The 2014 Annual Meeting of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield – celebrating the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict – was held in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution on September 19, at the Hirshhorn Museum.
Harry Ettlinger, a member of the U.S. Army’s Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of the Civil Affairs Division during WW II, presented the opening keynote address. Other highlights of the meeting included an address by Irina Bokova, Director General, UNESCO; the presentation of the first USCBS Award for Meritorious Military Service in Protection of Cultural Property to Brigadier General Erik Peterson, Commanding General US Army Special Operations Aviation Command; and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Smithsonian Institution and the US Committee of the Blue Shield.
Address of Richard Kurin, Under Secretary of History, Art and Culture
Good afternoon, I’d like to welcome all of you on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution and the
Hirshhorn Museum. We have a number of distinguished speakers with us today, including the board and membership of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, a number of cultural heritage colleagues from the U.S. government and the nonprofit sector, and representatives from the media. We are also very fortunate today to have with us Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO.
I’d like to give an especially warm welcome to our keynote speaker, World War II veteran Harry Ettlinger. Harry was a member of the U.S. military’s Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives teams, better known as the Monuments Men. It is very appropriate we have this meeting at the Hirshhorn as our current special exhibition Salvatore Scarpitta: Traveler features the work of another Monuments Man. A young Italian-American, Scarpitta had returned to Italy to attend art school and was imprisoned by the Fascist government. He escaped, joined the partisans, and later the U.S. Navy. Because of his classical art training and language skills, he was recruited into the Monuments Men and helped with the recovery of artworks in Italy until his discharge in 1946. I hope you will have time to see the Hirshhorn’s exhibition of Scarpitta’s work and learn about how his wartime experiences helped shape his art.
We’re gathered today to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. Though it was drafted to address the destruction of heritage in World War II, the principles outlined in this historic treaty have never been more important than they are today. Just as it did in the formation of the Monuments Men, the Smithsonian and the U.S. museum community have an important role to play. For our part, the Smithsonian hosts training for U.S. military and U.S. Customs Enforcement personnel, provides emergency assistance for domestic and international institutions impacted by disasters, and partners in original research to discover better ways to prevent damage to heritage in natural and manmade disasters.
In recognition of the goals we share, we look forward to signing a memorandum of understanding between the Smithsonian and the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield acknowledging our mutual goal of engaging the wider cultural heritage community in protecting our shared cultural heritage.
We’re very pleased to sign this MOU with the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield. We began our relationship on the Haiti Cultural Recovery Project in 2010 and have continued to work together to organize training for the U.S. military to help meet our obligations under the 1954 Hague Convention. As the Smithsonian affirms its commitment to protect cultural heritage in crisis situations, this MOU with the Blue Shield is a vital public private partnership and we look forward to working with them in the future.
Keynote Speaker Harry Ettlinger
Harry Ettlinger, a member of the U.S. Army’s Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of the Civil Affairs Division during WW II, presented the opening keynote address. He is one of the last remaining members of the Anglo-American Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section that rescued thousands of works of art and other cultural treasures stolen by the Nazis during World War II. Born in Karlsruhe, Germany, Ettlinger fled to the U.S. in 1938 along with the rest of his family. He returned to Europe in 1945 as a private in the U.S. Army. His fluency in German soon led to his transfer to the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section and supervision of operations for the return of seventy-three cases containing stained glassbelonging to Strasbourg Cathedral stored at the Heilbronn-Kochendorf salt mines. In addition to the art objects stored in the mines, Ettlinger found firecrackers, which the Nazis planned to set off when Hitler won the war. Before he left Germany Ettlinger said he got some miners to light them in celebration of the Fourth of July.
Among the numerous honors he has received are the National Humanities Medal in 2007; the 2012 Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty Award of the American Jewish Historical Society; the Staufer Medal in Gold, the highest order of merit for service to his home State of Baden-Wuerttemberg in 2014; also in 2014 an honorary Ph.D. from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania; and the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest recognition for distinguished achievements and contributions. Ettlinger’s exploits served as the inspiration for the character named Sam Epstein in the film The Monuments Men.
Address of Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, on the Protection and Preservation of Cultural Heritage in Syria and Iraq
As we celebrate 60th anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, culture is under attack in Syria, in Iraq, in Mali, in Libya.We are witnessing a campaign of ‘cultural cleansing’ in Iraq, cultural persecution of minorities, and systematic looting and illicit trafficking to finance extremist groups.
This war against culture is not new – Mr Harry Ettlinger has been eloquent about it – but we need to consider the needs of the ‘monuments men and women’ of today.
On 27 March, UNESCO held a special screening of “Monuments Men”, with the US Mission, followed by a high level expert panel on illicit trafficking.
There have been steps forward thanks to UNESCO’s 1970 Convention against Illicit trafficking of Cultural Property and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention – but there remains much to be done to educate the art market, to halt wrongful acquisitions.
This is why in 2003, with the support of the US State Department, UNESCO launched a global Database of National Laws on Cultural Heritage – providing complete information in case of a legal question about the origin of an object.
On Iraq, UNESCO has organized several experts meetings, bringing together ICCROM, ICOMOS, ICOM, Interpol, the Customs Organization. We have launched, on the 17th of July, an Emergency Response Action Plan, starting with the creation of an online observatory.
UNESCO will host another expert meeting on 29 September, at the initiative of France and Iraq.
We have immediately shared coordinates of major cultural heritage sites with the United States, when in early August the US announced its intention to carry out air strikes in Iraq.
I have sent letters to all ministers of foreign affairs of all neighbouring countries, state parties and non-state parties to the 1970 Convention, as well as customs agencies, museums and auction houses, calling for heightened vigilance and control, in cooperation with the Iraqi delegation.
On June 17, July 28, August 8, I have made statements to raise awareness on the importance to protect culture, for instance the Citadel of Erbil, just inscribed on the world Heritage list.
In Syria, with support from the European Union and the Flemish Government of Belgium, we are working with all partners to create a monitoring mechanism to assess the state of heritage.
One year ago, I joined many of you for the launch of the ICOM Red List of Syrian Antiquities at Risk Emergency.
In Mali, UNESCO is now rebuilding the 14 destroyed mausoleums, in partnership with local communities.
This is our response to extremism and ignorance.
We can do more – I have called for consideration by the UN Security Council of a resolution to set an international ban on trade in Syrian cultural objects. We need to ring the bell louder, to ensure respect of the 1954 Hague Convention, and we work with the International Criminal Court in Mali to bring those responsible of destructions to justice.
Our biggest enemy may be the false pretext that in emergencies, one should leave culture aside.
Attacks against culture are attacks against people, and this is why protecting heritage must be an integral part of all peace-building efforts, to safeguard a heritage of diversity and tolerance – to prepare the ground for reconciliation.
In this spirit, I thank all our partners here today for their commitment – including the Smithsonian Institution, our host, the United States Department of State, the Metropolitan Museum, and the United States Committee of the Blue Shield.
USCBS Award for Meritorious Military Service in Protection of Cultural Property
For the US Committee of the Blue Shield Award for Meritorious Military Service in Protection of Cultural Property, the USCBS Board considers men and women in uniform who during the course of military service demonstrate sophisticated understanding of the critical role of cultural property in force multiplication, stabilization in crisis areas, and ultimately in conflict resolution. The winner of this award will have implemented cultural property protection considerations during planning and execution of military missions. Brigadier General Erik Peterson is the first winner of this award which is not necessarily given on an annual basis.
Acceptance Speech of Brigadier General Erik Peterson
Good afternoon friends – Director General Bokova, Dr Kurin, Dr Wilkie, U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield Members, and distinguished colleagues.
I am – very sincerely – humbled and honored to be here today. And a bit overwhelmed at being recognized by such an august group – and even more so – being recognized for simply being a teammate and supporting efforts that were and are clearly in the interest of the military missions I’ve been engaged in.
Add to that – sponsorship and generous hosting of this gathering by the Smithsonian Institution – an organization I’ve admired and benefitted from since childhood, and this magnificent venue – the Hirshhorn Museum a treasure in and of itself. In short – even an Old Soldier can be awe-struck.
While engaged in various assignments over the past several years – both in the US and abroad – it has been my great pleasure to learn from and engage with some amazing professionals and scholars – dedicated to the preservation of our troubled world’s rich cultural heritage. My natural shared interest in these things was honed and focused – in no small part -by my friend, colleague and cultural mentor, Dr Laurie Rush, and by engagement with the COCOM Cultural Heritage Action Group.
As a professional Soldier, I’m rather naturally a student of history, geography and culture. As an empathetic human being, I also appreciate art, religion, traditions and the rich diversity of our world’s peoples. My profession has afforded the opportunity to travel widely – mostly to the troubled places – to see and experience much of this – at times to witness the very best and the very worst of humanity – and to earn a sincere appreciation for your noble efforts.
To understand the vital nature of your work – one only has to see the effect and feel the visceral revulsion resulting from the wanton destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, the looting of the Iraqi National Museum, demolition of the Al Askaria Shrine (more commonly known as the Golden Mosque) in Samarrah, the looting of antiquities and archeological sites during recent turmoil in Egypt. Or read reports of the artifacts of ancient Benin lost in the Nigerian conflict, and the burning of the rich, irreplaceable trove of manuscripts in Timbuktu. And most recently ISIS’s systematic and malicious destruction of shrines, temples, churches, mosques and other historic and culturally significant sites in North Eastern Syria and Northern Iraq – representing thousands of years of rich history of diverse races, religions and cultures.
Where your efforts and our collective teamwork are effectively applied, we can make a difference – Soldiers and their leaders become aware, respectful of, and actively protect irreplaceable cultural treasures – in the spirit of our colleague Corine Wegner’s efforts in Iraq, or Laurie Rush and team in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. To understand the tangible benefit one only has to see the joy and pride in Sammarah at the reopening of the rebuilt Golden Mosque, or the unifying and calming effect of the refurbished and secured Shah Maqsud Shrine in remote Khakrez, Afghanistan, the national pride of the reopening of the Iraqi National Museum or the Afghan museum displaying and sharing with the world the treasured Bactrian Gold Ornaments. Or, a bit closer to home – witness and feel the pride and solemn respect of Heads of State of the Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk nations as they visit well protected and documented paleo-indian sites at Fort Drum, New York.
These efforts are not only morally right – in the eyes of the international community and enlightened people, and compliant with law and policy; but are they practical and effective militarily – they contribute directly to stabilization, unity, conflict termination and post-conflict resolution.
As such, US Army Special Operations Command is placing additional emphasis on the human dimension of competition and conflict, and investing in structure and organizations like the Institute for Military Support to Governance – and in our emerging doctrine and operational design, placing significant specified emphasis on culture as it relates to the causes, conditions and resolution of conflict.
Finally, I’d like to offer thank to Theresa Sims, an old friend, for her selfless efforts in organizing this event. And, most importantly, I must recognize our role models – represented here today by Harry Ettlinger. I’m terribly sorry that I wasn’t able to be here for your remarks – thank you for your courage and determination in the face of a daunting task. Our world is much richer because of you and your teammates’ efforts. We can only pray to do the same for our children.
Again, thank all of you for your efforts, leadership, and teamwork – we’ve come a long way, but much remains to be done. And thank-you for this recognition. I am truly humbled.
Letter to USCBS from Congressman Engel
Although Congressman Engel was unfortunately unable to attend our annual meeting, he sent a letter of apology and expressed his approval and support of the efforts of USCBS to safeguard cultural heritage during times of armed conflict.
Meeting Program of Events
U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield and Smithsonian Institution Meeting Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict
Friday, September 19, 2014, 1:00-5:30 p.m.Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Ring Auditorium, Smithsonian Institution
- Opening remarks by Richard Kurin, Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, Smithsonian Institution
- Welcoming remarks by Nancy Wilkie, President US Committee of the Blue Shield
- Keynote Speaker, Harry Ettlinger, member of the U.S. Army’s Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section
of the Civil Affairs Division during WW II
- Major Tommy Livoti, speaking on behalf of Brigadier General Hugh Van Roosen, Institute for Military Support to Governance, John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Fort Bragg, NC
“Update on the 21st Century Monuments Men program”
- Patty Gerstenblith, DePaul University: “The 1954 Hague Convention at 60,” and Laurie Rush, “Activities of the Combatant Command Cultural Heritage Action Group”
- Congressman Eliot Engel, Ranking Member Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. Letter of support of the efforts of USCBS to safeguard cultural heritage during times of armed conflict, read on his behalf by Patty Gerstenblith
- Irina Bokova, Director General, UNESCO
- International Updates Panel: Salam Al Kuntar, University of Pennsylvania (Syria); Susan Wolfinbarger, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (Syria and Cambodia/Thai Border Situation); Katharyn Hanson, (AAAS), (Iraq); Corine Wegener, Smithsonian Institution (Mali, Egypt); Sarah Parcak, (National Geographic Society), (Egypt); Amr Al Azm, Shawnee State University, (Syria) and Brian Daniels (“Building Community and Capacity for the Study of Cultural Heritage in Conflict”, National Science Foundation Project)
- Presentation of USCBS Award for Meritorious Military Service in Protection of Cultural Property to Brigadier General Erik C. Peterson, Commanding General, US Army Special Operations Aviation Command
- Richard Kurin and Nancy Wilkie – Signing of Memorandum of Understanding between the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield
Culture cannot wait!
Dates: 30 March-24 April 2015; four-week course
Application deadline: 22 September 2014
Place: Amsterdam with study visits to other cities in the Netherlands
- International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, Rome (ICCROM)
- Netherlands National Commission for UNESCO
- Smithsonian Institution, United States
In cooperation with:
- Reinwardt Academy, Amsterdam School of the Arts
- Centre for Global Heritage and Development (Leiden University, Delft Universityof Technology, Erasmus University Rotterdam)
- National Museum for World Cultures, Leiden
- Prince Claus Fund, Cultural Emergency Response Programme
According to the Emergency Events database EM-DAT, from 2000-2012, around 2.9 billion people were adversely affected by disasters caused by natural hazards (e.g., earthquakes, floods, storms etc.). Another 1.5 billion people are living in countries afflicted with civil strife and violent conflicts, states theWorld Development Report of 2011. The resultant damage and loss to life and property, including those to cultural heritage, are rising.
For communities ripped apart by such catastrophes, cultural heritage has the potential to bridge communal divides and provide sense of continuity as well as identity during an unfolding humanitarian crisis. Yet, is it possible to safeguard cultural heritage while humanitarian aid and security operations are underway? When is the right time to intervene? How could we ensure that cultural recovery becomes a force for stabilization and building back better?
First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis aims to equip participants with necessary skills and knowledge to provide timely response in emergency situations. The training identifies areas of joint programming between culture and humanitarian sectors to make certain that the affected communities participate in their own recovery. Developing cost effective strategies for risk reduction and disaster preparedness of cultural heritage forms a core component of the training.
The hands-on approach to topics such as damage assessment, salvage and first aid measures for sites and collections, helps participants in making informed decisions under pressure. The overall pedagogy relies on participants’ experience and knowledge for building a sensitive and inclusive approach to cultural protection during emergency situations.
Post-training, participants will be invited to submit proposals to carry out projects in their respective countries and the selected proposals will get seed grants from the Cultural Emergency Response Programme of the Prince Claus Fund, the Netherlands. The aim will be to use knowledge obtained from this course to strengthen capacities for disaster response to cultural heritage at national or regional level.
At the end of the training, participants will be able to:
- Explore the values associated with cultural heritage and the impact that disasters (natural and man-made) have on these values
- Assess and manage risks to cultural heritage in emergency situations
- Secure, salvage and stabilize a variety of cultural materials
- Take preventive actions to reduce the disaster risk and improve response
- Identify the relevant legal instruments which are applicable to disaster risk management of cultural heritage at the international, national and regional scale
- Communicate successfully with the various actors involved, and work in teams
The training will be both practical and participatory including group discussions, role plays, demonstrations, interactive lectures etc. Site visits and case studies will be used to improve the participant learning experience. Soft skills such as working in a team or negotiating for protecting cultural heritage in tense situations are progressively enhanced using simulated emergency situations throughout the course. The training will also include an online component.
Who should apply?
The course invites the participation of professionals working in the fields of cultural heritage and humanitarian assistance. It is aimed at professionals working within a variety of sectors:
- Cultural and humanitarian aid organizations
- Libraries, museums, archives, sites
- Departments of antiquities or archaeology
- Religious and community centres, etc.
- Military and civil defense (especially those personnel, who have the responsibility of safeguarding cultural heritage during emergency situations)
A maximum of 20 participants will be selected.
The multi-disciplinary and international teaching team will include professionals who have been working in emergency situations for protecting cultural heritage and providing humanitarian assistance.
Working language: English
Course fee: € 900 (Euro)
Travel, accommodation and living expenses
Participants are responsible for their round-trip travel costs to and from Amsterdam (the Netherlands), and for all living expenses. To cover the cost of living, including accommodation, participants should plan for a minimum allowance of approximately 1600 Euro for the entire duration of the course. Candidates are strongly encouraged to seek financial support from sources such as governmental institutions, employers and funding agencies.
The organizers in cooperation with Prince Claus Fund may offer a limited number of scholarships and travel grants to selected candidates who have been unable to secure funding from any other sources.
In order to apply:
1. Please fill out the application form and send it together with your personal statement by e-mail.
2. Personal Statement: applicants are requested to provide a text (no more than 700 words) including a brief description of:
- Previous experience, if any of facing an emergency situation that called for an immediate response to safeguard cultural heritage or if you live in a risk-prone region, describe the risks that your cultural heritage is exposed to;
- Reasons for applying to the course: what the applicant hopes to learn from it and how it will benefit the applicant as well as her/his institution and country.
Collections Unit – ICCROM
Via di San Michele, 13
00153 ROME RM, ITALY
Fax: +39 06 58553349
E-mail: aidincrisis (at) iccrom (dot) org
August 14, 2014
Syria’s four-year civil war has led to the destruction of the country’s cultural heritage at an unprecedented rate. World Heritage sites, such as Krak des Chevaliers and the city of Aleppo, medieval Christian cemeteries and other archaeological sites and museums have been subjected to extensive raiding and looting.
To help protect these and other Syrian treasures, the Smithsonian and the Penn Cultural Heritage Center (part of the University of Pennsylvania Museum), in cooperation with the Syrian Interim Government’s Heritage Task Force, are working to offer assistance for museum curators, heritage experts and civilians working to protect cultural heritage inside Syria.
In late June, the organizations held a three-day training program, “Emergency Care for Syrian Museum Collections,” which focused on safeguarding high-risk collections. The program offered information on how to secure museum collections safely during emergencies, provided participants with basic supplies for packing and securing museum collections and began a dialogue among Syrian participants about emergency responses. The training was funded by the Smithsonian and the J.M. Kaplan Fund.
The program was facilitated by Corine Wegener, the Smithsonian’s cultural heritage preservation officer, Robert Patterson, an exhibits specialist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and Brian Daniels, director of research and programs at the Penn Cultural Heritage Center at the Penn Museum.
“The toll of the civil war on the people of Syria has been devastating, and international attention has rightly been focused on getting the country’s citizens the aid they need,” said Wegener. “But the country’s rich cultural heritage is also in danger, and workshops like these allow us to assist the professionals and activists who are on the ground caring for damaged and at-risk collections.”
About 20 people from several Syrian provinces attended the training. Workshop leaders were joined by Syrian scholars Salam Al Kuntar, a lecturer from the University of Pennsylvania, Amr Al Azm, chair of the Syrian Interim Government’s Heritage Task Force and associate professor at Shawnee State University, and Ali Othman, a researcher at the University of Paris. Technical assistance for the program was provided by the U.S. Institute of Peace and The Day After Association, a Syrian-led civil society nongovernmental organization.
“While it is very difficult for international heritage organizations to travel into Syria today, there are a number of Syrians who regularly risk their lives to protect their cultural heritage,” said Daniels. “This workshop and other efforts going forward are designed to support these individuals and their efforts.”
June’s emergency training program was a critical first step. The Smithsonian, Penn Museum’s Penn Cultural Heritage Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, with the cooperation of the Syrian Interim Government’s Heritage Task Force, are preparing to launch an extensive new project, which will document current conditions and future preservation needs and track and report intentional damage and destruction to cultural heritage sites in Syria.
About the Smithsonian
Since its founding in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution has been committed to inspiring generations through knowledge and discovery. The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex, consisting of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities. There are 6,500 Smithsonian employees and 6,300 volunteers. There were 30 million visits to the Smithsonian in 2013. The total number of objects, works of art and specimens at the Smithsonian is estimated at nearly 137 million, including more than 126 million specimens and artifacts at the National Museum of Natural History.
About the Penn Cultural Heritage Center, University of Pennsylvania Museum
Dedicated to supporting cultural heritage initiatives, the Penn Cultural Heritage Center brings considerable experience in training, capacity building and basic research about cultural heritage and cultural policy. It has led several projects in conjunction with the U.S. government, including a research partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Mission to UNESCO to increase the empirical information known about the World Heritage program as it exists in the United States and abroad. PennCHC’s capabilities are enhanced by the world-class archaeological and anthropological faculty at the University of Pennsylvania and the curators of the Penn Museum.
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June 17, 2014
PROTECTION OF IRAQI CULTURAL HERITAGE SITES
Blue Shield is appalled by the great suffering and loss of life in the current fighting in Iraq and expresses great concern about the safety of Iraq’s invaluable cultural and historical heritage.
Blue Shield urges all armed combatants to observe the international laws that protect cultural heritage and to act responsibly, safeguarding the testimony of Iraq’s unique history for the enrichment of future generations.
Iraq is home to some of the world’s oldest and most significant archaeological and cultural sites. Iraq has three UNESCO World Heritage sites and twelve tentative World Heritage sites. Iraq’s museums, particularly the national museum in Baghdad and the regional museum in Mosul, are repositories for countless irreplaceable artifacts that record this unique history.
In the event of international military action, Blue Shield calls on any participating countries to be mindful of obligations under the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols; the 1972 UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage; the additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions; and customary international law to avoid targeting cultural heritage sites and repositories and to minimize collateral damage to cultural heritage wherever possible.
Iraq ratified the 1954 Hague Convention and its First Protocol in 1967, thereby acknowledging and committing to the protection and preservation of cultural heritage in the case of armed conflict. Blue Shield urges the international community to help Iraq fulfill its obligations to this Convention and also urges all parties to the conflict to abide by Iraq’s Antiquities Law, Law Number 55 of 2002.
Blue Shield is concerned that archaeological and cultural objects may be removed from museums, libraries, archives, and archaeological sites and placed on the illegal international art market. The actions of all governments in preserving this heritage should be consistent with the terms and spirit of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, of which there are 127 States Parties. Blue Shield implores auction houses and other art outlets to ensure that no illegally exported material is sold.
Blue Shield is the protective emblem of the 1954 Hague Convention, the basic international treaty formulating rules to protect cultural heritage during armed conflict. The Blue Shield network consists of organizations dealing with museums, archives, libraries, monuments and sites.
The Blue Shield’s mission is to work to protect the world’s cultural heritage threatened by armed conflict, natural and human-made disasters. For this reason, it places the expertise and network of its member organisations at the disposal of colleagues working in Iraq to support their actions in protecting the country’s heritage, and if necessary, in assessing subsequent recovery, restoration, and repair measures.
Email/Contact: Nancy C. Wilkie, President, US Committee of the Blue Shield email@example.com
In honor of the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention the Netherlands UNESCO organized “Culture under Attack: Photo exhibition on cultural heritage and armed conflict”. Some of the photos may be seen at http://www.cultureunderattack.
February 6, 2014, 5:00 am
BANGUI, Central African Republic — Bangui has been a looters’ paradise for weeks now. Despite French and African Union peacekeepers, Christians have gone on a rampage burning Muslim homes and businesses in revenge for almost a year of Muslim Seleka rule of scorched earth and terror. Except now, with no rule of law, the looting has crossed religious boundaries and rampaging mobs sack their own neighborhoods.
On Monday midafternoon — peak looting time — on a side street near burned Muslim businesses, the dirt road was littered with 2¼ negatives, prints and opened boxes of photographic paper and chemicals. In front of a house with broken windows and doors, empty of furniture, a terrified woman explained that she was staying put to protect what was left from “a photographer’s house.”
Not that many photographers shoot 2¼ format. Even fewer Africans. I know of exactly one. He lives in Bangui.
I met Samuel last November at the LagosPhoto Festival, where he was showing for the first time his latest series, “The Emperor of Africa,” an allegory of the Chinese presence in Africa where he recreates famous portraits of Mao Zedong (below).Samuel Fosso, Courtesy of Galerie Jean-Marc Patras, ParisFrom “The Emperor of Africa.” Self-portrait as Mao Zedong. 2013.
Mr. Fosso is an internationally renowned photographer, born in Cameroon and living in Bangui for years. He is best known from MoMA to the Pompidou Center for his incredible self-portraits as black icons: Martin Luther King (Slide 2), Malcolm X (Slide 12), Patrice Lumumba (Slide 8). His limited-edition prints fetch thousands of dollars in photographic art circles. He could have offered his latest series to the world’s best museums. But he wanted Africa to see it first.
On Monday, Mr. Fosso’s house was looted by a group of hooligans that 1,500 French soldiers could not keep at bay. Thirty years of work lay scattered in the dust. It reminded me of Serbian militias destroying birth reports from Muslim Kosovars in the early 2000s.
I started to pick up the negatives.
Living in Nigeria with his mother when the Biafra war erupted, Mr. Fosso fled the fighting as a child and found refuge in Bangui. He spent most of his life there in the Central African Republic’s capital. At 13, he opened his own photo studio. It was still running a few months ago. Despite the successive coups and violence, he remained in Bangui till late December 2013, for he is an “Afro-optimist,” says his agent, Jean-Marc Patras. Mr. Fosso has since been in Paris.
Ten minutes after I started to gather up his work, a French patrol drove by, demanding to know why a journalist was frantically putting things in a bag. Once I explained, the captain proposed that he “shoot and send the looters away.”
Jerome Delay/Associated PressBoxes containing thousands of negatives representing over 30 years’ work were scattered in the office of the photographer Samuel Fosso, after his home was looted during sectarian violence in Bangui, Central African Republic. Feb. 4, 2014.
“It is not for me to tell you what to do,” I replied. Seeking the opportunity to counter the flow of bad press for their lack of action, the armored personnel carrier moved into the alley and fired warning shots.
As my helpers left, I entered the house along with some colleagues. Mr. Fosso’s office was littered with more boxes of negatives and prints. Limited-edition, museum-quality prints, some burned on the edges — they must have tried to set the house ablaze — some soiled with water and mud. As we walked out with the most valuable work, an anti-Balaka militiaman toting an AK-47 rushed by firing into the air. He accused us of “having called Sangaris” — the French forces — and ordered us to leave.
Shoving all the prints and negatives into my car, we sped away. I called Mr. Fosso in Paris. He was devastated. But at least some of his legacy has been preserved.
I returned the next day with friends from Human Rights Watch to salvage what was left. Hoping the looters hadn’t beaten me to it. This morning, the looters left us alone. They were busy dismantling the roof of his house.
Jean-Marc Patras, Samuel Fosso’s agent and dealer, said that although the week began with the horrific news of his friend’s loss, he was grateful. “Samuel is cool, calm and collected,” Mr. Patras said by phone from Paris on Wednesday morning. “It’s a bad story, but at the same time we can look at it as the glass half empty or half full. We are positive. His wife and kids are safe since last July in Nigeria. He has been in Paris for a month. If he had been in his house when they destroyed it, they would have killed him.”
At the same time, Mr. Patras said that given how so many others in the Central African Republic have lost everything — including their lives — he was keeping things in perspective.
“He has a career in front of him, as he is one of the most important contemporary artists in Africa,” Mr. Patras said. “His works of art are safe in New York. He is collected by the most important museums in the world, thank God. You keep going on. But it is not easy.”Jerome Delay/Associated PressA damaged print, with other scattered materials, of a self-portrait by Samuel Fosso from 1977.
The ‘Warka Mask,’ a Sumerian artifact from 3100 B.C., was looted from the National Museum of Iraq in the final days of Saddam Hussein’s regime. It was later found buried in someone’s backyard. (Samir Mezban / The Associated Press)
What once served as a national bank looked more like a tomb. And it was, for the enemy soldiers who had recently tried to blast their way into the vault. The reinforced confines and simple physics left little of them.
A new team of unlikely allies pressed deep into the dark recesses. The temperature, already in triple digits, increased with every step. The stench of stagnant sewer water was almost unbearable.
After the painstaking process of cutting locks, the massive vault was opened to reveal the Treasure of Nimrud — 613 pieces of Assyrian gold jewelry, precious stones and sculptures that has been called history’s third-greatest treasure after King Tut’s tomb and the Bactrian Hoard treasure of Afghanistan.
By now, you’ve probably heard of George Clooney’s new film “The Monuments Men,” which is based on the true story of World War II troops who rescued art from the war zone. Well, this isn’t their story. This is the story of a modern-day group with a similar mission.
These “monuments men and women” fought to preserve Iraq’s past while fellow soldiers fought for the country’s future.
Included in their ranks was Maj. Corine Wegener. The now-retired Army Reserve civil affairs officer was a curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts when she volunteered to deploy to help support the National Museum of Iraq. Her expedited orders carried the signature of three generals, and she was on scene in May 2003, weeks after massive looting subsided in Baghdad. As many as 15,000 artifacts were lost in the mayhem.
“This is the cradle of civilization. The collections in the museum represent the finest aspirations of humankind in ancient Mesopo-tamia,” she said. “A lot of the objects that were taken from the museum were in my Art History 101 textbooks. It was so important to me to help recover those objects and get the museum back up and stable.”
Wegener was met by a “traumatized” museum staff. Shattered artifacts littered the floor. File cabinets and computers that kept all records had been stolen. It seemed like the end of an already troubled history for the international museum.
The Treasure of Nimrud was its crown jewel. This 2,800-year-old treasure, discovered in 1988, was placed in the national bank before the first Gulf War. But its fate was a mystery. Besides explosions from within and without, and the looters and floods, there stood another antagonist: Saddam Hussein’s son Qusay, who had stolen billions from the bank and was reported to be after the treasure. “When they opened those boxes, their morale improved 100 percent,” Wegener said. “It was a much-needed boost for the National Museum, and the nation.”
‘Mona Lisa of Mesopotamia’
Reclaiming priceless artifacts is not always as glamorous as movies make it out to be.
One example is the recovery of the Lady of Warka. Known as the “Mona Lisa of Mesopotamia,” this priceless 5,200-year-old sculpture is the earliest known representation of the female face. It had been stolen from the National Museum, and the curators turned to Wegener for help. She educated coalition forces, enlisted the help of military police and put up “wanted” posters throughout Baghdad.
The Army’s 812th Military Police Company tracked the sculpture through underground art dealers and found it buried in a backyard. Capt. Vance Kuhner called her with the news.
“I take it this thing is pretty important?” the captain asked her.
“Uh, yeah,” she replied.
“Then I’d better tell the guys to stop tossing it around,” he said. After a few moments of stunned silence, the captain eased her anxiety. “Ma’am, I’m just kidding. It’s locked away in the unit safe and we’ll bring it to you tomorrow.”
In another find, soldiers from Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha were looking for weapons of mass destruction days after coalition forces took control of Baghdad. What they found was the Iraqi Jewish Archive — thousands of Jewish communal and religious books and documents that had been confiscated from synagogues. They were in the basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence building, which was filled with four feet of water.
Wegener worked for three months to salvage the documents from water and mold damage, an effort aided by experts from the National Archives. She served as a courier when the documents were brought to a freeze-drying facility in Dallas and later to the National Archives. The collection has been restored and is on view in New York at the Museum of Jewish Heritage until May. It is scheduled to be returned to Iraq this year.
Wegener now serves as a preservation specialist for cultural heritage at the Smithsonian Institution, and has formed the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield. Called the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross, the agency provides emergency response when cultural property is jeopardized by armed conflict or natural disaster.
The culture mission
While similar exploits in World War II earned a place in history and Hollywood, modern monuments men and women are not as widely known.
Lt. Col. James Ahern was senior observer-controller for civil affairs at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La. After 12 mission rehearsal exercises, it was evident the jobs assigned to civil affairs in Iraq were not what soldiers were trained to do in the U.S. This was not lost on Army leadership, which was looking to reconfigure the capability.
Ahern in 2007 was sent to Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force in Balad to get a firsthand look so trainers could adjust accordingly. But the State Department snatched him up soon after arriving. They had the lead in stability operations but didn’t have the people for the job — especially people with expertise in cultural heritage preservation and graduate degrees in history and library information science with archive specialization.
Ahern was assigned to a Provincial Reconstruction Team embedded in 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, out of Ramadi. There, he joined an effort to identify lost books and artifacts, develop a working inventory and help design a new public library.
Ahern had to first defuse a cultural clash. The person in charge of the library was a Sunni woman, who was requesting assistance from a Shiite-led government. To say that she was getting resistance would put it mildly.
The team bridged the gap. They also obtained “democracy funds” to purchase books. They helped salvage history that would have otherwise been lost.
This mission is not new. In fact, it helped propel the Army Reserve from a singular medical mission. This was solidified by the 1954 Hague Convention, which requires all who sign the treaty to provide military specialists who protect cultural property.
In fact, the authors were looking at the Monuments Men of World War II when that rule was penned.
Still, the recent wars have proved many military leaders do not know they are supposed to — or how to — conduct such cultural missions.
“The capability that exists only in the Army Reserve was utilized by them, but largely through serendipity,” Ahern said. “There was no request for forces. I just happened to be there.”
The Army is giving civil affairs concerted consideration, especially in light of regional alignment and the push to ensure soldiers are culturally aware of the lands in which they may serve.
It is possible that soldiers will be trained to identify and mark culturally significant items and locations. Such sites may even be identified on electronic battlefield maps. But the bulk of the responsibility will fall to Army Reserve civil affairs companies attached to brigade combat teams.
“Like other ‘citizen soldiers’ in the Army Reserve, we work in our field in the civilian sector,” Ahern said. “Our job in uniform is our passion in life. So to be able to help at this level, in this way, there really aren’t words to describe how that feels.”
The Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology (APSA) has launched a website to gather and publish news about threats and damages to Syrian archaeological and historical heritage and may be found at http://ancientworldonline.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-association-for-protection-of.html.
Members of the APSA are primarily volunteers who are eager to contribute to the safeguarding of [their] Syrian heritage. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.