Central Asia

China arrests hundreds as Tibetans protest dam

Chinese authorities have made mass arrests in the ethnically Tibetan region of western Sichuan province amid protests against a giant hydro-electric dam project that would force villages to vacate and destroy ancient Buddhist monasteries. Up to 1,000 villagers and¬†monks have been detained¬†in Sichuan’s¬†Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and their¬†current status remains unknown. The Kamtok dam is the sixth in a proposed series of 13 on the Dri Chu River, known as the Jinsha or Upper Yangtze in Chinese. They are being built as part of the West-East Electricity Transmission Project, to supply power to industrial cities in eastern China.¬†(Map: Wikipedia)


Cultural heritage under attack in Gaza

The genocide case brought against Israel at the International Court of Justice charges that “Israel has damaged and destroyed numerous centres of Palestinian learning and culture” in the Gaza Strip, including schools, libraries, religious sites and places of historical importance. The United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports that in the two-and-a-half months of bombardment, more than 200 schools have been damaged‚ÄĒaround 40% of the total number in the Strip, about 40 of them seriously. UNESCO is also attempting to monitor damage to heritage sites using satellite data and sources on the ground. The agency has especially expressed concern over the ruins of fourth-century Saint Hilarion Monastery, which has been placed under “provisional enhanced protection.” (Photo: The oldest mosque in Gaza, the Omari Mosque, severely damaged in Israeli bombardment, Jan. 2. Credit: Mohammed al-Hajjar/Middle East Eye. Published with permission.)

West Bank

West Bank tips deeper into crisis

With international eyes on the catastrophe in the Gaza Strip, an economic and human rights crisis is rapidly unfolding in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Violence by both the Israeli army and settlers is escalating, with entire Palestinian¬†villages emptied, the residents forced to flee.¬†Intensified restrictions on mobility are being imposed by the occupation forces, work permits are being cancelled by the¬†tens of thousands, and tax revenues that Israel collects on West Bank exports are being withheld¬†from the Palestinian Authority. At least 290¬†Palestinians, including 75 children, have been killed since Oct. 7‚ÄĒdouble the figure for¬†all of last year. (Photo: B’Tselem)

East Asia

China expands mosque closure campaign

The Chinese government has increased mosque closures in northern Ningxia region and Gansu province, home to significant populations of Hui Muslims, according to a report¬†by Human Rights Watch. The campaign of closures marks an expansion of the policy beyond the Uyghur people of Xinjiang region. Officially termed “consolidation,” the campaign calls for shutting down mosques or modifying their architectural features to align with more typically Chinese aesthetics. The Hui, a distinctive ethno-religious group in China numbering over 10 million, are now at the forefront of concerns regarding the government’s broader campaign to “consolidate” mosques. (Photo:¬†Zhuxian mosque, Henan province, by Sarkis Pogossian)


Ukraine bans religious organizations linked to Russia

Ukraine’s¬†parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, adopted¬†Decision Number 8371, banning¬†religious organizations found to have “colluded with armed aggressors” from operating within the country. The measure is clearly aimed at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has been accused of collaborating with Russia. Some 16% of Ukrainians¬†follow the church, which is distinct from the autocephalous¬†Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The church claims that it is not currently aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church and¬†argues¬†the law is unconstitutional. Passage of the law follows the prosecution of church leaders, including the three-year prison sentence of Metropolitan Iosaf, for distributing pro-Russian literature, and imposition of a 60-day house arrest on Metropolitan Pavel, for “supporting Russia’s armed action against Ukraine.” (Photo of¬†Kyiv’s Pechersk Lavra via Wikipedia)

El Hamma

Synagogues attacked in Germany, Tunisia

Unknown assailants targeted a Berlin synagogue with Molotov cocktails, while rioters in Tunisia burned down the country’s historic El Hamma synagogue. There was no significant property damage at the Kahal Adass Jisroel synagogue in Berlin, but El Hamma in the Tunisian city of Gabes was effectively¬†destroyed. Although El Hamma no longer functioned as a house of worship, it held major symbolic significance for Tunisian Jews, who are still shaken from a May shooting at the Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba, the oldest in Africa. (Photo showing damage to Tomb of Rabbi Yousef al-Maarabi at¬†El Hamma synagogue¬†via RadioJ)

Southeast Asia
Dhamma Sakyamuni

Malaysia rainforest at issue in fight over historic monastery

A Buddhist monastery carved out of a cave complex in the rainforest of Malaysia stands to be evicted after losing a legal appeal in its case against a cement manufacturer. The Court of Appeal ruled for Associated Pan Malaysia Cement in the case brought by the century-old Dhamma Sakyamuni Caves Monastery, finding that the company has the right to evict “squatters” from the tract at issue in a limestone massif known as Gunung Kanthan‚ÄĒdespite the fact that it lies within the Kinta Valley National Geopark. The forested massif is home to several endangered species of both flora and fauna, and most of it has already been cleared for quarries. After the appeals court ruling, the Perak state government formed a special committee to mediate in the conflict. The Dhamma Sakyamuni monks pledge they will resist eviction. (Photo via¬†Free Malaysia Today)


UN protests Russian strikes on Odesa heritage sites

UNESCO released a statement condemning Russian strikes on the Ukrainian port of Odesa, and especially damage to cultural heritage sites, including the city’s Transfiguration Cathedral, which is within the Historic Centre of Odesa World Heritage Site. UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay stated: “This outrageous destruction marks an escalation of violence against the cultural heritage of Ukraine. I strongly condemn this attack against culture, and I urge the Russian Federation to take meaningful action to comply with its obligations under international law, including the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the 1972 World Heritage Convention.” (Photo via Twitter)

East Asia

China: Muslim protests over mosque ‘Sinicization’

The predominantly Muslim town of Nagu in China’s Yunnan province saw street-fighting between residents and police over planned demolition of the dome of the locality’s historic mosque. Orders were issued in 2020 to demolish the dome, which had recently been expanded, as part of President Xi Jinping’s campaign for the “Sinicization” of Islam in China. The campaign mandates that mosques in what is deemed an overly “Arabic style” must be “rectified.” The order for “rectification” of Nagu’s 13th-century Najiaying Mosque went unenforced until a crew of workers with cranes and bulldozers arrived unannounced, accompanied by some 400 riot police. Clashes ensued when residents mobilized to defend the mosque. Authorities responded by flooding the town with up to 5,000 troops, and cutting off the internet in the area. Dozens of protesters have been arrested, and authorities have issued an ultimatum for accused instigators to turn themselves in. (Image via WikiVoyage)


Political archaeology amid Jerusalem tensions

Israel’s new National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir made a visit to al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, flanked by by a heavy security detail‚ÄĒeliciting outrage from the Palestinian leadership. The Palestinian Authority called the move “an unprecedented provocation,” with Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accusing Ben-Gvir of staging the visit as part of an agenda to turn the site “into a Jewish temple.” The fracas comes as Israeli authorities have launched another supposed archaeological project in East Jerusalem which critics say masks an ongoing program of “Judaization” of the Old City. This concerns the Pool of Siloam, a small reservoir believed to have served Jerusalem in biblical times. In making the announcement, officials visited the site, accompanied by a large detachment of police‚ÄĒsparking a spontaneous protest from local Palestinian residents. Three members of a Palestinian family that claims rights to the land in question were detained. (Photo: –ö—É–Ņ–į–Ľ—Ć–Ĺ—Ź –°–ł–Ľ–ĺ–į–ľ, –ė–Ķ—Ä—É—Ā–į–Ľ–ł–ľ via Wikimedia Commons)


UN documents damage to cultural sites in Ukraine

A preliminary report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO)¬†revealed the extent of damage to Ukraine’s cultural heritage since Russia invaded in February. UNESCO verified damage¬†to 207 cultural sites, including 88 religious sites, 15 museums, 76 buildings of historic or artistic interest, 18 monuments, and 10 libraries. The report is sourced from satellite images taken before and after the start of the¬†war by both the UN and private companies. UNESCO defines cultural properties under Article 1 of the 1954 Hague Convention. The worst damage was found to be in Donetsk region, now declared annexed by Russia, with 59 damaged sites. (Photo: damaged statue of Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko in Borodyanka. Via Euromaidan Press)

The Caucasus

‘Cleansing’ of Armenian culture in Azerbaijan exclave

New clashes broke out on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan, with each side accusing the other of violating the ceasefire. Fighting was first reported near the Lachin Corrdior, which connects Armenia to the autonomous ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh. But attacks on Armenia¬†have also been launched from the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan, which is cut off from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenian territory. A land corridor through Armenia to Nakhchivan is one of Azerbaijan’s outstanding demands in the conflict. Days before the fighting erupted, a report was released by the group Caucasus Heritage Watch at New York’s Cornell University, accusing Azerbaijan of “a systematic, state-sponsored program of cultural erasure” targeting Armenian heritage sites in Nakhchivan. (Photo: CHW)