appeal for information on cultural property that needs to be protected in Ukraine

The U.S.A. and its allies are preparing for any eventuality in the crisis in Ukraine, including military action; so, they are preparing to avoid and protect cultural property. People should not read too much into this activity: it is a requirement of the 1954 Hague Convention, and it is not only done when there will be military action, but it is a sign that intervention is a serious possibility.

Appeal

A charitable organisation of experts for the protection of cultural property, the U.S. Blue Shield (1), is gathering information on significant archaeological sites and historic buildings in Ukraine, in order to establish a “no-strike” list of places to avoid and protect in the event of military action.

If people know about Ukrainian cultural property, and are willing to share their knowledge, they should fill in this form (2) and send it to archaeologist Duane Quates. The U.S. Blue Shield will only send information to military personnel (3) who need to know if they need to know.

The Society for American Archaeology (SAA) supports the appeal for information. It has explained that it ‘cannot guarantee how these data will be used’ or by whom (4), but ill-informed military action could have even worse humanitarian and cultural impacts than otherwise, and those impacts would have negative consequences for generations.

Heritage experts should think first

Culture in Development‘s Rene Teijgeler, who has written insightfully about how to prepare to protect cultural property and why to be neutral or cooperative in wartime, has commented,

This is not at all so easy as it is explained by the US Blue Shield and the SAA. There was and still should be much more discussion on this issue. For example what about the case of a possible intervention in Iran at the time of WAC6 2008 and archaeologists were asked for the same thing [but refused to cooperate]. In other words these actions you have to put into context and one of them is the political context.

Heritage experts should think first before supporting these kind of actions and than take their decision. Being a former reserve officer myself I am almost sure that this information will also be used for intelligence adding to the fact that cultural heritage can easily become a tool in the hands of politicians and commanders. Is this [something] that you want to support?

Advocates of professional cooperation argue that military protection of cultural property is a legal requirement and a warning sign to local cultural heritage workers. However, the participants in the 8th World Archaeological Congress (WAC) called on cultural heritage workers ‘to resist any attempts by the military and governments to be co-opted in any planned military operation [against Iran], for example by providing advice and expertise to the military on archaeological and cultural heritage matters’.

News

In other news, the Cultural Heritage by Archaeology and Military Panel (CHAMP) is tracking news on events in Ukraine (and elsewhere).

Notes

1: United States’ National Committee of the International Committee of the Blue Shield.

2: Cultural Properties Information Needs

Site names and locations provided in Google Earth KML file, ArcMap Shapefile, and/or Microsoft Excel sheet should include the following information

  • Site Name

    • Name
  • Site Coordinates
    • GPS or Google Earth-derived
      • Degrees Minutes Second (DMS) format preferred, if possible
      • Provide derivation method [e.g. "Google Earth-derived"]
  • Location Description
    • Distance and direction from nearest major city, town, or country border
  • Facility Significance
    • Brief description (no more than 3 – 5 sentences) describing the significance of this site.
  • Facility Description
    • Brief description (no more than 3 – 5 sentences) describing the physical layout of site

      • Length x width (unit of measure)
      • Nearby structures
  • Amplifying Information (not necessary, but greatly appreciated if available)
    • Map graphics or site sketches
    • Ground photographs
    • Annotated Google Earth overhead imagery
    • Unique Identifier (registration number that is locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally recognized).

3: the U.S. Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) – via the Combatant Command (COCOM) Cultural Heritage Action Group (CCHAG).

4: the full text of the SAA’s appeal for information on cultural property in Ukraine

The situation in Ukraine has the potential for greatly disturbing, if not destroying, irreplaceable cultural heritage. Although we hope that the situation can be handled diplomatically, and so avoid the threat to human life as much as cultural property, the SAA understands that the United States and its allies need to prepare for all possibilities.

The development of a no-strike list and the incorporation of critically important archaeological and historical sites into military plans is, unfortunately, necessary if we are to have any reasonable hope of avoiding the loss of these resources.

I am therefore appealing to those knowledgeable about Ukrainian archaeological and historical sites to come forward with information that can be incorporated into a Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) cultural properties database. Attached to this appeal is information on the data format that is being requested by DIA as well as some examples.

I recognize that some SAA members may have misgivings about providing government agencies sensitive site information. I also want to make it clear that the SAA cannot guarantee how these data will be used nor are we in a position to restrict their distribution. Yet, the alternative–pursuing military objectives without such knowledge–may have significant consequences that reverberate for many generations.

In the past, cultural property data have been shared between small groups of concerned academics, Blue Shield committees, and the DIA. Access is limited to those who cooperate with the Combatant Commanders Cultural Heritage Action Group (www.cchag.org) and made available on a need-to-know basis. Most importantly, the cultural property database works. In Libya, for example, these data were used to create a no-strike list that resulted in minimal damage to listed sites.

SAA is committed to preserving the cultural heritage of humanity. I hope that members who have information that may be useful for protecting sites in the Ukraine seriously consider this request. Those who would like to help should send the requested information to the [U.S. Navy Marines' Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) coordinator Duane Coates] or [SAA International Government Affairs Committee (IGAC) chair Ian Lilley].

Jeff Altschul, President

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One Comment to “appeal for information on cultural property that needs to be protected in Ukraine”

  1. This is not at all so easy as it is explained by the US Blue Shield and the SAA. There was and still should be much more discussion on this issue. For example what about the case of a possible intervention in Iran at the time of WAC6 2008 and archaeologists were asked for the same thing. In other words these actions you have to put into context and one of them is the political context. Heritage experts should think first before supporting these kind of actions and than take their decision. Being a former reserve officer myself I am almost sure that this information will also be used for intelligence adding to the fact that cultural heritage can easily become a tool in the hands of politicians and commanders. Is this that you want to support?

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