Diane Siebrandt on Iraq’s cultural heritage and current preservation efforts

safe-admin10 years after, Article4 Comments

The following statement and photographs are contributed by Diane Siebrandt, in observance of the 2013 Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage. SAFE is grateful for her insightful reflection.

Diane SiebrandtDiane Siebrandt worked in Iraq overseeing the American Embassy’s Cultural Heritage Program between 2006 and 2013. She was able to visit much of the country during her time there, gaining first-hand knowledge while working on numerous sites, including archaeological ruins, modern cultural monuments and religious structures. Prior to that, she was part of the Regime Crimes Liaison Office that excavated and analyzed material from mass graves found in Iraq. Diane is currently a PhD student at Deakin University, focusing on tracking the destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and how it relates to peaks and ebbs of violence.

Assyrian Hall, Iraq Museum

The Assyrian Hall at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, Iraq

I also had the great privilege to know Donny George and speak with him on multiple occasions about the cultural heritage of Iraq. He truly was an inspiration and is greatly missed.

While there were many mistakes made before, during and after the war, I think it is important to remember that there are a number of individuals who have fought the hard fight to turn to the positive and do some good. I was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to implement and manage a cultural heritage program for Iraq while working for the US Embassy in Baghdad from 2006 until early this year (2013). In conjunction with the Department of State’s Cultural Heritage Center, I managed numerous successful cultural heritage projects, some of which continue today. Just to name two, the Future of Babylon Project, and the Iraq Cultural Heritage Project, resulting in the establishment of the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage are both great achievements. Providing refurbishments to the Iraq Museum was also a success, as well as providing training opportunities for cultural heritage specialists from across Iraq. The full list of programs is still viewable on the Embassy’s website: http://iraq.usembassy.gov/projects.html

One of the reliefs of a “Mushussu” animal figure on Babylon’s Ishtar Gate

One of the reliefs of a “Mushussu” animal figure on Babylon’s Ishtar Gate

Caliphal Palace at Samarra

Documenting conditions inside the Caliphal Palace at Samarra

It is disheartening to see that Iraq and her people endure continued violence and unrest.

Human suffering persists while museums remain closed, archaeological sites still suffer from the hands of looters, agricultural encroachment and maintenance neglect, while the plight of the country is now largely forgotten. Thank you SAFE for being a driving force to keep Iraq in the news, we cannot forget.

My fight continues by working on my PhD, which highlights cultural heritage issues in Iraq. I am part of a team that is creating the world’s first database that documents the destruction of heritage that occurred in Iraq between 2003 and 2011. My own thesis focuses on evaluating complex inter-cultural relationships between foreign and indigenous personnel and their role in the destruction or preservation of cultural heritage in Iraq.

I remain hopeful, if a bit uncertain, about what the future holds for Iraq’s cultural heritage, but look forward to the day when the country is stable enough so all people can visit the wonders of Mesopotamia.

“He saw the Secret, discovered the Hidden, he brought information of (the time) before the Flood.

He went on a distant journey, pushing himself to exhaustion, but then was brought to peace.” (The Epic of Gilgamesh 1.5-8).

—Diane Siebrandt


4 Comments on “Diane Siebrandt on Iraq’s cultural heritage and current preservation efforts”

  1. Sharon Mikulich

    wonderful article. I would like to print this but it won’t print out. I tried several ways. why doesn’t it print??

  2. Lucille Roussin

    Thank you for this, Diane. Your statement is both encouraging and troubling at the same time. We all hope that the violence in Iraq will stop sooner than later.

  3. Mark Boyer

    I’m proud to have known this lady in Baghdad and was always amazed at her devotion to the people and heritage of Iraq. Often putting herself in some dangerous situations, her passion and caring assisted in recovering and securing hundreds of lost and mismanaged artifacts that may have never been seen again.
    We often talked about “Gertrude Bell” and her devotion to Iraq and I can now visualize Ms. Bell passing the torch to Diane at a time when the next generation in Iraq need her the very most. I’ve already learned so much from her coversations and her selfless devotion, that I can’t wait for the next coffee conversation at the “Green Bean”. Many Cheers!

  4. María José Turrión

    Thanks Diane for your work and for your information.
    María José Turrión
    Archivist in Spain

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