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The Practical Application of Cultural Heritage Law in Iraqi Kurdistan

During the week of May 18, 2014, participants in WMF’s Cultural Heritage Conservation and Management Program in Iraqi Kurdistan examined a wide range of issues pertaining to cultural heritage law and the critical role the law plays in protecting cultural resources. Meeting at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage (IICAH) in Erbil, heritage professionals from around the country examined international best practices, reviewed and discussed the Iraqi constitution, legislation and administration, and compared the Iraqi situation with that of other countries in the region. The instructor, Professor James Reap of the University of Georgia, facilitated interactive discussions on the interpretation of various constitutional and legal provisions and the impact they have on the participants’ conservation work. While focusing primarily on immoveable cultural heritage and historic areas, they also explored moveable heritage, looting, and the repatriation of illegally transported cultural property.

The final day of the legal module involved a field exercise where students identified legal and administrative issues in a protected area and discussed problems and potential solutions to preserve and enhance its integrity. The focus of the exercise was the buffer zone surrounding the Erbil Citadel, which at the time of the class had been nominated by the Iraqi government to the World Heritage List. (The World Heritage Committee voted unanimously to inscribe the citadel in the list only a month after the visit.) The citadel is a settlement on the top of an imposing tell, among the oldest continuously occupied sites in the world. A continuous wall of tall nineteenth-century façades still conveys the visual impression of an impregnable fortress, dominating the city of Erbil. UNESCO is currently working with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in rehabilitating the citadel and has assisted the KRG in developing regulations for the surrounding buffer zone. Development in the buffer zone, which contains historic and modern buildings, a new park and plaza, and a restored and reconstructed souk, could negatively impact the citadel above.

The participants in the field study observed the area and identified a number of legal and administrative issues that could impact the buffer zone. In a follow-up session at IICAH, they discussed possible approaches to overcoming identified problems and to ensure effective administration of heritage regulations. The discussion included the application of this case study to other locations in the region and country. At the conclusion of the program, participants expressed surprise that what they thought would be a “dry” subject was actually engaging and piqued their interest in exploring further a variety of legal issues that impact their work.