This is a simple English summary of Excavation under Annexation: Archaeological Work in Crimea. I want to help archaeologists to think about how to protect cultural property in annexed Ukraine. If I can help anyone, please contact me.
What has happened in Ukraine?
To anyone who has denied, downplayed or defended Russia’s actions – particularly to now former friends of friends – the Russian army has invaded, occupied and annexed part of Ukraine; it is preparing to annex more of Ukraine; and it is planning to annex parts of other countries.
What has happened to Ukrainian cultural property?
Russia has not simply occupied Crimea. It has annexed Crimea. And it has not only annexed Crimea’s territory. It has annexed Crimea’s cultural property. Under Russian law, it owns Crimea’s museum collections and it licenses Crimea’s archaeological work. Reportedly, it has already taken a ‘massive [массовый]’ amount of cultural property from Crimea back to Russia. As the Pink Agendist points out, ‘Russia is one of the world capitals of art-theft…. Nothing they take is safe…. Robbery on a consistent and persistent level.’
It is difficult for archaeologists to work in annexed territories; so, it is difficult for archaeologists to protect cultural heritage in annexed territories; so, it is dangerous for the cultural and economic security of the occupied country and its annexed territory.
I say that (some) legal obligations are “technical” obligations: because cultural heritage work is done in secessionist/annexed territory; because, sometimes, laws are difficult to use or easy to misuse; and because laws can be misused to force people to do things that are bad for them.
Russia has legal responsibility for the occupied territory and its cultural property. Under the 1954 Hague Convention, Russia must support Ukraine’s emergency work to protect occupied cultural property. Technically, according to the 1956 New Delhi Recommendation, there cannot be any archaeological excavations in the occupied territory. Definitely under the 1999 Hague Protocol, Ukraine would be able to excavate endangered Crimean sites, but neither Ukraine nor Russia has agreed to that protocol.
Russia does not believe that Ukraine has any right to control Crimea, so it will not allow Ukraine’s emergency work in the annexed territory. At the same time, the international community does not believe that Russia has any right to control Crimea, so it will not support Russia’s cultural heritage work in the annexed territory.
Ukraine’s government, cultural heritage profession and cultural heritage activists will not recognise Russia’s permits (разрешения) for excavations (раскопки) in the annexed territory [but they will(?) acquiesce to Russia’s cultural heritage management as the occupying power]. The international community (the UN, UNESCO, the EU, the US…) will not recognise Russia’s excavation permits.
And archaeologists need licences to do their work (excavation, analysis, etc.), so they may not be able to work in Crimea. If they do work in Crimea, they may be punished for supporting Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory.
What can Ukrainian archaeologists and their international colleagues do?
These are only possibilities, but they are all based on real situations.
Prohibit any and all work under annexed authority?
Archaeological sites will be left open to looting. Museums will become unable to conserve cultural property. If (even Crimean) archaeologists perform emergency work on annexed sites, they may be punished for accepting Russian annexation. If archaeologists refuse to perform emergency work on annexed sites, they may be punished for not protecting Ukrainian cultural property.
Permit emergency work?
Ukraine could allow emergency work, to protect its cultural heritage (and its cultural heritage workers). Would it allow international experts to help local workers? Would it allow local students to train?
Permit emergency and existing research work by archaeologists? Cooperation without recognition?
If existing research work is prohibited, artefacts, records and workers’ knowledge may be lost. Ukraine could allow existing research work to be completed, to secure its archaeological record. If Russia gave a licence for worthwhile work, Ukraine could give a licence for the same work.
Or, Ukraine could simply say that archaeologists were forced to use Russian licences to protect Ukrainian cultural property; they did not want to use Russian licences; they did not choose to use Russian licences. They did not recognise Russian authority; they only recognised Russian power; they did not support the annexation of Ukrainian territory. So, they did not break the law.
Again, if I can help anyone, please contact me.