We are a community of archaeologists at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University who jointly work to investigate past and present human societies within British Columbia, Canada and the wider world. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the tragic loss of life, the humanitarian crisis and the systematic destruction and looting of sacred mosques and churches, archaeological sites, and museums taking place in northern Syria and Iraq. We call on people from all walks of life to recognize that these historical places and objects are part of humanity’s shared cultural heritage and their destruction represents a tremendous loss for us all.
Cultural heritage forms a fundamental part of our collective and individual identity and its destruction is an attack on the culture and history of the Syrian and Iraqi communities whose identities are deeply rooted in many of the threatened buildings, sites and artefacts. These acts aim to extinguish the vibrant cultural diversity that has characterized these regions for centuries. We urge Canadians to voice their support of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), ISESCO (Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the UN Security Council in their unanimous condemnation of this assault on Middle Eastern and world history.
What can we do as Canadians?
We can call on our federal government, as a State Party to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, to implement the convention and strictly enforce the Cultural Property Export and Import Act to prevent the continued destruction and illegal removal and trafficking of cultural properties.
In keeping with the spirit of the 2003 UN Declaration Concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage, we can urge the Canadian government to join the world community and governments in the impacted areas, to prosecute those involved in the illegal trade of cultural heritage; to assist the people of Syria and Iraq in the restoration of our shared heritage; and to implement protective measures, such as the establishment of “protected cultural zones”, to ensure that this scale of looting and destruction will never happen again.
We can make financial donations to institutions whose members are working at the front lines of this crisis, such as UNESCO, and humanitarian relief organizations such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
We can educate ourselves to promote a wider understanding of the ancient and modern history of the Middle East, as a cradle of civilization.
And we can continue to promote values of human rights, tolerance, and cultural diversity in our daily lives.