Beginning August 4, 2014, the American Schools of Oriental Research entered into a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of State to document, monitor, and report on cultural heritage damage in Syria (note: see disclaimer below). In addition to raising the global awareness of such destruction, the project also aims to facilitate short-term mitigation projects, as well as develop large-scale preservation plans for the future. This work is being undertaken alongside a wide range of groups, in Syria, and around the world, all focused on finding ways to preserve the irreplaceable cultural heritage of Syria both now and in the future. These are rather daunting and far-reaching objectives for a region torn apart by war. One might ask, “Just how does ASOR plan to accomplish all of this?” First and foremost, it should be understood that the ASOR Syrian Heritage Initiative is an international collaboration with individuals from Syria, Iraq, the United States, Canada, England, France, Germany, Lebanon, and Jordan working together to protect heritage site in Syria (see Who We Are). We recognize that our success will be incomplete as long as the war rages, but we can and must do what we can now.
In order to understand better the scope of the project, here are seven things you should know about the ASOR Syrian Heritage Initiative:
As noted above, the Syrian Heritage Initiative is truly global in scope, highlighting the widespread concern for the destruction of cultural heritage sites in Syria and parts of Iraq. One of the primary aims of the Syrian Heritage Initiative is to increase this public awareness, which we aim to do via publications (both online and print), participation in academic conferences, and collaborations. We have launched a website (asor-syrianheritage.org) where we are making available weekly reports, bibliographies, and other resources. ASOR is also holding a symposium on November 23, 2014 in conjunction with ASOR’s Annual Meeting in San Diego, California, while a larger conference has been tentatively scheduled for September 2015 in Washington, DC.
In order to develop plans to restore Syria and Iraq’s cultural heritage, we must first understand the extent of the damage. By monitoring a wide range of social media, the Syrian Heritage Initiative seeks to identify and document destruction as it occurs in real time. Moreover, an expansive network of scholars, advisors, NGOs, collaborative projects, and volunteers enables us to verify damage on the ground, altogether painting an expansive picture of the cultural heritage situation in Syria.
In addition to documenting cultural heritage damage on the ground, the Syrian Heritage Initiative also utilizes satellite imagery when possible to monitor and document cultural heritage sites remotely. Such work involves analyzing past images for changes over time, as well as acquiring new imagery to potentially verify and monitor damage at cultural heritage sites in the present.
The Syrian Heritage Initiative is building a comprehensive map and inventory of cultural heritage in Syria that includes archaeological sites, historic buildings, museums, libraries, and archives. Such inventories are important heritage management tools and are necessary for effective protection of cultural property during armed conflict. This inventory also allows us to obtain a broader understanding of what has happened and what is happening in Syria today.
As our team monitors the cultural heritage situation in Syria, we identify potential emergency response measures that can be taken immediately to safeguard heritage. We use these opportunities to work with local Syrians to raise awareness about preservation issues, strengthen their skills in documentation, and enable them to protect heritage that has been damaged or is at risk.
When the conflict subsides, thorough condition assessments and documentation of cultural heritage will be among the initial steps of the overall reconstruction process. In order to prepare for such future needs, the Syrian Heritage Initiative is developing multiple large-scale documentation and preservation projects for major heritage sites in Syria. Designed with the input of Syrian heritage experts, these plans will be ready for implementation when the situation is stable and funding becomes available.
Another facet of the Syrian Heritage Initiative’s documentation efforts relates to its creation of a comprehensive bibliographic database with sources pertaining to a wide range of cultural heritage sites in Syria. With sources in English, Arabic, German, French, and Italian, among others, this bibliography offers a wide-angle view of Syria’s cultural heritage prior to the current conflict, allowing us to identify cultural heritage sites (via archaeological surveys) and understand their preconflict state.
Join the conversation by using #ASORSyria on Twitter, or visit our website at www.asor-syrianheritage.org for more information.
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Disclaimer: While the Syrian Heritage Initiative is a cooperative agreement with the Department of State, this article represents solely the views of the American Schools of Oriental Research. All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this blog or found by following any link on this blog. ASOR will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information. ASOR will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information. The opinions expressed by Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of ASOR or any employee thereof.