Friday, September 15, 2006

BAD NEWS FOR IRAQ'S ANTIQUITIES. On the Iraqcrisis list Chuck Jones notes the following from the Times of London :
Fears for ancient treasures with Shia radical in charge

From Ned Parker in Baghdad

IRAQ’S archaeological riches face a dangerous new threat following the appointment of a minister from a radical Islamic party to run the department responsible for antiquities.

Within months qualified staff have been purged from their posts, archaeologists have been threatened by gunmen and some of Mesopotamia’s ancient sites have been left open to looters. There are fears that Iraq may lose many of its Sumerian and Babylonian treasures for ever.

“We are really worried that Iraq’s history is going to be destroyed and vandalised because of a group of lunatics,” one former member of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage told The Times. He was referring to followers of the Shia Muslim militia leader Hojatoleslam Moqtadr al-Sadr, whose movement has secured a number of Cabinet posts in government, including the Ministry of Tourism, responsible for antiquities.

Liwa Sumaysim, the new Minister of Tourism, is a dentist whose wife is a member of parliament and a relative of al-Sadr. He has been accused of squeezing out experts and appointing religious fundamentalists to key posts. He denies these allegations.

Donny George sums up the situation and it sounds grim:
The board was founded in 1923, three years before Gertrude Bell, the British colonial officer and Arabic scholar, established the National Museum of Iraq. Since then Iraqi archaeologists have been regarded widely as the foremost scholars in their field throughout the Middle East.

But the expertise is vanishing. Donny George, the former president of the board, resigned this summer and fled to Syria, where he has raised the alarm. Before he left, Dr George said that he had sealed the National Museum with thick concrete walls to protect the exhibits from the anarchy in Baghdad.

“I can no longer work with these people who have come in with the new ministry. They have no knowledge of archaeology, no knowledge of antiquities, nothing,” he said.

“They are only interested in Islamic sites and not Iraq’s earlier heritage,” added Dr George, a Christian. He accused the Sadrists of pressuring the board to cut its ties with museums and cultural institutions around the world, as well as to sever its links with the coalition forces — relations deemed essential to help to protect sites and prevent troops from going to areas where they could destroy artefacts.
Read it all -- and weep. I hope that diplomatic and media attention may put pressure on the Iraqi government and lead to a change. I don't have time to try to organize a petition or a letter writing campaign (our presessional week starts this weekend), but I hope someone on the Iraqcrisis list will take it up.

No comments:

Post a Comment