Culture thrives in time of peace. When people are busy fighting, they destroy their culture and themselves with it.
In the past, warring tribes destroyed indigenous cultures and imposed theirs on that of their subjects. We have the Spanish conquistadors as recent example. To hell with the Incas and Aztecs and their temples, they said. Just make them Catholics and then kill them if they prove to be pain in the neck. At least that way they were sure to go to heaven. Here lie the Incas and their tradition, must have written the Spaniards on the tombs of those civilizations, they will live in peace and so shall we.
Subjugated people have difficulty preserving their cultural heritage. When you are colonized you may kiss goodbye to your customs and traditions. Unless, of course, you have the strength to fight back and salvage some of them.
The Italians had taken a lot of cultural artifacts from our country when they left. Or maybe they stole them while they were here. As a vanquished people what was there for Eritreans to do except to look on helplessly. The ancient didn’t have a clue who much worth the artifact were and will become to be in the future, they sometimes even helped them in hauling big slabs of archaeological relics to be sent to Italy via Massawa.
But it was not always that the vanquisher destroyed a national heritage all by itself. Sometimes, the natives are to blame for their contributions based on ignorance and fanaticism.
Take Da’esh for example. These people don’t like artifacts. The destruction of ancient Iraqi and Syrian artifacts – a tactic employed in cultural genocide – is part of the Islamic State militants’ efforts to reform the region into a single, homogenous Muslim caliphate under its control. Palmyra, Marelian Monastry, Apamea, Dura-Europos, Mari, Hatra, Mosul Museum and Libraries, and many other have been destroyed by Da’esh. Historical objects and sites it destroyed were heresy to its ideology. In Palmyra, for example, the group blew up two historic tombs, one of a Shiite saint and another of a Sufi scholar, because it considers them to be forms of idolatry. To think that they have lived in peace with these “Idols” for the last 1400 years, one wonders how fickle the human mind is! So what do they do next? They demolish the idols and repent for not having done it earlier. Anyway, humanity is lucky that Abu Simbel is in Egypt and the Pieta in Rome.
A Swiss archaeologist is once said to have transferred a lot of ‘Pagan’ images from Afghanistan to his country. That’s one way to save a cultural heritage. Historical monuments and stone carvings do not belong to one particular race of people only, they belong to all humanity. After all, in the final analysis, the world and all that is therein belongs to those who live there irrespective of race and creed.
The heritage statues of Syria belong as much to Kenyans or Spaniards or the Australians as they belong to the Syrians. Everything that the hand of man shapes and fashions, every invention and work of art is a product of the collective consciousness of humankind.
It seems that whisking historical or archeological items out of a given country could in fact be a blessing in disguise.
The point is: take care of your cultural heritage or give it to someone who does until you finish your fights with your enemy.
Do you know that thousands of cultural monuments are being destroyed in Africa because of war and internal conflict? Doesn’t a monument sometimes remind you of your enemy? So, the logical thing to do is destroy it. In such a situation plundering becomes the order of the day, thieves and forgers abound. So much so that at present it is becoming difficult to distinguish between the genuine and the fake as regards cultural or historical items.
Anyway, the day won’t be far away when a nation’s cultural heritage will be replaced by phony imitations while the real ones embellish the private homes of the rich with Olympian tastes.
After the two great wars, there was a lot of restitution of precious paintings and works of art that had been stolen by invading powers. Russia returned its war spoils to Germany, Germany to France, and Japan to China. It is a noble act. Stolen property should be returned to the rightful owner on time. But, you keeping the stolen goods safe for decades is in itself a civil act. As those rich who stock them in their private homes do. Many of the great paintings of our time had been bought back from private collectors.
Perhaps it was a good thing some of our artifacts were in Italy. It is just that a communist regime arrives and destroys everything that reminds it of the decadent aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. A capitalist government takes over and you see socialist memorabilia tossed into the dustbin of history. Haven’t the Bolsheviks tried to erase everything related to the Romanovs? Haven’t the Germans tried to destroy everything Jewish?
There had been many groups is ISIS in the past. There will be more in the future unless the rule of law or common sense prevails in the World. For as long as human conflict continues fuelled by hatred and ignorance, the cultural and historical heritage of this world will never be safe.