Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cultural Nationalism Now Bites American Archaeologists

A Kurdish source is reporting that the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has stopped dealing with US archaeological teams in response to the refusal of US authorities to return Iraqi Jewish artifacts to the country. 

If so, this is a rebuff not only to American archaeologists who have tirelessly promoted the interests of the Iraqi archaeological establishment (both during and after the fall of Saddam's Baathist regime) but also to the US State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center, which have lavished millions of dollars on the Iraqi archaeological establishment-- all at a time US cultural institutions are finding themselves in an extremely harsh financial climate.

In punishing American archaeologists for a dispute over the repatriation of cultural artifacts, the Iraqis are apparently taking a page from the Turkish Government which has also recently punished German archaeologists for the perceived transgressions of German state museums.

Here, the Iraqis are apparently specifically miffed at US reconsideration of a controversial State Department "commitment"  to return cultural artifacts confiscated from Iraqi Jews who were forced from their homeland in a callous act of "ethnic cleansing".   Given their own "unclean hands," it's hard to see any "moral rights" Iraq may have to such artifacts. 

And in an ironic twist, American archaeologists apparently have now themselves become the "victims" of the very same virulent cultural nationalism they have themselves done so much to foster.  Perhaps it's finally time for the Archaeological Institute of America to rethink its unqualified support for the broadest claims of any nation state where American archaeologists excavate. 

And it's certainly time to cut any further funding of Iraqi archaeology or the repatriation of any "Iraqi looking" cultural goods based on the slimmest suspicion they may have left that country after an international embargo was placed on the import of any Iraqi products. 

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