Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

The Cultural Price of ISIS

I found this article both disturbing and enlightening. In the continuing coverage of ISIS predations in the Middle East, we don’t often take into account the cultural  price of the conflict. Justifiably, to be honest, because the human toll is so high. But there is added tragedy in the destruction of priceless cultural edifices throughout Syria and Iraq.

I found this passage particularly haunting: “Maamoun Abdulkarim, director general of antiquities and museums in Damascus, said that he has lost three staff members: one in a sniper attack, one in a bomb blast. Perhaps the most unsettling, he said, was the beheading of Abdullah al-Hamaid, 34, a ranger who guarded several tells, or archaeological mounds, and other heritage sites in Deir al-sour.” 

To ISIS, “culture” seems to be synonymous with contamination or imperialism. It seems odd, because the museums and cultural artifacts they are destroying represent their own rich, collective history, but there you go. If anything, it further illuminates both the brave efforts of those attempting to preserve and manage these sites and the necessity of cultural institutions in the first place.

There’s another article over on the ArtsBeat blog about a grant given to individuals who preserve and protect sites in Syria. Read about it here.


In Syria and Iraq, Trying to Protect a Heritage at Risk –


4 comments on “The Cultural Price of ISIS

  1. laurenelizabethdickel
    October 29, 2014

    Evan, thank you for posting this. It really is heart breaking to read about what is happening to people in these war torn areas and the primary artifacts that are subsequently being lost.
    I particularly like you comment
    “To ISIS, “culture” seems to be synonymous with contamination or imperialism. It seems odd, because the museums and cultural artifacts they are destroying represent their own rich, collective history, but there you go.”

    I remember reading about the destruction of the tomb of the profit Jonah this summer too, which has significance in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It does seem bizzar that holy sites or religious artifacts are being destroyed because they are associated/ share significance with other religions… especially since Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have some significant shared history.

    I wonder, even with such a large grant of money how many artifacts will be protected. Part of me feels like that money would be better served if allocated to providing more resources to all the refugees from this uprising….

  2. emkais
    October 29, 2014

    I have been using this article as a reference in a paper I am writing for another course. It’s really a great article about something so unfortunate. It really is amazing and sad to consider the destruction and the ramifications of this conflict. Obviously the human life lost and the tragedies of war are awful and must be stopped. In part, these are being funded by the destruction and trafficking of cultural artifacts. Akin to the Taliban’s call to destroy all idols circa 2001 and the following destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan ISIS is towing a similar line. Because Syria has been a continuously inhabited area for thousands and thousands of years it has layers and layers of history and artifacts from many eras and religions; Roman, Byzantine, Greek items are easier to traffic as they don’t raise as many red flags. This NPR All Things Considered piece fleshes out their strategy a bit more,

  3. shrulala
    October 30, 2014

    The casualty of war – innocent civilians and cultural heritage. Its so unfortunate that the world has come to this! We let this happen over and over again and not sure how to stop it from happening even. Infact sometimes I prefer the war of the ancient times where there was a specific battle field where the brave soldiers would fight one and another out and then see who wins rather than widespread chaos, killing and butchering of what our daily lives should be like. In these war ridden countries normal has become something we can’t even imagine. Despite the atrocities its amazing some people want to step and preserve cultural artifacts and keep the museums going!

  4. hgenetos
    October 31, 2014

    I have written about ISIS twice now on here for their actions against artifacts. It is devasting to think about the people who have lost their lives defending these pieces. And even more so thinking about those who lost their lives for just living it.

    What is interesting is that Arabs were the protectors of ancient Greek history and lessons during the Crusades when the Christians were destroying their relics. We discussed this in great detail in my Islamic Philosophy and Theology and I wish I could find the text today.

    It breaks my heart that without the Arabs we wouldn’t have some of the items from ancient Greece and now they are destroying their own relics and the people who guard them.

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