Issue 115/06, p15, 01.06.2015
How can the UK support museums in Iraq and Syria?


Lamia Al-Gailani, research associate, University of London

“The damage to the antiquities and heritage of Iraq over the past three decades of war is catastrophic. Despite all the protective measures put in place by archaeologists, looters and terrorists are intent on robbing Iraq of its history and heritage.

“The State Board of Antiquities and Heritage is helpless in preventing this. It lacks expertise in crisis management and recording collections with three- dimensional photographs. The digitising of collections is the most urgent measure so we at least have a record. A partnership with a western organisation is needed.”


Alice Stevenson, curator, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

“We need to advocate and mobilise support for our Iraqi and Syrian colleagues by fostering a deeper understanding in the UK of the importance of their heritage. When Iraqi and Syrian archaeological material is encountered in our museums, it is often distanced from modern territories through labels such as ‘Mesopotamian’ or ‘Near Eastern’.

“Museums here need to make explicit the links between this colonial legacy and present- day nations and their challenges. This includes the consequences of looting, the networks for which start and end in western markets.” 


Jonathan Tubb, keeper, department of the Middle East, British Museum

“At the present time, very little can be done on the ground in Iraq and Syria to prevent further destruction of cultural heritage in areas controlled by Islamic State militants other than to record and monitor the events happening there.

“But what we can do is to support our colleagues in those countries by providing intensive training in emergency heritage management, here in the UK and in their own institutions, so that when these countries manage to return to effective governmental control, there will be a fully trained task force ready to face the challenges.”


Eleanor Robson, professor of ancient Middle Eastern history, UCL

“It will be years before museums in Syria and Islamic State-occupied areas of Iraq are ready to open again. Meanwhile, lots of UK collections hold Middle Eastern objects and almost everyone in the Middle East these days has a smartphone or tablet.

“All the raw ingredients are available to create a virtual, mobile- friendly museum in Arabic, drawing on the artefacts and expertise of one or more UK museums and universities. It would be cheap and an effective complement to rebuilding, restocking and retraining."