Cultural Heritage: A Target in War, an Engine of Peace

U.S. Institute of Peace, 2301 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington , DC, US
Monday, October 24, 2016 – 8:45am – 5.30pm

Stories from Afghanistan and ‘Turquoise Mountain’ on Preserving Culture to Curb Violence
In 2001, Taliban fighters dynamited Afghanistan’s massive Bamiyan Buddha statues, carved into cliff faces, into rubble. Serb forces burned Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Sarajevo National Library in 1992 and ISIS extremists recently razed ancient temples in Palmyra, Syria. Such deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is so damaging to civilizations that the world recognizes it as a war crime. But the power of cultural heritage, so targeted in war, also can provide instruments to build peace. An October 24 symposium in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution will use recent experience, notably in Afghanistan, to examine the often unrecognized power of cultural heritage. The discussion will explore new ways that it might serve worldwide to prevent, or recover from, violent conflict.

Recent wars offer no greater example of cultural heritage turned to healing than the work in Afghanistan of the charity Turquoise Mountain, the subject of a stunning, 11-month exhibition by the Smithsonian Institution. “Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan,” at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, shows how historians, artisans, young students and communities are preserving and renewing traditions, crafts, economic livelihoods and a historic district of Kabul. This symposium at the U.S. Institute of Peace will gather scholars, museum professionals and policymakers to explore what we have learned from recent wars about the role of cultural heritage. The daylong symposium aims to improve our understanding of how cultural heritage initiatives, such as Turquoise Mountain, can contribute to peace. How can this work empower marginalized women and communities? How can it strengthen the reconciliation, civic engagement and economic bases needed to build peace in the shadow of violent conflicts? Discussions will include the emerging role of new technologies and the ways in which Afghanistan’s lessons, with other case studies, apply elsewhere in the world. Funding for this symposium, and for the Smithsonian exhibition, has been provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

View the Working Agenda online here, or download it here.

Report from Georges Mihaies, Member of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Task Force at UNESCO, on the symposium

Watch it on You-Tube here and here.

Panel 1: What is Cultural Heritage and (Why) Does it Matter?

Panel 2: Looking Back: 15 Years of Cultural Heritage Initiatives in Afghanistan

Panel 3: Looking to the Future: New Generation, New Technology, New Approaches

Panel 4: Looking Out: Comparisons, Lessons, Inspirations