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Initiated in 2014, ASOR’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives (ASOR CHI) is an international collaboration of scholars and institutions who work under the auspices of ASOR. Through two cooperative agreements with the U.S. Department of State and with the generous support of non-federal organizations and donors (especially the Getty Conservation Institute, The Whiting Foundation, and the Kaplan Fund), ASOR CHI undertakes projects to document, protect, and preserve the cultural heritage of war-torn Syria, northern Iraq, and Libya. Hundreds of significant heritage sites have been damaged since fighting began in 2011. Although the destruction of cultural property represents only part of the humanitarian crisis, these harmful actions threaten our common world heritage and cultural diversity. We have an ethical obligation to respond, and our project is part of an international effort to work with Syrians, Iraqis, and Libyans (and other peoples) to protect their heritage and cultural identity.

Since ASOR CHI’s work began,we have carried out three emergency response initiatives in Syria and produced over 1,000 reports on the cultural heritage situation in Syria and northern Iraq. In addition, We have inventoried 13,000 sites in Syria and northern Iraq, conducted 9,000 satellite assessments, completed 750 detailed condition assessments, made 4,150 heritage observations, and compiled 10,000 archived media entries on cultural heritage incidents and assets. All of these data have been used to assist local cultural heritage experts in emergency response efforts and to help combat the trafficking of illicit antiquities by terrorists. The incident reports and special reports have affected U.S. policy and law and are posted online.

ASOR’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives implements cultural property protection by:
     1. Documenting damage
     2. Promoting global awareness
     3. Planning emergency and post-war responses

1. Documenting Damage

  • Collecting information from news and social media sources
  • Communicating with heritage specialists, networks of volunteers, and other organizations in Syria and northern Iraq
  • Analyzing satellite imagery to monitor, document, and verify heritage damage
  • Synthesizing data generated from the above activities to track the evolving cultural heritage situation in Syria
  • Producing a comprehensive inventory of heritage sites and damage that integrates all of the above

2. Promoting Global Awareness

  • Producing weekly reports that provide timely updates on the status of heritage damage and threats in Syria
  • Providing periodic reports that synthesize trends, patterns, and needs within the overall heritage situation
  • Sharing our findings and conclusions in public symposia, international conferences, and colloquia
  • Communicating with the public through English and Arabic-language social media and news sources
  • Coordinating with other organizations that are working to safeguard Syrian heritage

3. Planning Emergency and Post-war Responses

  • Assessing the major preservation issues affecting cultural heritage
  • Designing protocols for rapid documentation of damage and preservation needs that can be implemented in the future
  • Developing proposals for future large-scale preservation projects
  • Providing resources for high-impact mitigation projects
  • Identifying human resource priorities to strengthen future cultural heritage management capacity for Syria

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