The Basra Museum in Iraq. Image provided by the Friends of Basrah Museum

The Basra Museum in Iraq gets funding to complete three galleries

Nicola Sullivan, 20.12.2016
Cultural Protection Fund issues its first round of grants for projects in the Middle East and Africa
The newly opened Basra Museum, located in one of Saddam Hussein’s former places in Iraq, has received £460,000 to complete building work on its three remaining gallery spaces.

This is one of a number of projects being supported by the £30m Cultural Protection Fund, set up by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the British Council.

The money made available in the fund’s first round of grants will be used by organisations in the UK and all over the world to work on cultural projects in war torn countries across the Middle East and North Africa.

The Friends of Basrah Museum, a registered UK charity, will work with the Department of Antiquities and Heritage in Basra, and the State Board of Antiquities in Baghdad to fit out the three galleries in the museum and transfer cultural items from Baghdad for display.

The new galleries will display important cultural heritage that has been in store in Baghdad since 2003, and tell the story of important eras in Iraq's history: Sumer (Southern Iraq in the period 3300BC - 1792BC), Babylon (the great period of Mesopotamian civilisation from 1792BC-330BC) and Assyria (Northern Iraq between 883 BC and 612 BC).

Other projects supported by the Cultural Protection Fund include: training staff from Libyan and Tunisian national heritage organisations in documentation, preventative conservation and heritage; and a ground survey of the pre-Islamic city Charax and 14 other sites in Iraq. There are also links between Charax and the historic city of Palmyra, which news reports suggest has been retaken by Islamic State fighters.

“The £30m Cultural Protection Fund will provide essential support for countries where heritage is threatened by conflict and war. At a time when we have seen one of the world’s most important sites come under attack, these projects are a first step to restoring and preserving heritage at risk," said heritage minister Tracey Crouch. 

"Protecting human life in conflict zones will always be our highest priority. But this fund, and the UK’s ratification of the Hague Convention, absolutely underlines our commitment to supporting countries that have come through conflict, and helping preserve global heritage.”

In response to the conflict in Mali in 2012 the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has published the Red List of West African Cultural Objects at Risk. The aim of the list is to highlight the types of artefacts that are in demand on the art and antiquities market, protected by legislation, and vulnerable to being looted, stolen or illegally exported.

A statement issued by ICOM said: “Individuals or institutions wishing to acquire cultural goods from this part of Africa are strongly encouraged to pay close attention to the provenance and legal documentation of any such objects. In the event of any doubt as to the legality of a transaction, buyers should abstain from acquiring the object.”

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