politics of archaeology

Who destroyed Mosul's al-Nuri mosque?

ISIS and the United States exchanged accusations over the destruction of Mosul's historic Grand al-Nuri Mosque on June 21. Army Major General Joseph Martin, head of the US-led coalition's combined joint forces land component, called destruction of most of the mosque and its famous leaning minaret "a crime against the people of Mosul and all of Iraq," adding that "responsibility of this devastation is laid firmly at the doorstep of ISIS." However, ISIS claimed in a statement on its Amaq news agency that US aircraft destroyed the mosque. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said blowing up the mosque was "an official declaration of defeat" by ISIS. The ancient landmark with its famous leaning minaret was where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a "caliphate" in 2014. It was from the medieval mosque that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a new "caliphate" three years ago.

'Systematic persecution' of Crimean Tatars

The Crimean Tatar community has been subject to systematic persecution by the Russian authorities since the occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, Amnesty International charges in a report released Dec. 14. The report, "In the Dark: The Silencing of Dissent" (PDF) looks at repressive tactics employed by Russian authorities against the Crimean Tartar community and other dissenting voices in the two and a half years they have been in control the Crimean peninsula. "As the most visible and cohesive group in Crimea opposed to the Russian occupation, the Crimean Tatar people have been deliberately targeted by the de facto local and Russian authorities in a wave of repression aimed at silencing their dissent and ensuring the submission of every person in Crimea to the annexation," said John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty's Europe and Central Asia Program.

UNESCO nomenclature wars in Jerusalem

UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova issued a statement Oct. 14 repudiating a resolution approved by the body's member states that had been harshly condemned by Israel. The resolution concerns threats to East Jerusalem's holy sites under Israeli occupation, and calls on UNESCO to appoint a permanent representative there to observe. What made it an easy target for Israeli criticism was its reference exclusively to "Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif"—not the Temple Mount or the Wailing Wall. Israel froze cooperation with UNESCO after the resolution passed. Wrote Bokova: "The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city. To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list."

Syria: world betrays Aleppo (of course)

Tell us again how the "mainstream media" are prejudiced against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad? Regime warplanes again hit Syria's divided largest city of Aleppo and neighboring rebel-controlled towns May 8. The Reuters headline is straight-up regime propaganda: "Syrian warplanes counter-attack rebels near Aleppo." First, these are populated towns that are being bombed, and we can assume that civilians and their homes are being hit at least as much as (if not more than) any "rebel" targets. Second, the word "counter-attack" is used, with the explanation that the strikes came "as the government tried to push back a [sic] insurgent advance in the area." How many things are wrong with this? First and foremost: the insurgents are advancing in the face of ongoing regime terror of precisely this nature. The word "counter-attack" makes it sound like the rebels started the fighting arbitrarily. This is like Israel framing each new bombardment of Gaza as a "counter-attack" to Palestinian rocket-fire. Second, while we know that Reuters has to maintain its "objectivity," it is a little late in the day to be flattering the outlaw regime of Bashar Assad with the label "government."  As we've said before: At this point, Assad controls only some 20% of the country. Assad is just Syria's most well-armed (and bloodiest) warlord, with powerful foreign patrons—but nothing more. Third (although it seems petty to mention it), Reuters could use a proof-reader.

Palmyra: not a 'liberation'

The Assad regime has announced the taking of Palmyra and its adjacent archaeological site from ISIS, though Russian air-strikes appear to have been the decisive factor. Russian state media (RT, Sputnik) shamelessly crow of the city's "liberation." The Western media have hardly been less ebullient. Daily Mail displays footage released by the regime, showing no sign of damage to the ancient ruins, but bloodstains on the wall of the amphitheater, which was used for public executions. (In fact, temples were destroyed at the site.) But Muzna al-Naib of Syria Solidarity UK spoke on British TV in much darker terms about the city's transfer. She called Assad and ISIS "two faces of the same coin," and said she spoke to activists in the city who told her "nothing has changed." She pointed out that even before ISIS took the city last May, artifacts were looted by Assad's Shabiha militia. She recalls that Palmyra was the site of a regime prison where many have been tortured to death and hundreds massacred over the years. She says that 50% of city's neighborhoods have been destroyed by the regime's cluster bombs in recent days. She calls the city's change of hands part of a "propaganda game" by both Assad and ISIS. The city "was handed to ISIS," and the threat to its ancient artifacts exploited to get international attention; now its recovery "is being used for the same thing." She protests that people in the West seem "more concerned about the artifacts than the people on the ground." (Via Facebook)

Belize: villagers on trial for protecting Maya site

Thirteen Maya villagers are to stand trial in Belize over their expulsion of a settler they said had illegally encroached upon the grounds of an archeological site. A trial date of March 30 has been set in the case of the "Santa Cruz 13," who were arrested in a police raid of their village in June—days after expelling Rupert Myles from the Uxbenká site in southern Toledo district. Among the 13 charged with "unlawful imprisonment" is Q'eqchi Maya community leader Cristina Coc. Villagers say Myles illegally built a house on the grounds of the site against the wishes of the community, and Belizean authorities failed to respond to their call to have him removed. Villagers admit they restrained Myles when he became unruly at a community meeting that had been called to work out the matter, but deny his claims that they assaulted him. They also deny his charge that they are discriminating against him because he is Creole. Myles, who has a common-law wife in the Maya village, built his house on the Uxbenká site after being denied a request to do so on village lands. Village authorities say the decision was made based only a shortage of available land.

ICC hears first case on cultural crimes

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague opened the confirmation of charges against Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi for destruction of religious and cultural heritage on March 1. The charges levied against al-Faqi, an alleged member of Islamic terrorist group, Ansar Dine (BBC backgrounder), and an important figure in the jihadist occupation of Timbuktu, signal what appears to be the first-ever war crimes trial addressing attacks against cultural heritage. Specifically, the charges (PDF) state that al-Faqi is criminally responsible, either himself or through his assistance, for "intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion and/or historical monuments in Timbuktu," including nine mausoleums and the Sidi Yahia Mosque

Setbacks for Nicaragua canal project

The International Court of Justice on on Dec. 16 recognized Costa Rica's sovereignty over a 2.5-square-kilometer disputed territory on the border with Nicaragua, one of the main claims fought over by the two countries at The Hague-based court. "The sovereignty over the disputed territory belongs to Costa Rica," Justice Ronny Abraham stated. The ruling found that an artificial canal opened by Nicaragua in 2010 through Isla Calero, also called Isla Portillos or Harbour Head Island, was within Costa Rican territory and not part of the common border between the two countries. Justices also unanimously found that Nicaragua violated Costa Rican territory by invading Isla Calero with military personnel, by dredging canals in Costa Rican territory, and by violating Costa Rica’s navigation rights on the Río San Juan. Nicaragua was ordered to compensate Costa Rica for damage caused to its territory.

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