The end of history? The impact of the Gulf Wars (1990–1991 and 2003-present) on Iraq’s cultural heritage

Melissa Nisbett  (Sheffield Hallam University)
Download the full text here (PDF).

This article examines the legal and military circumstances that have led to the
destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq, exposing shortcomings in international
cultural policy and addressing the question of whether such an ‘end of history’
is an inevitable consequence of military conflict.

This paper begins by discussing the cultural significance of ancient
Mesopotamia modern Iraq and leads to an examination of case studies
including the utilisation of artefacts and sites by the military and the neglect
and targeting of cultural property as a tactic of war. The focus shifts to an
exploration of the term ‘cultural genocide’ and given the significance of the
region to western culture, raises the question of whether we can interpret
recent events as a form of ‘cultural suicide’. This paper investigates how the
post-war anarchy of the first Gulf War was allowed to reoccur, despite
considerable predictions and forewarning, questioning why the protection of
cultural heritage was not a key issue in the British government’s agenda.

Drawing upon scholarly and professional journals, newspaper articles and
international conference papers, this report provides a critique of events. It
uses case studies to illustrate the main points including lack of military
planning, questionable prioritisation, inadequate international support and
disregard for cultural policy.

Keywords: Iraq, cultural property, cultural heritage, cultural genocide and the
Hague Convention.

Melissa Nisbett graduated in 2001 with a BA degree in Public Relations,and moved immediately into the arts, working as Marketing Assistant at Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust. She then moved into the education sector, specialising in new media and e-marketing, before returning to arts marketing as PR Officer at Sheffield Hallam University’s School of Cultural Studies. Melissa is currently employed at Ikon Gallery as Marketing Manager, her role spans the gallery’s exhibitions, offsite programme, education work and commercial activities. Melissa is currently completing an MA in Cultural Policy and Management at Sheffield Hallam University.


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