Monthly Archives: August 2008

Statement from the Blue Shield concerning the conflict in Georgia

The Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield (ANCBS) expresses its concern about the armed conflict in Georgia which has inflicted not only human losses and suffering but also destruction of the physical environment and possibly of cultural heritage in the area. This region has an exceptionally complex and rich cultural heritage and it is imperative that all parties in the conflict take whatever precautions may be necessary to avoid destruction or damage to cultural heritage such as historical monuments, museums, archives or libraries.

The Blue Shield organizations work to uphold the 1954 Hague Convention which aims at protecting cultural heritage from destruction in armed conflicts. Both Georgia and Russia are State Parties to the Convention and its First Protocol and are obliged to implement its obligations.

The ANCBS calls upon the organizations behind the Blue Shield network, covering cultural heritage sectors such as museums, libraries, archives and archaeological sites and monuments, to make use of their respective contacts with organizations in Georgia and Russia in order to obtain information about possible damage to cultural heritage and what assistance may be needed from the international community in this tragic situation.

Leif Pareli

Chairman, ANCBS working group

Looting of Iraq sites destroys history, distresses scholars

August 12, 2008

The armed men were the good news on a recent archaeological tour of pillaged digs in Iraq.

They were guards.

Arriving by British Army helicopter on June 7, a British Museum team was surveying Lahm, an ancient settlement dating back to 1000 B.C., when the Iraqi Special Protection Force guards arrived to check out the visitors.

“I was reasonably encouraged by what I saw at the limited number of sites,” says archaeologist Elizabeth Stone of Stony Brook (N.Y.) University. Stone accompanied the team and three Iraqi archaeologists on a survey of eight archaeological sites organized by the British Army.

The team found looting holes at five sites, but also guards at others. And there are signs that the pillaging had peaked in 2003 when U.S. forces entered the country. “This does not mean that there is not still looting going on,” Stone says by e-mail from a site in Turkey. “But these major sites were OK.”

Guards can’t stop it all

More than five years after the fall of Baghdad, the fate of Iraq’s antiquities still torments archaeologists.

The looting of the National Museum garnered headlines in April 2003. But the widespread pillaging of archaeological sites — 10,548 sites are registered, with perhaps 100,000 actually buried there — bewilders and saddens scholars. They believe they are witnessing the ransacking of the cradle of civilization, a calamity “almost impossible to overstate for the destruction of history that has taken place,” says Patty Gerstenblith of DePaul University College of Law in Chicago.

The Iraqi government employs about 1,200 guards to keep an eye on all its sites, according to a July 18 Iraqi Crisis Report.

A satellite image analysis, published earlier this year in the journal Antiquity by Stone, concluded that since 2003, looters have dug 6 square miles of holes in archaeological sites across Iraq. The looting “must have yielded tablets, coins, cylinder seals, statues, terra cotta, bronzes and other objects in the hundreds of thousands,” Stone reported.

But where are these treasures? Scholars and customs officials have only murky notions about where the looted artifacts have been transported.

“That’s the really big question,” says archaeologist McGuire Gibson of the University of Chicago. Archaeologists widely believe artifacts are traveling to collections in Gulf States, Iran and Lebanon, he adds. “I suspect dealers are warehousing items for later sales,” he says. “We’ve seen cases of looted objects turning up for sale decades later.”

In April, the U.S. outlawed sales of archaeological treasures from Iraq. And in recent months, customs officials worldwide have made high-profile returns:

• In June, U.S. customs officials returned 11 looted agate and alabaster seals to Iraq after discovering them in Philadelphia.

• Jordan returned 2,466 looted items, gold coins, jewelry and manuscripts to Iraq that same month.

• Syria returned 40 items looted from the National Museum in April, following the return of about 700 smaller items the month before.

In Europe, the online auction website eBay has moved to quash sales of suspect artifacts, although Gerstenblith warns that sales of Sumerian or Mesopotamian items have increased as dealers try to evade sanctions. The Sumerians were the ancient people who lived in Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq.

“The customs announcements are helpful, but the key thing is keeping law enforcement interested in protecting antiquities,” Gerstenblith says. Abdel-Amir Hamdani, an Iraq antiquities inspector, told Science magazine in July that two Iraqi villages, El Fajir and Albhagir, still serve as centers of a thriving black market.

Looters knew where to look

In her satellite study, Stone concluded looters concentrate on two eras in Iraq’s history: the Ur III and Babylonian empires dating back to 2100 B.C., which produced cylinder seals and cuneiform tablets; and Parthian sites of the Roman era, which produced gold coins and glass bottles after 50 B.C. These small items are valued by collectors and are easy to store, indicating “considerable selectivity in the sites that were targeted,” says the study.

“It was organized crime, with people who knew what they were looking for directing the looting,” Gibson says. “The real pity is that for every item that looters pull from the ground, another hundred are smashed.”

Pillaging Iraqi history

From the Los Angeles Times


Shortly after Baghdad fell in 2003, the Baath Party archives were shipped to the U.S. It’s time to return them.

By Jon Wiener

August 8, 2008

Alot worse things have happened in Iraq, but the removal of the Baath Party archives from the country — 7 million pages that undoubtedly document atrocities of the Saddam Hussein regime — is significant. The documents were seized shortly after the fall of Baghdad by Kanan Makiya, an Iraq-born emigre who teaches at Brandeis University and heads a private group called the Iraq Memory Foundation. Despite protests from the director of Iraq’s National Library and Archives, the documents were shipped to the U.S. in 2006 by Makiya’s foundation and in June deposited with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University under a deal struck with Makiya.

The move was criticized in both countries. The Society of American Archivists said seizing and removing the documents was “an act of pillage” prohibited under the laws of war. Iraq’s acting minister of culture, Akram H. Hadi, issued a statement in late June expressing the Iraqi government’s “absolute rejection” of Makiya’s deal. The documents “are part of the national heritage of Iraq,” the statement declared, and must be returned to Iraq promptly.

Given the hundreds of thousands of deaths and the millions of refugees, why should anybody care about Iraq’s archives? It comes down to whether you care about what happens to Iraq. It’s part of its cultural patrimony. It’s part of its ability to hold the previous regime accountable.

About 100 million other pages of Iraqi government documents are still in the hands of the U.S. military after being seized during the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction. The documents now at the Hoover Institution were taken from the Baath Party Regional Command Headquarters in Baghdad and are particularly significant because they almost certainly reveal who secretly collaborated with Hussein — politically explosive information.

How did one man get possession of the entire Baath Party archives?

Makiya is best known not for his foundation or his 1989 book “Republic of Fear,” but rather for his crucial role in convincing Americans — particularly leading journalists — to support a war to overthrow Hussein. “More than any single figure,” Dexter Filkins wrote in the New York Times last October, Makiya “made the case for invading because it was the right thing to do.” Makiya was an ally of Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney, and gained fame for a face-to-face meeting with President Bush two months before the U.S.-led invasion during which he said American troops “will be greeted with sweets and flowers.”

Shortly after U.S. troops took Baghdad, Makiya and some associates discovered the documents in “a labyrinthine network of basement rooms under the Baath Party’s regional headquarters,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Makiya told a Chronicle reporter in January that he received permission from the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ruled Iraq at the time, to move the documents to his parents’ home in Baghdad. In 2005, Makiya’s foundation reached an agreement with the U.S. military to move the documents to the U.S., and they finally arrived at Stanford in mid-June.

Makiya and the Hoover Institution assert that Baghdad is still too unsafe for the archives. They promise to protect and restore the documents, and eventually return them to Iraq.

It’s true that chaotic and violent conditions after an invasion can endanger such crucial government documents. But what ought to happen in such circumstances is clear: It’s the responsibility of the occupying power to protect and preserve the documents in question (along with the rest of a country’s cultural heritage, such as the National Museum in Baghdad, which, of course, was looted as U.S. troops stood by). If the archives required protection, that was the job of the U.S. government and military, not a private individual.

And if, two years later, continued protection required moving the archives to the U.S., that should have been a job for the U.S. National Archives in a formal agreement with the new government of Iraq, not a deal between Makiya’s foundation and a private American institution. Private individuals and organizations simply do not have the legal standing to gather up governmental records and ship them out of the country.

If the Hoover Institution continues to refuse the Iraqi government’s demand for return of the archives, the U.S. government, which improperly gave Makiya permission to collect and remove the documents, ought to insist that those records belong to the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government. It’s up to the Iraqis to decide what to do with them.

Jon Wiener teaches history at UC Irvine and is a contributing editor of The Nation. His most recent book is “Historians in Trouble.”,0,2660557.story

American Library Association passes resolution calling for return of Iraqi documents

2007-2008 CD #18.2

ALA Annual Conference


Resolution on the confiscation of Iraqi documents


WHEREAS, the United States director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, posted hundreds of Iraqi documents to the internet during the months of March 2006 through November 2006 for wider public distribution and dissemination; and

WHEREAS, Since November 2007, the director of the Iraq National Library and Archives, Dr. Saad Eskander, has publicly requested of the State Department and of the international community that millions of pages of Iraqi records and other artifacts seized after the fall o the Ba’ath regime be returned; and

WHEREAS, Historical documents unify a diverse population through the representation of a shared social and cultural memory; and

WHEREAS, Documents seized represent Iraqi social memory and, as products of political and cultural institution, should be preserved for longevity as cultural property in the Iraq National Library and Archive; and

WHEREAS, The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, Chapter I, Article 1, defines cultural property as “moveable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people”; and

WHEREAS, In 2003, the American Library Association Council adopted the Resolution on Libraries and Cultural Resources in Iraq urging “The U.S. Government to ratify and comply with The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its Second Protocol”, now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That ALA condemns the confiscation of all seized documents from Iraq and strongly advocates the immediate return of those documents to the people of Iraq, and, be it further

RESOLVED, That ALA calls for the United States Government to honor the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its Second Protocol.

Passed by ALA Council, July 2, 2008