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Heritage in Peril

Thomas P. Campbell
December 16, 2015

Bird's-eye view of Palmyra, Syria
View of Palmyra, 2009. Photograph by Elizabeth Knott

«This past October, The Met hosted a conference in Istanbul with Columbia University and Koç University about the crucial issues around cultural heritage preservation in Syria and Iraq. The gathering allowed us to convene key participants from both countries who would not otherwise have been able to get a visa to attend such a meeting in the United States. These participants shared their firsthand accounts of the challenging situations under which they are currently working as they try to salvage the heritage of their countries.»

In all, there were over forty participants, mostly Syrian and Iraqi, who attended this valuable workshop, but also colleagues from Turkey and western Europe. The conference encouraged frank and lively discussions in a safe and secure academic setting. All remarked that it was a rare occasion to have Middle Eastern contributions dominating a cultural heritage workshop, which resulted in a tremendously positive environment for the sharing of ideas and thoughts on new initiatives.

It is our hope that The Met can continue to help our colleagues in Syria and Iraq through training, assistance in documentation, translations of training materials and catalogues, raising awareness of the rich civilizations of these lands through programming at the Museum, and acting as a reliable portal to the range of information available about this crisis.

We will begin here by linking to the following sites that have critical information:

Cultural Heritage Centers and Organizations

  • ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research, based at Boston University) Cultural Heritage Initiatives is a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of State that is designed to document, protect, and preserve the cultural heritage of war-torn Syria and northern Iraq.
  • Heritage for Peace A nonprofit organization whose mission is to support all heritage workers in their efforts to protect and safeguard a country's cultural heritage during armed conflict.
  • International Committee of the Blue Shield The International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) and its affiliated national committees work together as the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross, providing an emergency response to cultural property at risk from armed conflict and natural disasters. They coordinate with the U.S. military and advise and assist in the protection of cultural property damaged or threatened by armed conflict or natural disasters and provide emergency planning.
  • Iraq Heritage Iraq Heritage is a source of authoritative information and policy-making advice on planning, reviving heritage sites, protecting areas that are at risk, and presenting the true value of the ancient heritage of Iraq.
  • Penn Cultural Heritage Center The Penn Cultural Heritage Center develops programs and activities in order to foster public and scholarly awareness regarding cultural heritage. The Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria Initiative (SHOSI) has developed specific interventions to enhance the ability of Syrian archaeologists to protect their cultural heritage.
  • Shirin International Project Shirin is an initiative from the global community of scholars active in the field of archaeology, art, and history of the ancient Near East. It brings together a significant proportion of those international research groups that were working in Syria prior to 2011 to address the cultural heritage crisis there.
  • U.S. State Department Cultural Heritage Center The Department's Cultural Heritage Center specializes in the protection and preservation of cultural property under threat.
  • World Monuments Fund World Monuments Fund is a private nonprofit organization founded in 1965 by individuals concerned about the accelerating destruction of important artistic treasures throughout the world.


  • Mapping Mesopotamian Monuments This Columbia University project documents the standing Mesopotamian monuments dating from ancient periods to the early twentieth century through onsite recording and status evaluation. It provides digital records for various monuments and facilitates future conservation work to preserve Mesopotamian cultural heritage.
  • Monuments of Syria An online version of the Ross Burns classic, Monuments of Syria, with a gazetteer of sites and up-to-date descriptions and photographs.
  • Oxford Archaeology Image Database The Oxford Archaeology Image Database, composed from resources such as slides and other media, aims to make available to as many interested people as possible images of sites which are now either inaccessible, damaged, or excavated so that architectural traces are lost.
  • Syrian Heritage Archive Project Joint project of Berlin's Museum für Islamische Kunst and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, aiming to digitize older archival records of threatened cultural property to ensure that the data can be used in the future and be meaningfully integrated into larger database projects to provide a basis for the subsequent evaluation of Syria's cultural heritage.


  • Discover Islamic Art This site lists monuments and artifacts in Syria as well as many other countries on the Mediterranean rim and Europe. It includes historical information about Islamic sites and objects in Syria as well as a virtual exhibition on the art of the Ayyubids.
  • Sharing History Sharing History is a Virtual Museum and Virtual Exhibition cycle exploring the relations between the Arab and Ottoman world and Europe between 1815 and 1918. The site aims to use works of art and cultural heritage to make the discovery of shared history both enjoyable and educational and to empower and engage people of all ages everywhere.

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Thomas Campbell

Thomas P. Campbell was formerly the director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.