Mapping Cultural Heritage in Danger

St. Elijah's Monastery in Iraq. The oldest Christian monastery in Iraq, recently destroyed by ISIS.

St. Elijah’s Monastery in Iraq. The oldest Christian monastery in Iraq, recently destroyed by ISIS.

In our post series “Maps: Defining and Explaining our Past, Present and Future,” we discuss how important maps can be in helping us to visualize and understand where we’ve been and where we’re going. Today, maps are helping us to keep track of our vanishing past. Sadly, every day we are losing pieces of our history. Specifically, the cradle of civilization is being systematically destroyed. The Antiquities Coalition has taken action and created the Culture Under Threat Map, “which tracks instances of deliberate targeting of cultural heritage for destruction in the Middle East and North Africa.”

According to the Antiquities Coalition website:

Mapping threats to cultural heritage in the Middle East and North Africa makes it clear that much of our past, the ‘Cradle of Civilization’, is in imminent danger of destruction. With priceless artifacts and millennia of history lost and imperiled, teams of heritage experts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been working tirelessly to track the scope of the plunder thus far. This map seeks to aid efforts to protect heritage by providing a foundation for identifying #CultureUnderThreat in the broader context of terrorist activity in the region. It shows, sadly, the clear march of destruction by Daesh and its sympathizers and illustrates where deliberate attacks on heritage are occurring and remain threatened. This phenomenon of heritage threatened by terror groups is not limited to the activities of Daesh. Cultural sites across the MENA region have been targeted by a variety of terror groups and violent extremist organizations across the Arab world. Although Daesh is capturing the headlines, they are just one of the many groups targeting heritage in the region.

Take a moment to explore this informative resource. We cannot simply hide our heads in the sand and pretend not to see the destruction. We must remain aware and alert and continue to strive towards a solution. Admittedly, these solutions are complicated and in the midst of wars and loss of life, people may dismiss heritage issues. But history gives a people a sense of self, a pride of place and a legacy to pass on. These are human yearnings, no matter the country, no matter the time. Political will and addressing past and present injustices of colonialism, sectarianism, religious strife and economic disparity are efforts that must be ongoing. But there is more. Understanding the heart of a people gives life to a culture and its people, nourishes the roots that bind individuals to each other and ultimately imbues in people a reverence for preservation of life and its defining elements. The ideas, philosophies, architecture and art that for centuries to come symbolize the lives that came before become all the more precious, and their loss all the more unthinkable. Cultural heritage as a cherished asset of society can be an antidote to wars and destruction and a beacon of what can reflect the best of humankind.

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