Smithsonian and U.S. Department of State Partner on Emergency Cultural Heritage Work in Iraq

Project Will Enable Iraqis To Mitigate Damage at Nimrud
March 30, 2017
News Release

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An Iraqi soldier walks past damaged Assyrian frieze in Nimrud

The Smithsonian and the U.S. Department of State today announced a new $400,000 project to enable Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and others to conduct on-the-ground work to document and stabilize the recently liberated ancient city of Nimrud. Nimrud, located about 20 miles south of Mosul, was under the control of the Islamic State group until November 2016. During the city’s occupation, many important historical sites and artifacts were damaged or destroyed. The project builds on the Smithsonian’s work at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage in Erbil, Iraq, which was established by the State Department in 2009 for the purpose of supporting the preservation of the country’s cultural heritage.

“Protecting cultural heritage—which includes artifacts, artworks, historical sites and intangibles such as language and musical traditions—is vital to a community’s sense of identity and a matter of respect for human rights and dignity,” said the Smithsonian’s Acting Provost Richard Kurin. “The Smithsonian, working with partners such as the State Department and the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, can bring together experts to assist our colleagues in Iraq as they begin the task of reclaiming and preserving what ISIS tried to destroy.”

Smithsonian experts will hold collaborative planning sessions in Erbil with their Iraqi partners to gain a better understanding of the current conditions in Nimrud. From these sessions will come a more detailed project plan for stabilizing and securing other artifacts from this ancient imperial city. The project, supported by the State Department’s Cultural Antiquities Task Force, will help establish procedures for Iraqi-led stabilization and recovery of artifacts at sites across the country as they are liberated from the Islamic State group.

 “Nimrud is part and parcel of Iraqi heritage and of our common patrimony,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Mark Taplin. “What ISIS has sought to destroy, we are determined to set right. It is in America’s interest to contribute to a better future for Iraq. Time and time again, we have seen how collaboration in cultural heritage protection and preservation fosters dialogue and understanding within societies under stress. And in supporting this project, we hope to inspire others—in the region and in the international community—to help redress the damage done by ISIS at Nimrud and at countless other cultural-heritage landmarks in Iraq and in Syria.”

Since 2014, the Smithsonian and academic and international partners, including the University of Delaware and the University of Pennsylvania, have worked with cultural-heritage professionals at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage to provide training and supplies to support the conservation of antiquities in Iraq. Through this long-term partnership, cultural professionals from across the country have participated in trainings in conservation, mapping and documentation for cultural heritage. The Smithsonian also convened a “Protecting the Cultural Heritage of Religious Minorities” workshop in 2016 and created the training manual “Guide to Mosul Heritage” with the University of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield and the COCOM Cultural Heritage Action Group. The guide aids Kurdish, Iraqi and American security forces in protecting cultural and religious heritage sites in and around Mosul in preparation for the liberation of the city. 

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