Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Iraq Cultural Heritage Policy: The Kurdish Problem

Stuart Gibson, a longtime international consultant to museums, UNESCO, and cultural ministries in former socialist countries, shares the attached report on the conditions in museums in Kurdistan. Though the report is couched in diplomatic prose, and deals mainly with technical matters, a few policy issues stand out:

a) relations between regional antiquities authorities and national ones are problematic (and not just in Iraq -- witness the tug-of-war in England between Birmingham and the British Museum over the disposition of the recently discovered Staffordshire Hoard), but much more so in the case of Kurdistan, with its history of victimage and its aspirations towards autonomy. The report does not go into detail about "the disruption in the museum community over the past years" and why that should make it unfeasible for Kurds to send their finds to Baghdad to be registered, but it seems clear reading between the lines that what is really keeping the Kurds from doing so is less chaos within the National Museum than a desire to register items as Kurdish;
b) the priorities of tourism are clashing with those of museums and archaeologists within Kurdistan, as they do at the national level, and as at the national level, preservation is taking second place to the demands of economic development. This mess, it is important to recall, stems in large part from the failure of American postwar nation-builders early on to even think about how to help the Iraqis organize its governance of cultural heritage. The position of the State Department now is that any such issues are internal matters for the Iraqis to work out themselves, but one would hope that behind the scenes some pressure is being applied, especially since the US is pumping $13 million into conservation efforts.
c) Speaking of the State Department, it is mentioned only in passing, with a reference to the Erbil Institute's Cultural Heritage Project, whose newly-opened facilities were paid for by State. It would be interesting to learn more about this.

No comments: