McGuire Gibson et al.: Letter demanding Iraqi authorities protect history

Historians in the News

H. E. Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq
H. E. Nouri Kamel al-Maliki, Prime Minister of Iraq
H. E. Hoshyar Zebari, Minister of Foreign Affairs
H. E. Dr. Asaad Al-Hashimi, Minister of Culture
Mufid Mohammad Jawad al-Jazairi, Chair of Cultural Committee, Iraqi Parliament
Maysoon al-Damluji, Member of the Iraqi Parliament

Your Excellencies:

We, the undersigned, would like to express our concern for the present and future state of antiquities and cultural heritage in Iraq. As individuals who have done research for years in Iraq, who have taught its great history and culture, and who have made great efforts to call attention to the potential and real damage to Iraq's cultural heritage due to war and its aftermath, we ask you to ensure the safety of the museums, archaeological sites, and standing monuments in the entire country.

Most immediately we ask that the holdings of the Iraq National Museum be kept safeguarded and intact as one collection rather than subdivided. We also ask that the Antiquities Guards, who have been recruited and trained to protect the ancient sites in the countryside, be kept as a force, meaning that they continue to be paid and equipped and their numbers increased. This force is the key to halting the illegal digging of sites and damaging of monuments that has been occurring since April 2003. We furthermore ask that Iraq’s cultural heritage be treated as part of the rich culture of the Iraqi people, to be preserved for present and future generations. Therefore we ask that cultural heritage either be independent or that it be administered by the Ministry of Culture, which in the past has made preservation and interpretation its highest priorities, implemented by a professional, unified State Board of Antiquities and Heritage. Antiquities and heritage are so important to Iraq that it would be justifiable to make the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage into a new ministry or to connect that Board directly to the cabinet general secretariat, as has been done with the Iraqi Academy of Sciences.

Iraq's cultural heritage is an unparalleled one, and as the tradition from which many other civilizations are derived, it is of great concern to all peoples in the world. It is too important a heritage to be sub-divided and should remain under a national administration. The State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, as part of the Ministry of Culture, has had a record of good administration, and it has been in the past the best Antiquities organization in the Middle East. For years, with its strong Antiquities Law, that made all antiquities and antiquities sites the property of the state, Iraq protected its antiquities sites better than most countries in the world, and it should rise to that level once again.

All persons who work in Antiquities should be above politics and allegiance to any party, and definitely should have no connection to the antiquities trade. Too much of the ancient treasures of Iraq have already been lost through looting and smuggling, and the damage done especially to the great cities of Sumer and Babylonia has been very extensive. Only a strong, national, non- political State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, backed fully by the force of the state, can preserve the heritage that is left.

You are in positions to save the Cultural Heritage of Iraq for everyone, and we hope that you will act to do so.

Sincerely yours,

Prof. McGuire Gibson, President, The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq
Prof. Robert McC. Adams, Secretary Emeritus, Smithsonian Institution
Dr. Lamia Algailani, Hon. Research Fellow, University College London
Prof. Kenneth Ames, President, Society for American Archaeology
Prof. Harriet Crawford, Chair, British School of Archaeology in Iraq
Prof. Leon DeMeyer, Rector Emeritus, University of Ghent, Belgium
Prof. Patty Gerstenblith, President, Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage
Dr. Cindy Ho, President, SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone
Prof. Antonio Invernizzi, Scientific Director, Centro Recirche archeologiche é Scavi di
Torino per il Medio Oriente é l’Asia.
Dr. Michael Müller-Karpe, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz, Germany
Dr. Hans J. Nissen, Professor emeritus of Near Eastern Archaeology, The Free
University of Berlin, Germany
Dr. Roberto Parapetti, Director of the Iraqi-Italian Centre for the Restoration of Monuments
Prof. Ingolf Thuesen, Director, Carsten Niebuhr Institute, University of Copenhagen
Prof. Jane Waldbaum, President, Archaeological Institute of America

cc Samir Sumaidaie, Ambassador to the United States, Embassy of the Republic of Iraq
cc. Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq
cc Kofi Annan, Secretary General, United Nations
cc Koïchiro Matsuura, Director General, UNESCO
cc Mounir Bouchenaki, Director General, ICCROM
cc Michael Petzet, President, ICOMOS
cc C. David Welch, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Department of State.
cc R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary, Political Affairs, Department of State
cc. Alberto M. Fernandez, Director, Press and Public Diplomacy, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs,
Dept. of State

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