Preserving the Cultural Heritage of Minority Communities in Iraq

Speeches Shim

Manuscript conservation at the Centre Numérique des Manuscrits Orientaux in Iraq
Archbishop Najeeb Michaeel works with his team at the CNMO on proper conservation techniques for an ancient manuscript as part of the USAID-funded activity.
CNMO for USAID

Known as the Cradle of Civilization, present-day Iraq is a land where some of humanity’s most ancient stories were born. USAID supports the preservation of cultural heritage that offers self-definition and a spirit of community to oppressed religious and ethno-religious minorities in Iraq.

Project Snapshot

  • Partners: Antiquities Coalition (Prime Implementer) in partnership with the Catholic Dioceses of Mosul’s Centre Numérique des Manuscrits Orientaux (CNMO), the Syriac Heritage Museum, and Yazda.
  • Project Duration: May 2021 – May 2023
  • Locations: Erbil, Dohuk, and Sinjar
  • Total Budget: $1,000,000

Context

The ruthless campaigns led by ISIS to destroy cultural artifacts and sites in northern Iraq between 2014 and 2015, seeking to erase Iraq’s rich cultural and religious diversity, sent shockwaves across the globe. ISIS systematically destroyed sites of worship and historical significance, including churches, mosques, shrines and tombs, and even museums and libraries. They also committed egregious crimes against the Yezidis, inflicting one of the most horrific massacres in modern history that sought to eradicate an entire community and any trace of its oral traditions. With minority communities that are increasingly fragmented due to persecution, digitally documenting their traditions is a crucial step to preserving their heritage, rebuilding intercommunal understanding, and fostering communal healing and stability.

USAID Response

USAID works with the Antiquities Coalition to train local partners in documenting and digitizing cultural heritage, creating and organizing digital records, and data management. The project also provides equipment to the different teams in order to digitize heritage artifacts and activities. Digitally documenting the collections will protect these invaluable pieces of tangible and intangible materials while making them more accessible to a wider, even international, audience. Furthermore, making these digitized pieces accessible through online platforms can also facilitate the identification and repatriation of missing objects.

Achievements to Date 

  • With the support of USAID, the Antiquities Coalition has digitized over 3,200 manuscripts, covering more than 800 years of history in northern Iraq.
  • USAID, through the Antiquities Coalition, completed 3 videos of historical site documentation and 4 videos of oral heritage, religious exercises and stories, to preserve and present the cultural heritage of Yezidis in Iraq.
  • USAID has also supported the launching of the Ray of the Sun Program, an educational project designed to preserve Yezidi cultural heritage, in Sinjar, the historic homeland of the Yezidis.
  • The Antiquities Coalition has trained 3 local civil society organizations (Yazda, Syriac Heritage Museum and CNMO) on techniques of cultural preservation to establish local capacities that are led by the ethnic and religious minorities.

 

Last updated: July 15, 2022

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