On Wednesday, September 27, ACT Professor Azra Akšamija gave a lecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, titled Preservation and War. She spoke about the ethics of preservation of cultural heritage at the time of systematic destruction, when heritage becomes a means of war, and then presented the Memory Matrix project and her current work in the Al Azraq refugee camp.
Humanity is witnessing a crisis of tragic proportion as war and increasing cultural divisions condition forced displacement and destruction of cultural heritage within conflict zones. In the ongoing Syrian civil war, the populations of entire cities and regions have been displaced, and their cultures have been threatened by erasure. The loss of cultural heritage that accompanies human tragedy is amplified as the deliberate and systematic targeting of cultural institutions has become an instrument for genocidal and territorial conquests. The crisis in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen render visible how a combat over territorial dominance is carried out through cultural means: beside the eviction and mass murder of civilians, the extermination of their cultural and historical traces allows for recreation of political territories according to specific ideologies. The destruction of cultural heritage, in this context, is a powerful tool to execute ethnic cleansing through the erasure of people’s traces of history, memory, and identity. At the same time, the looting of cultural property provides a financial backbone for the war.