul, Ignace Joseph III Younan, told Vatican Radio, “With regret, we announce that our bishopric has been completely burnt down: manuscripts and the library have gone.”
Shia religious centers have also been destroyed as bulldozers and explosives in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh have toppled shrines and mosques according to reports from the BBC and other news agencies.
Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, has listed Turkmen, Shabaks, and Yazidis as additional minority groups whose lives and culture have been caught in the crosshairs.
Calling attention to this attack on heritage in Iraq is vital so that government leaders, lawyers, and policymakers everywhere can take a vocal stand against such wanton destruction.
By Rick St. Hilaire Text copyrighted 2010-2014 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited.