Providing assistance in war-torn areas in Syria and Iraq is a complicated matter. The humanitarian crisis has resulted in protests in Syria against the government while a civil war led to the emergence of extremists groups, the most active threat being daesh (ISIS/ISIL). Collateral damage to the area has resulted in the militarization of archaeological sites and historic neighborhoods being obliterated. Organizations such as the ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives (CHI) are continually working on meeting the challenges of this cultural heritage crisis. Through diligent monitoring, CSI is able to assist the nations by documenting damage, promoting global awareness, and planning emergency and post-war responses.
LeaAnn Barnes Gordon gave an insightful presentation into the complications of providing international support to local residents and institutions. A highlight of Gordon’s presentation was showcasing CHI’s extensive digital mapping of over 7,800 cultural heritage sites. These maps help to assess the affects on cultural heritage by analyzing different types of damage as well as current and prospective threats. By utilizing satellite imagery, CHI can monitor changes over time in areas that have been damaged by military occupation or that have been illegally excavated. Information is compiled into reports using photographs and textual records of observations; some of these records are currently available online and others are being added regularly.
CHI is standardizing documents and terminology to avoid ambiguity during documentation (e.g. threats vs. disturbances). In the presentation, Gordon provided examples of types of documents utilized including field guide assessment forms, photo-documentation guides, and technical advice in Arabic to assist those currently living/working in Syria and Iraq. In addition, CHI is providing resources and funding for local institutions for efforts such as cleaning and removing debris and erecting temporary structures.
The presentation discussed ongoing CHI projects as well as general challenges faced when attempting to protect cultural heritage in conflict zones. Constant monitoring allows CHI to identify potential damages and share this information with conservation/preservation specialists in the area. These measures help prevent and decrease future damage to culturally rich sites and collections as well as helping to create standardized documents that can be used in other areas of conflict zones.
To learn more about CHI and the important work they are doing, please see: