USCBS Board Member Testifies in The House

gerstenblith_pattySecretary of U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, Patty Gerstenblith, testifies before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee’s Task
Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing



Testimony of Dr. Patty Gerstenblith
On Behalf of Herself and the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield

“Preventing Cultural Genocide: Countering the Plunder and Sale of Priceless Cultural Antiquities by ISIS”

Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing U.S. House Financial Services Committee
April 19, 2016

Chairman Fitzpatrick and Ranking Member Lynch: Thank you for the opportunity to present this testimony and to address the Members of the Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing on the subject of “Preventing Cultural Genocide: Countering the Plunder and Sale of Priceless Cultural Antiquities by ISIS”. I am submitting this testimony both in my personal capacity1 and on behalf of the United States Committee of the Blue Shield (USCBS).2 The United States Committee of the Blue Shield was formed in 2006. The name, Blue Shield, comes from the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which specifies a blue shield as the symbol for marking protected cultural property and is the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross. Among the current activities of the USCBS is the creation of “no-strike” lists or inventories of cultural sites (including historic and religious structures, archaeological sites and repositories such as museums, archives and libraries) in parts of the world where the United States is engaged in armed conflict. Through working with the Department of Defense, USCBS helps the United States fulfill its obligations to protect cultural heritage during armed conflict.

See her full testimony here »


HR 1493 passed by the Senate as amended by the Senate

On April 13th, the United States Senate passed the antiquities bill, HR 1493 as amended by the Senate.

See full text … BILLS-114hr1493eas

To protect and preserve international cultural property at risk due to 
 political instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters, 
and for other purposes.

The U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield is mentioned as a consulting organization.


Engel Legislation Would Crack Down on Terrorist Financing, Protect Syria’s Fragile History

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today welcomed approval of his legislation, the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (H.R.1493), by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.  Representative Engel’s bill would help curb funding for ISIS by cracking down on the trafficking of artifacts looted from cultural sites in Syria.

“ISIS is pocketing millions of dollars by trafficking irreplaceable artifacts on the black market.  Whatever they can’t loot, they’re destroying in an effort to wipe away history,” said Rep. Engel. “My legislation would make it harder for ISIS to peddle looted antiquities as a funding source, and I applaud my Senate colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee for moving this measure forward.  Today’s action is a great example of what we can accomplish when we put our heads together and work in a bipartisan way to advance American interests abroad.”

Representative Engel’s legislation unanimously passed the House on June 1, 2015. The bill would impose new import restrictions on cultural artifacts removed from Syria. Similar restrictions were enacted in 2004 with respect to Iraqi antiquities. The legislation would provide exceptions to allow artifacts to enter the United States for protection and restoration. Restrictions would remain in effect until the crisis in Syria is resolved and America is able to work with a future Syrian government to protect cultural property from trafficking under a bilateral agreement, in accordance with America’s national interests.

The bill also calls on the President to establish a new interagency body to enhance cooperation among the government agencies already working on cultural preservation and improves Congressional oversight of this issue.

The bill has the support of the Society for American Archaeology, the American Alliance of Museums, the Getty Trust Syrian American Council, the American Anthropological Association, the American Schools of Oriental Research, the Antiquities Coalition, the Archaeological Institute of America, the International Council of Museums, the Association of Art Museum Directors, the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, Preservation Action, the Society for Historical Archaeology, the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, the U.S. National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, and others.


Grassley praised committee passage of HR 1493 bill

New Committee Passes Bill Restricting ISIS’ Ability to Profit from Antiquities Sales Jan 29, 2016 – Committee Passes Bill Restricting ISIS’ Ability to Profit from Antiquities Sales

WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley praised unanimous committee passage of a bill substantially similar to a bill he co-sponsored to restrict the ability of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to profit from the sale of looted antiquities.

“We need to destroy ISIS rather than support its funding,” Grassley said. “This bill will help by restricting the import of items to the United States. It’s a small but important step in hampering the ability of ISIS terrorists to profit from the sale of looted antiquities.”

The Committee on Foreign Relations passed a measure that gives the federal government the authority to impose import restrictions on Syrian antiquities, waiving the provisions of current law that require a request from the country of origin. The bill is similar to the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act that Grassley and Sens. Bob Casey and David Perdue introduced last year. The committee-passed bill is based on a partner bill passed by the House of Representatives.

Grassley’s statement submitted to the committee record follows here.

Statement of Senator Charles E. Grassley
Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act
Business Meeting of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
January 28, 2016

Chairman Corker, Ranking Member Cardin, Members of the Committee:

I’d like to thank this Committee for taking up the “Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act.” This bill is critically important to ensure that the Administration has the authority to impose import restrictions on antiquities from Syria, which is a key source of funding for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

I joined Senator Casey and Senator Perdue to introduce a Senate companion to the House bill that would place trade restrictions against the importation of looted archeological and ethnological materials. It’s a similar measure to one that I won enactment of in 2003 when Iraq’s antiquities were being looted.

The brutal and barbaric acts carried out by ISIS are beyond comprehension. The senseless and inhumane brutality these individuals carried out against innocents is truly shocking and disgraceful. ISIS has executed thousands, including women and children. Many more have been kidnapped, enslaved, abused and raped.

ISIS is also destroying and selling the archeological heritage that has survived for thousands of years. It’s reprehensible that there are people engaged in a black market to buy these artifacts, thereby underwriting this brutal Islamist militant group.

The chaos and disorder in Syria and Iraq have opened the door to opportunists who wish to enrich themselves in dealing with stolen and looted antiquities. The least we can do, here in Congress, is shut down the U.S. market for these artifacts. Americans should not be underwriting brutality.

We need to put an end to the destruction and looting of irreplaceable artifacts and historical records like those from the Mosul Museum, Nineveh, and Nimrud. These objects are a material record of humanity.

We need to destroy ISIS rather than support its funding. This bill will help by restricting the import of items to the United States. It’s a small but important step in hampering the ability of ISIS terrorists to profit from the sale of looted antiquities.

I strongly support this bill and encourage members of this committee to support it as well. Thank you.

Antiquities Bill HR 1493 passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

H.R. 1493 Substitute Amendment, the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, was passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 28th.

It now moves to the floor of the Senate and the House for consideration.

View Amended text as PDF »

The U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield is mentioned as a consulting organization.

Background:  The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act was reintroduced on March 19, 2015 by Congressman Eliot Engel as H.R. 1493. The goal of this legislation is to protect and preserve international cultural property at risk due to political instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters, and for other purposes.


Amended text of HR 1493 as it passed
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

January 28, 2016


MRW16052 S.L.C.

AMENDMENT NO.llll Calendar No.lll

Purpose: In the nature of a substitute.


H. R. 1493

To protect and preserve international cultural property at

risk due to political instability, armed conflict, or natural

or other disasters, and for other purposes.

Referred to the Committee on llllllllll and

ordered to be printed

Ordered to lie on the table and to be printed


to be proposed by lllllll


1 Strike all after the enacting clause and insert the fol2



4 This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Protect and Preserve

5 International Cultural Property Act’’.


7 It is the sense of Congress that the President should

8 establish an interagency coordinating committee to coordi9

nate and advance the efforts of the executive branch to

10 protect and preserve international cultural property at risk


MRW16052 S.L.C.

1 from political instability, armed conflict, or natural or

2 other disasters. Such committee should—

3 (1) be chaired by a Department of State em4

ployee of Assistant Secretary rank or higher, concur5

rent with that employee’s other duties;

6 (2) include representatives of the Smithsonian

7 Institution and Federal agencies with responsibility

8 for the preservation and protection of international

9 cultural property;

10 (3) consult with governmental and nongovern11

mental organizations, including the United States

12 Committee of the Blue Shield, museums, educational

13 institutions, and research institutions on efforts to

14 protect and preserve international cultural property;

15 (4) coordinate and advance core United States

16 interests in—

17 (A) protecting and preserving international

18 cultural property;

19 (B) preventing and disrupting looting and

20 illegal trade and trafficking in international cul21

tural property, particularly exchanges that pro22

vide revenue to terrorist and criminal organiza23


24 (C) protecting sites of cultural and archae25

ological significance; and


MRW16052 S.L.C.

1 (D) providing for the lawful exchange of

2 international cultural property.



5 (a) IN GENERAL.—The President shall exercise the

6 authority of the President under section 304 of the Con7

vention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (19

8 U.S.C. 2603) to impose import restrictions set forth in

9 section 307 of that Act (19 U.S.C. 2606) with respect to

10 any archaeological or ethnological material of Syria—

11 (1) not later than 90 days after the date of the

12 enactment of this Act;

13 (2) without regard to whether Syria is a State

14 Party (as defined in section 302 of that Act (19

15 U.S.C. 2601)); and

16 (3) notwithstanding—

17 (A) the requirement of subsection (b) of

18 section 304 of that Act (19 U.S.C. 2603(b))

19 that an emergency condition (as defined in sub20

section (a) of that section) applies; and

21 (B) the limitations under subsection (c) of

22 that section.





MRW16052 S.L.C.

1 (A) IN GENERAL.—The President shall,

2 not less often than annually, determine whether

3 at least 1 of the conditions specified in subpara4

graph (B) is met, and shall notify the appro5

priate congressional committees of such deter6


7 (B) CONDITIONS.—The conditions referred

8 to in subparagraph (A) are the following:

9 (i) The Government of Syria is in10

capable, at the time a determination under

11 such subparagraph is made, of fulfilling

12 the requirements to request an agreement

13 under section 303 of the Convention on

14 Cultural Property Implementation Act (19

15 U.S.C. 2602).

16 (ii) It would be against the United

17 States national interest to enter into such

18 an agreement.


20 (A) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in

21 subparagraph (B), the import restrictions re22

ferred to in subsection (a) shall terminate on

23 the date that is 5 years after the date on which

24 the President determines that neither of the


MRW16052 S.L.C.

1 conditions specified in paragraph (1)(B) are

2 met.


4 Syria requests to enter into an agreement with

5 the United States pursuant to section 303 of

6 the Convention on Cultural Property Implemen7

tation Act (19 U.S.C. 2602) on or after the

8 date on which the President determines that

9 neither of the conditions specified in paragraph

10 (1)(B) are met, the import restrictions referred

11 to in subsection (a) shall terminate on the ear12

lier of—

13 (i) the date that is 3 years after the

14 date on which Syria makes such a request;

15 or

16 (ii) the date on which the United

17 States and Syria enter into such an agree18


19 (c) WAIVER.—

20 (1) IN GENERAL.—The President may waive

21 the import restrictions referred to in subsection (a)

22 for specified archaeological and ethnological material

23 of Syria if the President certifies to the appropriate

24 congressional committees that the conditions de25

scribed in paragraph (2) are met.


MRW16052 S.L.C.

1 (2) CONDITIONS.—The conditions referred to in

2 paragraph (1) are the following:

3 (A)(i) The owner or lawful custodian of the

4 specified archaeological or ethnological material

5 of Syria has requested that such material be

6 temporarily located in the United States for

7 protection purposes; or

8 (ii) if no owner or lawful custodian can

9 reasonably be identified, the President deter10

mines that, for purposes of protecting and pre11

serving such material, the material should be

12 temporarily located in the United States.

13 (B) Such material shall be returned to the

14 owner or lawful custodian when requested by

15 such owner or lawful custodian.

16 (C) There is no credible evidence that

17 granting a waiver under this subsection will

18 contribute to illegal trafficking in archaeological

19 or ethnological material of Syria or financing of

20 criminal or terrorist activities.

21 (3) ACTION.—If the President grants a waiver

22 under this subsection, the specified archaeological or

23 ethnological material of Syria that is the subject of

24 such waiver shall be placed in the temporary custody

25 of the United States Government or in the tem7

MRW16052 S.L.C.

1 porary custody of a cultural or educational institu2

tion within the United States for the purpose of pro3

tection, restoration, conservation, study, or exhi4

bition, without profit.

5 (4) IMMUNITY FROM SEIZURE.—Any archae6

ological or ethnological material that enters the

7 United States pursuant to a waiver granted under

8 this section shall have immunity from seizure under

9 Public Law 89–259 (22 U.S.C. 2459). All provisions

10 of Public Law 89–259 shall apply to such material

11 as if immunity from seizure had been granted under

12 that Public Law.

13 (d) DEFINITIONS.—In this section:


TEES.—The term ‘‘appropriate congressional com16

mittees’’ means—

17 (A) the Committee on Foreign Relations

18 and the Committee on Finance of the Senate;

19 and

20 (B) the Committee on Foreign Affairs and

21 the Committee on Ways and Means of the

22 House of Representatives.


TERIAL OF SYRIA.—The term ‘‘archaeological or eth25

nological material of Syria’’ means cultural property


MRW16052 S.L.C.

1 (as defined in section 302 of the Convention on Cul2

tural Property Implementation Act (19 U.S.C.

3 2601)) that is unlawfully removed from Syria on or

4 after March 15, 2011.


6 Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment

7 of this Act, and annually thereafter for the next 6 years,

8 the President shall submit to the appropriate congres9

sional committees a report on the efforts of the executive

10 branch, during the 12-month period preceding the submis11

sion of the report, to protect and preserve international

12 cultural property, including—

13 (1) whether an interagency coordinating com14

mittee as described in section 2 has been established

15 and, if such a committee has been established, a de16

scription of the activities undertaken by such com17

mittee, including a list of the entities participating

18 in such activities;

19 (2) a description of measures undertaken pur20

suant to relevant statutes, including—

21 (A) actions to implement and enforce sec22

tion 3 of this Act and section 3002 of the

23 Emergency Protection for Iraqi Cultural Antiq24

uities Act of 2004 (Public Law 108–429; 118

25 Stat. 2599), including measures to dismantle


MRW16052 S.L.C.

1 international networks that traffic illegally in

2 cultural property;

3 (B) a description of any requests for a

4 waiver under section 3(c) of this Act and, for

5 each such request, whether a waiver was grant6


7 (C) a list of the statutes and regulations

8 employed in criminal, civil, and civil forfeiture

9 actions to prevent illegal trade and trafficking

10 in cultural property; and

11 (D) actions undertaken to ensure the con12

sistent and effective application of law in cases

13 relating to illegal trade and trafficking in cul14

tural property; and

15 (3) actions undertaken in fulfillment of inter16

national agreements on cultural property protection,

17 including the Convention for the Protection of Cul18

tural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, done

19 at The Hague May 14, 1954.

2016 USCBS Annual Membership Campaign

The Blue Shield is the internationally recognized symbol used to mark protected cultural property during war and armed conflict. US Committee of the Blue Shield is the only organization that unites members from all cultural property professions and disciplines, cultural heritage institutions, government agencies, emergency services, and the armed forces to address critical issues in cultural property protection for our nation.

We can’t do it without you! Join now! »

The success of the USCBS depends on the support of our membership. Only with memberships and donations can the USCBS continue to advocate for the protection of heritage collections in:

  • museums, libraries, and archives
  • monuments and works of art
  • houses of worship
  • archaeological sites, and
  • historic architecture.

Recent USCBS accomplishments include:

  • Military conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Ukraine—along with recent terrorist activities in Lebanon, Egypt and France—have taxed the world’s ability to protect the world’s citizens and our shared cultural heritage. The U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield remains committed to working with our military to ensure that their activities both at home and abroad protect, rather than damage or destroy, cultural property.
  • We continue to prepare inventories of cultural heritage at risk, supported in part by a recent grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund dedicated solely to this endeavor. We also have taken responsibility for the archiving of these lists so that they will be readily available when needed by our military and their allies.
  • On the legislative front, we have worked tirelessly for the passage of the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act. This act passed in the House in early June and was introduced in the Senate (as S. 1887) in late summer with the co-sponsorship of Senators Casey (D-PA), Perdue (R-GA) and Grassley (R-IA). Among the provisions of the bill is assistance to countries that are the principal sources of trafficked cultural property for protection of their cultural heritage sites and prevention of looting and theft of their cultural property. The bill also directs the President to apply specified import restrictions with respect to any archaeological or ethnological material of Syria, as if Syria were a State Party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
  • Documenting cultural heritage at risk during armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Mali, and Egypt, as well as other regions where there is U.S. military presence.
  • Coordinating Do Not Target Lists in the Middle East for the U.S. military and our allies.
  • Partnering with other cultural heritage organizations to provide cultural heritage training for U.S. military forces prior to deployment.
  • Entering into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Smithsonian Institution in order to pursue common interests in the protection of cultural property in the U.S. and abroad.

To current and past members, thank you for supporting USCBS and your commitment to the protection of our shared heritage in collections and sites throughout the world. To future members, we look forward to your joining us in our mission!

By joining or renewing your membership today, you will continue to be a part of our effort to protect the world’s cultural heritage from destruction and theft.

Payment Methods

Pay for your membership online with PayPal, credit card or bank account: Payments are processed using PayPal. Paypal is a secure, low-cost method for USCBS to accept online memberships and donations. You don’t need a PayPal account, but if you do have an existing account, you will be prompted to log in. If you don’t wish to use your PayPal account, just follow the appropriate prompts to pay by credit card or bank account.

Select Membership Type

Even if you are already a member, you may also choose to donate any amount to USCBS.

Pay for your membership by Check: If you choose to pay by check, you may download, complete and mail our USCBS Membership Form along with your check.

Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to Monuments Men

Harry Ettlinger (keynote speaker at the USCBS Annual Meeting last year) accepts the Congressional Medal of Honor on behalf of the original Monuments Men.
Details in article below.

“Monuments Men” receive monumental honor from Congress


House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, left, presents the Congressional Gold Medal to Monuments Men Harry Ettlinger, Richard Barancik, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, during a ceremony in Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. From left are, Boehner, Ettlinger, Barancik, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., and Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite. The award is Congress’ highest honor of appreciation for distinguished achievement. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Harry Ettlinger was one of those honored as one of the art experts turned military officers who rescued treasures looted by the Nazis, nicknamed the Monuments Men.

The 89-year-old discovered a Rembrandt self-portrait that had been stashed away in a German salt mine.

“I was in charge of what was going on down there. I said let’s open the box,” said Ettlinger.

Before the war, the masterpiece had hung in a museum in Ettlinger’s hometown. But because he was Jewish, he was never allowed to visit it. He and his family fled Nazi Germany for the United States.

Now, thanks to Ettlinger, the painting is back in its hometown.


Harry Ettlinger poses next to a photo of the Rembrandt self-portrait he discovered


“For me to go into that particular museum and take a look at it and get a photograph of it, that made me feel good,” said Ettlinger. “It made me feel good in my heart.”

The 2014 film “The Monuments Men” brought new attention to the real Monuments Men. It was based on a book by Robert Edsell.

“The story from my point of view was: who were these men and women?” said Edsell.

One of those women is Motoko Huthwaite. She worked for Lieutenant Commander George Stout, played in the movie by George Clooney.

Huthwaite was a typist. Until last month, she didn’t realize the field reports she worked on related to the famous group.

“I was absolutely flabbergasted,” said Huthwaite.

The foundation set up to honor the Monuments Men has run out of money, so Thursday’s ceremony was bittersweet.

“It’s the realization of a dream I held so closely. We struggled to get to this moment,” said Edsell.

Preservers of the past, awarded a monumental honor.

USCBS to Co-Sponsor Event about Heritage Destruction in Syria and Iraq

Click on the photo to see the details of the event.

Click on the photo to see the details of the event.

“Death of History: Witnessing Heritage Destruction in Syria and Iraq”

Please RSVP to the Penn Cultural Heritage Center of the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Brought to you by the Penn Cultural Heritage Center of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield

In coordination with Senator Bob Casey, Senator David Perdue, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward Royce, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel

October 28, 2015 from Noon – 1:30 pm in the Kennedy Caucus Room, Russell Senate Office Building

The Islamic State, or ISIS, continues to wreak havoc throughout Iraq and Syria, laying a path of death and destruction in its efforts to create a homogeneous caliphate under its brutal rule. To finance this campaign of violence and bloodshed, ISIS is looting the region’s cultural antiquities and peddling them on the black market. Whatever ISIS terrorists can not remove, they destroy in an effort to wipe out any trace of culture that differs from their view, resulting  in an irreversible loss of cultural heritage for current and future generations. ISIS has destroyed priceless artifacts in Mosul, bulldozed Mesopotamian ruins in the 3,000 year old city of Nimrud, and beheaded a renowned 83-year-old Syrian scholar. 

The ancient cities now facing destruction at the hands of ISIS are considered by many to be the birthplace of modern civilization.  How can we ensure these treasures are not trafficked to finance terrorism? What does this cultural heritage represent to the region and the world? And how can the U.S. and other partners work to preserve it?

Please join us for a special exhibition showcasing the sites and artifacts at risk of destruction in Iraq and Syria, followed by a panel discussion of pending legislation and other efforts to preserve cultural heritage in the face of ISIS.

Featuring distinguished panelists:

•  Richard Kurin, Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, Smithsonian Institution
•  Brian I. Daniels, Director of Research and Program, Penn Cultural Heritage Center,  University of Pennsylvania Museum
•  Patty Gerstenblith, Distinguished Research Professor at DePaul University College of Law and Secretary of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield
•  Salam al-Kuntar, Fellow, Penn Cultural Heritage Center,  University of Pennsylvania Museum  

Please RSVP to the Penn Cultural Heritage Center of the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Cultural Preservation in War Zones Present Big Challenges

MAY 11, 2015

Cultural Preservation in Disasters, War Zones Presents Big Challenges

By Eden Stiffman

A video posted online on February 26, 2015 shows so-called “Islamic State” militants destroying statues inside the Nineveh museum in northern Iraq.

The last six months have been a time of severe cultural heritage destruction. The self-proclaimed Islamic State has brazenly targeted ancient buildings and works of art in Iraq and Syria, and more recently, the earthquake in Nepal flattened historic temples.

But donations for cultural preservation aren’t keeping up with need, advocates say, despite recent infusions of financial support.

Historically, few grant makers and donors have supported emergency cultural-heritage preservation, and leaders of nonprofits in the field say fundraising remains a challenge. They contend more awareness is needed in the philanthropic community about how to address cultural heritage in crisis — both in conflict and after natural disasters.

‘Is there going to be anything left?’

In the last few months alone, Islamic State militants destroyed parts of the ancient cities of Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq. In Syria, fighting between government and opposition forces has led to exterior damage of the medieval Krak des Chevaliers castle — built during the crusades — and many of the religious artifacts inside.

“With things being destroyed so actively, I think everyone wonders, ‘Is there going to be anything left to restore once there is a period of stabilization?’” said Andy Vaughn, executive director at the American Schools of Oriental Research, or ASOR. “That has been a real concern, and I think it’s a valid concern.”

ASOR, a nonprofit consortium based at Boston University, launched a heritage initiative for Syria and Iraq last year thanks in part to $756,000 in U.S. State Department funding. The effort is an international collaboration of scholars working to document damage, promote global awareness, and plan emergency and postwar responses. The current focus is creating a database of at-risk archaeological sites in Syria using ARCHES, an open-source mapping system developed by the Getty Conservation Institute and the World Monuments Fund.

As the coalition considers how to expand over the next two years, Mr. Vaughn said he’ll spend more time meeting with foundations and individual donors. “The situation is so bad that everyone is truly wanting to do what they can,” he said.

Iraq War Lessons

Syrian volunteers covered mosaics in the Ma’arra Museum in the Idlib province with a protective layer of glue and cloth, then several truckloads of sandbags were then laid out to protect the mosaics from damage caused by further attacks.

In 2003, Corine Wegener, then a curator at the Minneapolis Museum of Arts and an Army reservist, was mobilized as an Arts, Monuments, and Archives Officer to help protect the Iraq National Museum as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Thieves had looted an estimated 15,000 items from the museum, including antique bronze sculptures and ancient Assyrian, Babylonian, and Mesopotamian artifacts.

U.S. troops had no training in cultural preservation, Ms. Wegener said, and there was little help from nonprofits or other international organizations.

“How is it possible that there’s not some form of Doctors Without Borders for cultural heritage?” she recalled thinking upon her return. “This work is not like the church that goes for two weeks to build houses in Haiti, where you take people who have some basic carpentry skills…. When you’re doing a disaster assessment of cultural heritage assets, you really need trained conservators, logistical support, security.”

Her experience led to the formation of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, a nonprofit initially created to lobby for ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention, an international treaty designed to protect cultural heritage during conflict, which the United States did not sign until 2008. Over time, the organization shifted its focus to providing training for troops, and it also helps create lists of culturally important sites for the Department of Defense to avoid striking when possible.

From the start, fundraising was the biggest challenge for the Blue Shield, which is led by volunteer scholars, said Ms. Wegener, who now works in cultural heritage preservation at the Smithsonian Institution.

Crisis Response


J.M. Kaplan Fund
    • $25,000 supporting a training program at the Iraqi Institute for the conservation of antiquities and heritage through the University of Pennsylvania
    • $57,000 to the American Schools of Oriental Research to expand its Syrian Heritage Initiative
    • $28,000 to the Smithsonian Institution for its emergency care for Syrian museum collections training program
    • $29,000 to the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
  • $250,000 to the Smithsonian Institution to support the planning of its Cultural Crisis Recovery Center
  • $75,000 to the Smithsonian Institution for the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq partnership
U.S. Department of State
  • $756,000 to the American Schools of Oriental Research for its Syrian Heritage Initiative

Amid other emergency issues caused by disasters, there’s a significant gap between what donors are giving and the needs that the professional community is trying to meet, advocates say. Some people question whether organizations should protect heritage sites while people are still suffering during major humanitarian crises. The preservation community, however, sees its work as complementary.

“Saving people also means saving their heritage,” Ms. Wegener said. “You can’t separate these things.”

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the Kathmandu valley on April 25 flattened many of the country’s historic temples and palaces. Donors have responded to the humanitarian crisis, and the cultural heritage preservationists are considering next steps.

Nepalese government archaeologists have begun assessing the losses, and the Smithsonian has offered assistance. “There is a golden hour for doing this kind of work,” Ms. Wegener said. “You don’t want to get in the way of saving people, but often you have a limited amount of time before the cost-benefit is probably not worth the conservation costs … You have to have money in the bank or you’re going to be late in the game.”

The Haitian earthquake in January 2010 was a turning point for the conservation community. As president of the Blue Shield at the time, Ms. Wegener convened a meeting with officials from museums, libraries, and government at the American Association of Museums in Washington. As the question went around the room, it became clear that nobody had plans to do anything in response.

But Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, had been in touch with Haitian colleagues who had asked for help. The result was that for the first time, cultural heritage got a small percentage of the U.S. government’s humanitarian budget. However, private donations from the nonprofit Broadway League ultimately made the Smithsonian’s project possible, as Mr. Kurin wrote in Saving Haiti’s Heritage: Cultural Recovery After the Earthquake, a book highlighting some of the fundraising challenges.

Armed Conflict

Syrian volunteers worked to repair and fortify damage to the roof of the Ma’arra Museum to prevent further deterioration and possible collapse.

Armed conflicts pose particular challenges for cultural preservationists. Some donors are nervous about supporting efforts in nations that the U.S. government has branded as sponsors of terrorism. Others wonder how much can be accomplished in an active war zone.

“There’s a perception oftentimes that nothing can be done in a conflict — that there’s actually a need to wait,” said Brian Daniels, director of research and programs at the Penn Cultural Heritage Center, a research division at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

The Center is a partner in the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq project, or SHOSI, which brings together the Smithsonian Institution, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the Day After Association, a Syrian-led civil society group, to support the professional community on the ground in Iraq and Syria. (Sotheby’s recently gave $75,000 to the Smithsonian in support of the project.)

Among its recent successes, SHOSI has worked to secure the Ma’arra Museum, south of Aleppo in Syria. The museum has been damaged by bombings and attacks from ISIS and the al-Nusra Front, a branch of Al Qaeda in Syria, but still houses a well-preserved collection of Roman and Byzantine mosaics. The group sent a team to fix damaged artifacts and protect the remaining mosaics, stacking sandbags inside the museum’s walls.

“I am very much trying to emphasize that we are doing this responsibly, we are doing this legally, and their dollars can make a difference right now,” Mr. Daniels said of his conversations with donors. “It really is dependent on whether or not the foundation is keyed to emergency response right now. Some are, and some just aren’t.

The New York City-based J.M. Kaplan Fund, which has supported other cultural heritage projects, has recently stepped up as a leading emergency donor. Since 2014, the foundation has given a total of $139,000 to four nonprofits supporting preservation in Iraq and Syria.

“We were approached by our cultural heritage colleagues with specific, time-sensitive projects,” said Ken Lustbader, a program officer for historic preservation at the Kaplan Fund. “Our response was based on their expertise and capacity to address an identified need without delay.”

Another problem: Volatile, unpredictable situations with immediate needs often don’t fit well with foundation funding cycles.

“I’m concerned with a museum curator coming to me and saying, ‘I need to stand by my collection because there’s a risk that there’s going to be armed conflict in this town in three months,’” Mr. Daniels said. Or, “‘This archaeological site that I’m monitoring has been looted out and I want to try to document the looting damage and the stuff that’s been left here.’”

“If a grantee won’t be named for three or four months, I can guarantee you the situation will have changed,” he said. “If I can plan out eight weeks in advance, I’m doing very well.”

Working Together

Prior to the recent reports from Syria, the heritage preservation field had not done a good job of organizing as a unified front. “This has been one of the few moments when there was some readiness to actually try to implement programming,” said Mr. Daniels.

Mr. Vaughn, of ASOR, said he’s also encouraged by the reciprocity and willingness to collaborate, which is “substantively different about this conflict, as opposed to other heritage disaster moments.”

He’s been having discussions with other organizations about finding funds for a summit of groups supporting the work in Syria and Iraq.

“We really need to do everything we can to reduce the duplication of effort,” he said. “This is part of the international community’s humanitarian response, to show the people whose cultural identity is under direct attack that the international world cares. There’s enough work for everyone to do, and we ought to figure out how we can cooperate to do it.”

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$29,000 Grant Awarded by the J.M. Kaplan Fund to USCBS

USCBS receives grant to better prepare lists of cultural property needing to be protected in conflict zones

The U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield recently was awarded a grant in the amount of $29,000 by the J.M. Kaplan Fund for the preservation of cultural heritage in conflict zones. The grant will enable USCBS to prepare detailed and accurate lists of cultural property that should be protected during military conflict and disaster response. The information contained in these lists will enable the U.S. military to avoid damage to cultural property during armed conflict as well as in the course of engineering construction and civil affairs projects.

In the past, USCBS has helped create lists of cultural property through the efforts of volunteers – a process that, by its very nature, could not proceed at a very rapid pace. The receipt of this grant will enable USCBS to enlist subject matter experts to update existing lists and create new lists in a more timely and effective manner.

About the J.M. Kaplan Fund

The J.M. Kaplan Fund, a New York City–based family foundation, champions inventive giving that supports transformative social, environmental, and cultural causes. Over its 70-year history, the Fund has propelled fledgling efforts concerning civil liberties, human rights, the arts, and the enhancement of the built and natural worlds. Today, the Fund is active across the United States and beyond, operating grant programs focusing on the environment, historic preservation, migration, and New York City. To continue its legacy of catalytic grant-making, in 2015 the Fund launched the J.M.K. Innovation Prize, seeking out visionary, early-stage innovations in the fields of cultural heritage, human rights, and the natural and built environments.