Trend in Japan Web Japan
Business and Economy Lifestyle Science and Technology Fashion Arts and Entertainment Sports People
Japan Helps to Protect Precious Cultural Artifacts (October 16, 2003)

The Ukhaidar Mosque
The Ukhaidar Mosque in Karbala (Kokushikan University)
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.

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 in Iraq.

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.

Related video
Japan Video Topics : Japan's Assistance for Iraq

 Page Top

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.

Related articles
(March 29, 2001)

(February 1, 2001)
Drop Us a Line
Your Name

What did you think of this article?

It was interesting.
It was boring.

Send this article to a friend

Go TopTrends in Japan Home

Go BackLifestyle Home