Saturday, June 20, 2015

Barrel Bombs Burst Repatriationist Bubble

The Assad Regime has attacked  the Ma'arra Mosaic Museum in Syria with barrel bombs.   It is unclear whether sandbags put in place to protect its valuable mosaics helped save them from destruction.  What should be clear, however, is that the repatriationist assumptions behind HR 1493 need a major rethink.  Dictators who purposefully target museums are most certainly not the best stewards of cultural hertiage, and so repatriation cannot be equated with preservation, which should always be the primary goal.


Cultural Property Observer said...

CPO notes that anti-American archaeo-blogger Paul Barford has responded to this latest tragedy by claiming that "stuff happens" in war and noting that the loss of life is far more significant than the loss of mosaics. Of course, that is true, but it is also true that the site of museum was well known to the regime and that efforts to protect it had received international recognition in the press. If anything, it is more likely that the museum was purposefully targeted BECAUSE it benefitted from the good work of U. Penn, an American institution, that helped shore up the mosaics. Hopefully, that helped save at least some from destruction.

John Hooker FSA said...

Hi Peter,

If the museum was targeted,they most likely would not have hit it as barrel bombs are not used with bomb sights and are terribly inaccurate. They are mainly used against human targets in a well populated area, see:

The main scandal here seems to be in targeting civilians.



Cultural Property Observer said...

Hi John, of course, we can't forget about the cvilian tragedy, but one relates to the other. ISIS and the regime both target cultural sites to "get at" things that are important to local people (and the international community as well). As for barrel bombs, they are certainly not as accurate as dumb bombs or precision munitions, but at a minimum the Assad regime knew there was a museum in the area and they targeted the area anyway. Imagine the outcry from the Barfords, Gills and Elkins of the world if an errant US bomb hit a museum. Contrast that to the muted response here. Indeed, I see the archaeological blogosphere is already trying to change the subject by reporting on rumors that important buildings in Palmyra are being rigged with explosives. I obviously hope that is not true as Palmyra is a spectacular UNESCO World Heritage site that cannot be replaced. However, we should treat purposeful destruction of cultural heritage sites with equal concern. And, if anything the Assad regime should be held to a much higher standard given UNESCO's default position that antiquities should be repatriated to national governments. That certainly is also the assumption found in the CPIA and HR 1493. I would argue, however, that there should be an exception to this default position where, as here, the national government acts with unclean hands.

Paul Barford said...

Mr Barford notes that the information that Mr Tompa's fellow collector John Hooker supplied negates Mr Tompa's theory that the museum was specifically "targeted" by "Assad" (which ius cited in a Two Wrongs argument about not stopping smuggled artefacts on their way to US dealer and collectors). Mr Barford also notes that no modification to that theory has yet been made, neither here nor in a subsequent post on this blog. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story? As for US bombs, on my own blog, I noted at the time the anniversary of the destruction by US bombers of the Monte Cassino monastery, no such mention appeared on Mr Tompa's blog:

Full name: Paul Barford - Warsaw, Poland - basis for interest: person mentioned above.

Cultural Property Observer said...

For Mr. Barford, as I noted, they knew full well there was a museum in the area whether or not the bombs were accurate and hence they are responsible. And, of course, we don't know from what height these particular bombs were dropped.

Yes, Monte Cassino was a wrong decision, but more recently the US has taken great pains not to target such cultrual sites. Can we say the same for Assad? Certainly, his forces have been accuesed of purposefully targeting civilians and cultural sites.

I attended a lecture by an archaeologist who has been involved in efforts to save Syrian antiquities. He believed that the Assad regime was purposefully targeting such sites. I hope you are not acting the part of an apologist for the Assad regime, but it certainly sounds that way.