Cultural heritage plays an active role in people’s everyday lives. It is a way for people to express themselves, but it also connects us. Even though our cultures, our language, our religion, or our ethnicity may be very different, there are certain elements within cultural heritage that act as touchstones that bring us together. Protecting all that can seem daunting. You may be thinking to yourself, “What can I do? I’m not an expert in this field.”
Professionals in the field of archaeology, of cultural heritage, and of history are working hard to help those outside of these fields see the value of cultural heritage. Programs like ASOR’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives (CHI) have been trying to do this by bringing to light what is happening in Syria and northern Iraq. ASOR CHI Project Manager Allison Cuneo says that the biggest hurdle is getting the facts and bringing the news to people around the world. Cuneo says it’s important to demonstrate the sheer scale of destruction to help motivate people, who aren’t academic professions, to be offended, outraged, and ultimately to take action.
We as tourists, enthusiasts, and everyday people need to invest in the protection of cultural heritage. Donating to organizations like CHI is always welcome, but may not be an option for everyone. Below are four ways you can help the ongoing cultural heritage crisis in Syria, northern Iraq, and all over the world.
The first step is to understand what is happening.
Did you know ISIL has burned books from libraries and destroyed antiquities from museums? Did you know that as of January 2015, analysis of 740 archaeological sites showed a 26.9% increase between pre-war looting and war-related looting?
More recently, in July 2016, the National Museum of Aleppo was severely damaged by shelling, and the DGAM discovered several large looting tunnels at Tell Taban in al-Hasakah Governorate. You can read the full report here.
With so much information out there, it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s propaganda. ASOR CHI combs through all the information and news, verifies it, then gathers it all into Weekly Reports. You can also stay informed by following reputable news sources and other organizations working to help protect cultural heritage.
Help ASOR CHI and other organizations by talking about the issues. For some people, the destruction of cultural heritage may be out of sight, out of mind. Others may not even be aware of all the damage that has been done. By talking about it, you can help others stay informed. Post about it on social media! New articles and information on the crisis are released all the time. Follow experts, share and engage with their posts. As Cuneo said, the biggest hurdle is getting the information out there. Contribute to the information-sharing network. Discuss the news with others, and be a part of the group looking for a solution.
Write to your senators and congressman (or equivalent if you’re outside of the US) to demand stronger laws for the protection of cultural heritage, not only within the United States but internationally as well. Such laws could include restricting the importation of objects that have been looted or illegally taken from war zones and conflict areas.
ASOR CHI’s Academic Director, Michael Danti, testified before Congress about the looting and trafficking of antiquities and the severity of the damage to cultural heritage as a result of the conflict. Though he is an expert in his field and had the ears of senators and congressman from all over the US, he’s only one voice. Congress, ultimately, is there to represent the views and wants of its constituents. In other words: you. The only way they will know how you feel is if you reach out to them and voice your opinion.
As mentioned, this isn’t an option for everyone, but if it is an option for you, please look into it. Any amount will help professionals continue to protect and preserve cultural heritage sites and artifacts. You can donate to organizations like ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives, ICOMOS, s h i r ī n, and others that are working hard to document cultural heritage damage and help Syrians and Iraqis to protect and preserve their heritage.
Cultural heritage is the closest thing we have to time travel. You can use cultural heritage to connect with past generations and with someone who you’ll never be able to meet. If this damage continues unchecked, we will lose more than just buildings and artifacts. We will lose our connection with past generations.
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