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Collapse and Rebirth of Cultural Heritage

The Case of Syria and Iraq


Edited By Lorenzo Kamel

Cultural heritage and illicit trafficking in the Middle East are two key topics of our time.  The  book  sheds  light  on  both  aspects,  and  identifies  the  need  to  democratize  cultural heritage, by giving greater control to local communities. It also investigates the link between local hotbeds of conflict and violence in countries such as Syria and Iraq,  as  well  as  war  economics,  transnational  criminal  networks  and  the  politics  of  deliberate destruction and theft of cultural heritage. Finally, the chapters analyze the impact  of  non-violent  and  violent  non-state  actors,  fragile  states,  forced  migration,  environmental  degradation,  as  well  as  how  local  and  international  institutions  have  reacted to the dramatic events which the region and its inhabitants have experienced in recent years
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Chapter 6: Cultural Heritage as a Process of Accumulation: The ‘Paradigm of Gilgamesh’ (Lorenzo Kamel)


Lorenzo Kamel

Chapter 6: Cultural Heritage as a Process of Accumulation: The ‘Paradigm of Gilgamesh’

Cultural heritage is not only a relatively new idea – deeply rooted in the 19th century, when Europeans showed an increasing interest in preserving Medieval buildings – but also a problematic one. It is, in fact, a top-down ideal usually defined by the most powerful members of society. To counter this, a number of interested observers have stressed the need to democratize cultural heritage, giving greater control to local communities. This chapter contends that the ‘democratization’ of cultural heritage should be coupled, on a more theoretical level, with a process of ‘de-Westernization’ that builds on a more informed awareness about the process of ‘accumulation’ which underpins many of the achievements, ideals and perceptions that lie at the very base of much of what we commonly consider as tangible (such as works of art, artefacts, books) and intangible culture (such as knowledge, folklore, and traditions).

Some scholars have claimed that ‘Cultural heritage is a Western construct’ (Smallacombe 2000: 156), ‘a Western term’,1 and ‘a Western product linked to the birth of modernity’ (Vicente Rabanaque 2015: 95). Yet, in order to understand and/or deconstruct these claims, it is not sufficient to stick to what we commonly refer to as ‘cultural heritage’. It is indeed necessary to go back to its very roots, providing a non-Western understanding of what lies beneath and around our shared heritage.

6.1Beyond Eurocentrism


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