Last Thursday the Middle East Department at the British Museum hosted a lecture by Dr Fawziya Al Maliky (Head of the Department of Heritage, Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage) who talked about “Heritage buildings in Najaf and Karbala”
Dr Al Maliky talked about the deterioration of heritage buildings in Iraq, caused and exacerbated by wars in the past three decades, in addition to the general environmental reasons (severe temperature fluctuations and rising humidity).
Old buildings have become abandoned for many reasons (owners leaving to escape the war, or moving into newer areas…) and the buildings are left to deteriorate. Sometimes squatters move in and are unable to maintain the structure, and sometimes corrupt developers purchase the land and destroy these historic buildings – often blaming the destruction on terrorist activity, flood or fire.
The Department of Heritage is, in principle, responsible for all heritage buildings in Iraq (government-owned and private). However, the reality of underfunding means that they can only give attention to the buildings actually owned by the State. And in addition to all of these challenges, Department of Heritage officials are frequently harassed and threatened when trying to enforce the heritage protection regulations on privately owned historic buildings.
With only a small budget at hand, the Department of Heritage is now focusing on an education initiative to make people aware of heritage buildings and the importance of preserving them. The long-term aim is to have a Heritage Museum in every city in Iraq as a base for each province.
I’ve attached Dr Al Maliky’s presentation, in which you can see some of the heritage buildings throughout Iraq