CHI: Planning for Safeguarding Heritage Sites in Syria and Iraq1

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During the reporting period, reported heritage damage declined markedly relative to rates documented for the previous two months. It is too early to determine the cause for this decline and to determine whether it is linked to an actual decline in heritage incidents or, instead, represents an aftereffect of the recent hyper‐focus on the capture of Tadmor/Palmyra by ISIL and/or the reduced capacity of many in‐country monitoring groups linked to the expanding footprints of ISIL and other extremists. Palmyra continued to receive attention as unverified reports of alleged ISIL looting and destruction of sculptures surfaced.

Critics among the media continue to raise concerns over the high degree of media coverage given to heritage issues relative to human atrocities, loss of life, and the humanitarian situation more broadly. It should be noted that the media itself generally sets the agenda for coverage, solicits comment from heritage experts, and edits interviews to highlight particular themes. Cultural heritage experts generally prioritize the human tragedy of the conflict and present the cultural heritage crisis as a subcomponent of the larger humanitarian crisis.

The end product of interviews often does not reflect this emphasis.   In Iraq, unconfirmed reports of ISIL deliberate destructions at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Assur continue to surface, alongside unconfirmed reports of the deliberate destruction of historically significant religious sites by ISIL. Assur lacks significant standing architecture, so the potential targets remain ambiguous except for an Ottoman structure formerly used as a site museum, ancient Assyrian remains preserved as foundations and wall stubs, and reconstructed ancient features.

Source: ASOR

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