politics of archaeology

Palestinians reject Warsaw Conference

The secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, Saeb Erekat, issued a statement rejecting the US-led conference that opens today in Warsaw, ostensibly aimed at brokering Middle East peace. Said Erekat: "Today we face a reality whereby the US Trump administration, in cooperation with the Polish government, is pushing yet a new initiative to annihilate the Palestinian national project." (Ma'an) The meeting was first announced last month by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after his anti-Iran speech in Cairo, and is widely perceived as an effort to rally world powers behind Washington's drive against Tehran. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is to be among the speakers. Poland has been making some efforts to resist turning the conference into a propagandistic anti-Iran meeting, underscoring its commitment to the nuclear deal that the US has now disavowed. But as Warsaw's former ambassador to Afghanistan Piotr Lukasiewicz told Al Jazeera: "[Poland] has lost control over the general message of the conference to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia." The notable absentees from the summit are meanwhile convening their own meeting in the Russian ski resort of Sochi. The rival summit is bringing together Vladimir Putin, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran's Hassan Rouhani, officiallty to discuss the situation in Syria and the pending withdrawal of US troops there. (EuroNews)

Zapatistas vow to oppose López Obrador

Speaking at a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of their New Year's Day 1994 uprising in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas, leaders of the Zapatista rebels pledged their opposition to Mexico's new left-populist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Anger was particularly directed at the planned "Maya Train" project, which would link the tourist resort of Cancún on the Caribbean coast with the Palenque archeological site in Chiapas, spearheading a new thrust of tourism mega-development. At the New Year's Eve ceremony, held at the rebel-controlled settlement of La Realidad and dubbed the "Meeting of the Networks of Resistance and Rebellion," thousands of supporters from across Mexico gathered to watch Zapatista troops march in formation—although wielding symbolic bastónes (staffs) rather than rifles.

Iran: pre-emptive arrests shut down Azeri protest

At least 32 Azeri activists were arrested in the lead-up to an annual July protest at the historic Babak Fort in Iran's East Azerbaijan province against discrimination targeting the ethnic minority. The arrests took place in several citiese, including Tabriz and Ahar in East Azerbaijan and Meshgin Shahr in neighboring Ardabil province, usually following home raids. Security officials contacted a large number of local activists and warned them to not attend the annual ceremony. Dozens more were summoned and threatened with arrest if they attended the ceremony. Babak Fort, also known as the Immortal Castle or Republic Castle, is a mountaintop citadel said to have been the stronghold of Babak Khorramdin, the leader of the Khurramite rebellion who fought the Abbassid caliphate in the ninth century CE. Babak is revered as a national hero by ethnic Azeris and Iranians alike. Azeris, also known as Azarbaijani Turks, have for several years gathered at the citadel on the first weekend in July for the annual ceremony. (Iran Human Rights Monitor via UNPO)

ICC takes Mali war crimes suspect into custody

The International Criminal Court (ICC) announced March 31 that al-Hassan ag-Abdoul Aziz ag-Mohamed ag-Mahmoud was surrendered to the court's detention center in the Netherlands by Malian authorities. According to the arrest warrant (PDF), he is accused of crimes against humanity in Timbuktu, Mali, as de facto leader of the "Islamic police" force in 2012 and 2013. He allegedly took part in the destruction of the mausoleums of Muslim saints in Timbuktu. He also allegedly participated in forced marriages involving Fulani women, which resulted in repeated rape and the reduction of women and girls to sexual slavery. The International Criminal Court concludes that there is evidence to provide grounds for an arrest warrant under the reasonable belief that Al Hassan could be criminally liable under Articles 25 (3) (a) or 25 (3) (b) of the Rome Statute (PDF) for crimes against humanity. Al Hassan is expected to make an initial appearance in court later this week.

Afrin and Idlib offensives signal Syrian endgame?

As Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies continue their advance on Kurdish-held Afrin, Russia and its Syrian regime allies continue their advance on rebel-held Iblib. Both offensives are taking a horrific toll in civilian casualties, but the parallels don't end there. Even as they ostensibly oppose each other, both Turkey and Assad are accused of conniving with ISIS forces to weaken the defenders of the respective enclaves. And  the twin aggressions in Afrin and Idlib come amid a sudden and rapid internationalization of the Syrian war.

Reparations for destroyed Timbuktu shrines

The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Aug. 17 found (PDF) that a former Malian jihadist militant is liable for individual and collective reparations for overseeing the destruction of Muslim shrines in Timbuktu. Ahmad al-Faqi was found liable for 2.7 million euros in expenses. In its order, the ICC stressed the importance of cultural heritage:

Because of their purpose and symbolism, most cultural property and cultural heritage are unique and of sentimental value. As a result, they are not fungible or readily replaceable. The destruction of international cultural heritage thus "carries a message of terror and helplessness; it destroys part of humanity's shared memory and collective consciousness; and it renders humanity unable to transmit its values and knowledge to future generations". It is an irreplaceable loss that negates humanity.

The court noted that al-Mahdi is indigent and encouraged the Trust Funds for Victims to complement the reparations award and submit a draft implementation plan by next February.

Peru: Cuzco unrest over airport plan

Protesters blocked the train line to the Inca archaeological site of Machu Picchu, stranding thousands of tourists during a 48-hour paro (civil strike) by residents of Peru's Cuzco region. British-owned PeruRail company announced that service was suspended July 13-4 because of the blockades. At issue is a planned new airport for the Cuzco area, that was suspended in March due to controversies surrounding the construction contract. The airport—slated for Chinchero Valley, to the north of Cuzco's capital in neighboring Urubamba province—has now been pushed back until 2020. Local residents were eager for the region's first intercontinental airport to boost tourism revenues, and as a symbol of autonomy from Lima. Constantino Sallo, president of the Defense Front for the Interests of Chinchero District, demanded the government set a timetable of between 90 and 120 days to break ground on the project.

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.

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