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May 9, 2003


U.S. scholarly organizations unite to protect Iraqi cultural heritage

Representatives of major scholarly societies and research centers active in archaeological and cultural work in Iraq met on Tuesday, May 6 at the Institute for Fine Arts of New York University in conjunction with the opening ceremonies for the exhibition on the Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Excavation photo of a cuneiform tablet in the Baghdad Museum
(Click for larger image)

By unanimous consent, the 31 representatives created the American Coordinating Committee for Iraqi Cultural Heritage (ACCICH). The Coordinating Committee will represent the constituent organizations in response to the catastrophic harm suffered by Iraqi museums, libraries, archaeological sites, and cultural properties. It will coordinate activities to avoid duplication of efforts.

It will work with various agencies in the private and public sector to channel American fund-raising activities. It will represent American scholarly expertise to government and non-government agencies. It will facilitate liaison between American scholars and European colleagues as well as with international organizations responding to the Iraqi crisis. The committee will designate working groups and subcommittees for specific tasks, in consultation with constituent organizations.

The committee's first and most urgent concern is for the security of Iraqi cultural sites and properties. It is imperative that the authority structures in Iraq seal the borders to prevent cultural properties from leaving the country. It is also imperative that the same designated authorities establish and maintain guards at all museums, libraries, and archaeological sites to prevent further destruction.

It is also imperative that only competent scholars and experienced museum professionals supervise the handling of objects and records to prevent further harm to surviving or recovered materials.

Despite recent attempts to minimize the impact of recent events on museums and collections in Iraq, it is clear that the damage is not limited to a few precious objects. A wide array of artifacts, documents and sites, the material relics and the very words of a succession of cultures spanning millennia, have been lost or subject to severe damage. It is a task of the Committee to make this widely understood and to make it an object of continued public concern.

The scholarly organizations represented at the constituent meeting were:
American Anthropological Association (AAA), American Association for Research in Baghdad (AARB), Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), American Oriental Society (AOS), American Philosophical Society (APS), American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), the Baghdad School of ASOR, Society for American Archaeology (SAA), College Art Association (CAA), National Geographic Society, Smithsonian Institution, as well as a number of research institutes and universities.

The elected members of the committee are:
Robert Mc. Adams (chair, University of California, San Diego), Zainab Bahrani (Columbia University), McGuire Gibson (University of Chicago), Piotr Michalowski (University of Michigan), John Russell (Massachusetts College of Art), Kathryn Slanski (Yale University), Elizabeth Stone (SUNY Stony Brook), and Richard Zettler (University of Pennsylvania), to which will be added two experts on Islamic art and manuscripts.

Piotr Michalowski
Phone: 734-764-0314

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