Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Open Letter about the Iraq Museum

The following open letter from a group of Iraqi archaeologists living outside Iraq is posted here on behalf of the undersigned It was also distributed and archived on the IraqCrisis mailing list. An Arabic version is also circulating:

Mr. Nouri al Maliki, Prime Minister of Iraq
Mr. Mufeed al Jazairi, Head of Cultural Committee, Iraqi Parliament
Mr. Qahtan al Juburi, Minister of Tourism
Mr. Qais Husain Rashid, Acting Chairman of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage

February 11th, 2009

Dear Sirs,

We write to you with serious concern about the preservation of the cultural heritage of our country. As you know, the 2003 war resulted in extensive damage to the museums and historical sites of Iraq. We are now facing another type of destruction, the destruction that can result from lack of knowledge. We have learned of the plans to open the Iraq Museum within two weeks. While we are not in principle opposed to the opening of the museums of Iraq, and feel that the cultural heritage of a nation ought to be open to the public, such an act must proceed according to international standards of museology and conservation. Opening a museum is not simply unlocking a door. Preparing a museum collection for opening usually requires at least one year of careful work, even in the best of circumstance. From a curatorial perspective, it takes many months to do this in a professional and responsible manner.

The plan to open one of the world’s most important museums in a period of two weeks displays a remarkable unawareness of cultural heritage management. The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities seems to be unaware that there are internationally acknowledged standards and disciplines of museology and cultural heritage management, that scholars with doctorates and years of experience in these fields will necessarily be better able to judge what procedure needs to be followed in order to protect the country’s museums and historical sites.

Similar conservation concerns arise regarding the government’s plans for large-scale demolition and reconstruction in the historical cities of Najaf, Kerbala, Old Basra, in Basra, the authorities are ignoring the inspector of antiquities who points out that this is a threat to the old city of Basra, and Wasit. We would respectfully point out that the Iraqi Antiquities Law Number 55 for the year of 2002 and other properties laws requires that the scholars of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage must be consulted on all such matters and that archaeological field surveys must be conducted before any land is given over for large scale construction projects. These laws were wilfully disregarded by the American occupation’s construction projects under the administration of George Bush, and it is equally wrong if they are disregarded by the government of Iraq, or the international firms who are given the contracts for the construction.

The museums and historical sites of Iraq should not fall victim to the political whim of the moment, and be sacrificed for the sake of a public relations campaign on behalf of government. They do not belong to the government but to the people of Iraq. It is the government’s duty to hold the cultural heritage in trust for the people. When a government does not, it is the duty of the people to voice their concerns. We therefore take it as our duty to make public these very grave concerns.


Dr. Zainab al Bahrani, Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University, New York.
Formerly curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Dr. Lamia al Gailani, Research scholar, and former Curator, the Iraq Museum, Baghdad.

Dr. Selma al Radhi, Monument preservationist and archaeologist. Winner of the 2007 Agha Khan Prize for Architectural Preservation.

Dr. Nada al Shabout, Professor of Art History, University of North Texas, curatorial advisor to the Qatar Museums Authority.

Dr. Donny George Youkhanna, Professor of Archaeology, State University of New York at Stony Brook New York, former Chairman of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage of Iraq.

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