"It was a place to connect to your history, to your identity and to tell others, who were not from Aleppo or Syria: "This is where we are from. This is who we are." This is where you come to encounter your roots. It was a place that existed forever, a place we thought would exist long after we were gone. But we were wrong." (Amal Hanano, Lessons from the Minaret , 2013)
For the past two months, since the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee amended legislative proposal H.R. 1493, known as the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, the key bill has picked up stream on Capitol Hill with bi-partisan support. This week (4/13/2016), the full senate passed the measure by unanimous consent. This important legislation, which is expected to become law in the coming weeks, given its strong support also on the House side of Congress, calls for emergency import restrictions on at-risk Syrian cultural property within 90 days of President Obama's signature. Rather than establishing a rather controversial cultural heritage czar called for in an earlier version, H.R. 1493 now calls for an interagency executive committee to protect international cultural property.
This observer has been advised by two Congressional sources that concerns for the restoration of our shared global cultural heritage in Syria, widespread relief that Palmyra has been liberated from ISIS iconoclasm, and American public support for the repair and restoration of Palmyra's treasures, are major reasons for moving the tough new and most welcomed ban on Syrian cultural property forward.
These concerns are global and being widely debated this spring, especially by archeological organizations. Among a growing number of diverse organizations that continue to monitor damage to Syrian cultural heritage and who are joining the debate and often voicing disparate and occasionally emotionally antithetical views with respect to our shared global cultural heritage in Syria are the following:
Aga Khan Trust for Culture the Co-coordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA), ASOR, Avaaz, , Heritage and development, International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), International Council on Archives (ICA), International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) , International Council of Museums (ICOM) , , Libraries without Borders/Bibliothèques sans Frontières, Peace Palace Library. Research Guide Cultural Heritage , United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) , American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, Blue Shield International, Canadian Conservation Institute, Conservation Center for Art & historic artefacts , Conservation OnLine (CoOL) , History of Historic Royal Palaces , Hornemann Insitut, IFLA's work on preserving cultural heritage , Image Permanence Institute , International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (ICC) , International Red Cross and Red Crescent , Le laboratoire de conservation, restauration et recherches de Draguignan , Portal Euromed Heritage Digital Resources , ,Preserving History. How to Digitally Archive and Share Historical Photographs, Documents, and Audio Recordings, The Shirin NGO (www.shirin-international.org ), The Getty Conservation Institute , United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
There are many contributing to this rapidly expanding dialogue and sometimes boisterous and even accusatory debate.
circulating a Petition against UNESCO and Russian plans to reconstruct Palmyra.
It states in part, "We, the undersigned, urge the international community and its cultural organizations and academic institutions to help protecting the Syrian heritage and sparing it the political, ethnic, sectarian, or business agendas of the fighting groups in the Syrian conflict and their global backers. "We regret that UNESCO Director General "reiterated her full support for the restoration of Palmyra" without first considering the ramifications of such a hasty statement.
The intention of UNESCO and other organizations to engage in a restoration and reconstruction process of the ancient site of Palmyra right now is both inopportune and unrealistic. Millions of Syrians are still suffering the enormous consequences of this bloody war. Among them are the people of Palmyra who have experienced and continue to experience loss of life, detention, displacement, and the devastating destruction of their homes and heritage." But we firmly oppose any hasty reconstruction initiated by UNESCO and carried out by parties directly involved in the Syrian tragedy."
Restoring Palmyra: Yes! Hastily: No!!!
The International Council of Museums (ICOM) has made public its views "Against Rushing to Conclusions about Palmyra Damage." ICOM warns against rushing to draw conclusions about the damage inflicted by ISIS terrorists on the world heritage site of Palmyra, ICOM's director of Programs and Partnerships advised this week. "Assessment is what we need so far, because no official international mission has been there in a couple of years, we have not assessed the situation of heritage," France Desmarais said advising that "There are three words that we need to remember when we talk about this -- professionalism, independence and integrity, and we want to make sure that whatever assessment is conducted it should be of course done with national and international experts of diverse institutions and expertise and it needs to be done thoroughly. Any quick assessment that would be done for communication purposes would not be welcome."
Other experts and academics are also skeptical, believing that the task will take many years and resources, that some sites are beyond repair, and that others might never be restored to their former glory. They argue as Syrian archeologist and refugee Mr. Azm has that "It's still early days," "This is all going to take a long time."
The Shirin NGO (www.shirin-international.org) will soon release a blunt motion challenging a project of reconstruction of Palmyra, a result of recent talks between UNESCO Director General and the President of Russia. According to the Shirin-International Board of Directors, their motion, "written by professional archaeologists and Directors of excavations in Syria until 2010/11 will be sent to a large number of institutions and organizations, including to UNESCO and its satellite agencies, universities, press agencies, chancelleries."