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Iraqi Heritage in Danger: An Expert Meeting at the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam

On March 13, 2015, the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam organized a panel of experts to discuss the destruction of cultural heritage in northern Iraq. The meeting was an opportunity to introduce the public to Iraqi sites that have recently received significant media attention due to widespread coverage of damage and demolition by ISIS.

Speakers included Dr. Diederik Meijer, archaeologist and professor emeritus at Leiden University, and Dr. Lucinda Dirven, ancient historian and assistant professor at the University of Amsterdam. Meijer and Dirven introduced the audience to the ancient cities of Nimrud and Hatra. Hikmat Basheer al-Aswad, director of the Mosul Museum until 2013 and leader of the Iraqi archaeological mission in Hatra, provided a valuable perspective on the importance of the museum and the site and how knowledge of both contributes to an assessment of the actual damage inflicted during the current conflict.

Alessandra Peruzzetto, WMF Program Specialist for Archaeology and the Middle East, spoke on how the destruction of cultural heritage is common in cases of war and conflict, as sites and artifacts are essentially taken hostage and are used as weapons of propaganda. Peruzzetto explained that the recent media reports are merely a glimpse into the intent of ISIS to destroy the multicultural society that once was Iraq. As such, she said, the destruction is part of an ethnic cleansing.

Despite the tragic situation in Iraq, the meeting speakers conveyed a positive message. Iraqi heritage authorities, in Baghdad and in the Kurdish Region (KRG), are steadfastly continuing with their work to protect the nation’s sites and treasures. Additionally, archaeological activities are still underway, thanks to the strong collaboration between the local authorities and foreign academics. Staff members of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and of the Directorates of Antiquities of the Kurdistan Region are involved in training programs organized by various organizations, including World Monuments Fund, the University of Delaware, l’Institut Français du Proche Orient, and il Università di Udine.

At approximately the same time as the destructions at the Mosul Museum, the Iraq Museum in Baghdad reopened its doors and Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi declared, “It is a mission to preserve human civilization and its heritage … a clear message that humanity will overcome terrorism, violence, and destruction.”