RESCUING IRAQ'S HERITAGE
Japan Helps to Protect Precious Cultural Artifacts (October 16, 2003)
Immediately following the recent war in Iraq, the National
Museum of Iraq in Baghdad was looted, and many precious cultural artifacts were
lost. The museum, which contained artifacts from the ancient Mesopotamian civilization,
is said to rank alongside the British Museum and the Cairo Museum in Egypt in
terms of its importance as a treasure trove of human heritage, and news of the
looting shocked the world. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural
Organization twice dispatched survey teams to Iraq in order to assess the full
extent of the damage. Taking part in the survey teams were two Japanese experts,
Matsumoto Kon, a professor at Kokushikan University, and Aoki Shigeo, director
of restoration techniques at the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties,
Tokyo. The Japanese government contributed $1 million in emergency funds to UNESCO
for the purpose of securing and protecting Iraq's cultural assets and another
$1 million for assisting Iraq in the field of education.
|The Ukhaidar Mosque in Karbala (Kokushikan University)
Japanese Scholars Determine Extent of Looting
The National Museum of Iraq holds some 170,000 cultural artifacts from Mesopotamian
civilizations, including the Code of Hammurabi, the oldest set of laws in the
world, which is known for its dictums, "an eye for an eye," and "a
tooth for a tooth." The museum also acts as the hub of 11 regional museums
in Iraq. Most of its pieces date from the ancient Sumerian culture around 3500
BC to the end of the Abbasid caliphate in the Islamic empire in 1258. Experts
describe the museum as possessing treasures that cannot be found anywhere else.
The looting at the museum is said to have taken place over a period of three days
beginning April 10, immediately after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. Initially
it was reported that between 60,000 and 70,000 of the museum's 170,000 pieces
had been stolen and that the computers used to manage these cultural assets had
been destroyed. The first UNESCO survey team, however, found that the museum's
staff had moved many of the important pieces to a vault in the central bank. The
team learned that several thousand pieces were actually missing, many fewer than
originally reported. The missing objects included some very important works, and
there is concern some of them might have been taken out of the country.
At around this time, Ohnuma Katsuhiko, a professor at Kokushikan University who
previously served as director of the university's Institute for Cultural Studies
of Ancient Iraq, traveled to Iraq to assess the situation. According to Ohnuma,
among the artifacts looted or destroyed were a Sumerian mask made of marble, ivory
statues from the time of the New Assyrian Empire in the eighth century BC, and
the head of the statue of a lion that dates back to the nineteenth century BC
and the Old Babylonian Empire. He says, "A total of thirty-four such important
pieces of art were stolen or damaged. There are strong suspicions that this crime
was an organized act. These pieces will make their way onto the international
black market, and it will be difficult to get them back."
|Ruins from the seventh century BC in Mosul (Kokushikan University)
Japanese Government Pledges $2 Million
Taking this situation into account, the Japanese government moved to actively
take measures to support the preservation and recovery of Iraqi cultural assets.
The Emergency Measures Headquarters for the Situation in Iraq, which is chaired
by Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro, held its second meeting on April 21 and
decided on a six-point plan of humanitarian and reconstruction aid for Iraq. As
an initial step to be taken immediately, the plan stipulates cooperation with
UNESCO to help with the preservation and protection of Iraqi cultural properties.
Under the plan, the government provided $2 million through UNESCO in order to
assist in the protection of Iraq's cultural heritage, as well as to promote education
On May 12 Hirayama Ikuo, UNESCO's goodwill ambassador and president of the Tokyo
National University of Fine Arts and Music, held a press conference with Minister
for Foreign Affairs Kawaguchi Yoriko and Minister of Education, Culture, Sports,
Science, and Technology Toyama Atsuko. Hirayama stated, "Iraq is the cradle
of Mesopotamian [Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian] culture. In addition, it
was influenced by Greek and Roman civilization, and it was also the region that
fostered the development of Islamic civilization. It must be said that the loss
of these cultural assets is tantamount to the destruction of the history of human
civilization." The three announced the start of a campaign to save Iraqi
cultural assets that involves both the public and private sectors.
UNESCO convened meetings of experts in London and Paris following the looting
of the National Museum of Iraq, and the meetings made concrete recommendations
on such matters as necessary measures to prevent the stolen artifacts from entering
the international black market. Working with UNESCO to strengthen the system of
international support for protecting Iraqi cultural assets, Japan hosted an international
conference in Tokyo on August 1 in order to identify the priority measures.
Projects to Conserve Cultural Heritage
This will not be the first time that Japan has contributed to the preservation
of cultural heritage in the world. Japan is cooperating in the restoration of
Moai statues on Easter Island in the South Pacific, which have been damaged by
exposure to the elements. The bodies of the four-meter-high statues will be reinforced,
and the statues will be placed on altars.
In Cambodia, Japan has been actively engaged in efforts to preserve and restore
the Angkor monuments since 1993. The Japanese people have long had a keen interest
in preserving cultural heritage globally, and the Japanese initiatives in Iraq
are the latest manifestation of these efforts.
Japan Video Topics : Japan's Assistance for Iraq
Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.
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