The letter is addressed to Mr. Francesco Bandarin, the director of UNESCO World Heritage based in Paris, France, which is in charge of the nomination of World Heritage sites around the world. The Silk Road has been on the nomination list for several years, and this letter urges the World Heritage committee to reconsider adding Kashgar to The Silk Road nomination (the reasons for why Kashgar was not orignally a part of the Silk Road package speaks volumes about how political these nominations can be…).
A copy of the letter has reproduced here. Just for you. Enjoy, and once again, please sign the petitions linked in the right-hand columns of this page if you want to voice your concerns about the destruction of archaoelogical and cultural heritage in Kashgar.
THROUGH COORDINATED ACTION AND MEASURED DIALOG, THE UNDERSIGNED BELIEVE THAT WE CAN SAVE ONE THE JEWELS OF THE SILK ROAD BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.
July 6, 2009
Mr. Francesco Bandarin
UNESCO World Heritage Centre
7, place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris, France
Dear Mr. Bandarin:
We write to convey our profound concern for the ancient city of Kashgar in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of Northwest China and urge you to exert your influence to have the city included in the Chinese portion of the Silk Road being considered for the World Heritage List.
Reportedly, 85% of the ancient portion of the city is under demolition. The stated reason is that the old buildings are susceptible to earthquakes and pose a danger to residents. Though we support taking measures to ensure the safety of citizens, we are concerned that the demolition of Old Kashgar will deal a serious blow to the cultural heritage and archaeological patrimony of the Uyghur people, China, and all mankind.
Since Old Kashgar was a key transit point on the Northern Steppe Route of the Silk Road, it is startling to discover that this fabled oasis city has not been included in the World Heritage List proposal. Besides having been an important Silk Road trading post, Old Kashgar is an historic center of Islamic and Uyghur culture, being the home of China’s largest mosque as well as the holiest Muslim site in Xinjiang, the tomb of Abakh Khoja. According to historian George Michell, author of the 2008 book Kashgar: Oasis City on China’s Old Silk Road, Old Kashgar is “the best preserved example of a traditional Islamic city to be found anywhere in Central Asia.”
Given the city’s vast tangible and intangible cultural heritage, we believe that considering the Silk Road for the World Heritage List without including Old Kashgar would be an incomplete designation. According to the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, “To be deemed of outstanding universal value, a property must also meet the conditions of integrity and/or authenticity and must have adequate protection and management system to ensure its safeguarding.” We believe Old Kashgar meets the criteria for cultural heritage under the Assessment of Outstanding Universal Value.
China’s present treatment of Kashgar is all the more perplexing when one considers that as recently as 2007, the country appeared to be committed to preserving the old city in a way that respected its heritage and complied with international expectations. In that year, according to published reports, the Xinjiang Construction Department organized a group of experts to begin assessing an urban preservation plan for Kashgar. Among the topics discussed were how to preserve the old town, how to further study the relationship between Kashgar’s modern condition and its rich cultural past, and how to protect Kashgar’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage.
The fact that this seminar was held with official sanction proves that China is capable of protecting historical sites within its borders if it so chooses. In fact, Chinese law supports our view. Articles 16-18 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China for the Protection of Cultural Relics, as amended and adopted in 2002, stipulate that protective measures for immovable cultural relics must be taken before beginning any and all construction activities, including drilling, digging, or blasting. These articles also require that devices for the preservation of cultural relics must be included in the design plan of any new construction project undertaken.
So China has a demonstrable commitment to protecting her past. What the country needs now is international support. Thus we ask the World Heritage Convention to confer with its colleagues in China to clarify the plans for Kashgar’s fate, and also to reconsider including this important historical site as part of the Chinese portion of the Silk Road nominated for World Heritage Site status.
In addition, we respectfully urge the World Heritage Convention to try to persuade the Chinese authorities to heed the Xinjiang Construction Department’s suggestions to either preserve Kashgar or conduct salvage archaeology to mitigate the destruction. For example: has a detailed photographic survey or documentation of Old Kashgar been conducted so that it would be possible to reconstruct the ancient quarter?
Finally, we urge the Chinese government to consider conducting a serious evaluation of the cultural and historical importance of what is left of Old Kashgar, utilizing professional archaeologists in the area and volunteer experts who, we are convinced, will consult if given the opportunity. Not doing so would violate the spirit and letter of the World Heritage Convention.
In so many other contexts, the Chinese government has shown it knows the country’s past belongs to all the Chinese people and indeed all the people of the world. It is important that the material remains of China’s long and illustrious past be protected, conserved, and studied so that the world might know of its great contributions to human society. Destroying the ancient portions of Kashgar without first undertaking a comprehensive photographic survey and salvage archaeology will damage China’s reputation for scholarship and result in the loss of an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of China’s role in the history of Central Asia. It is for these reasons that we voice our very grave concerns about the destruction of Old Kashgar.
Dr. Claire Alix, Research Associate, Alaska Quaternary Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Dr. Graeme Barker, Director, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
Joyce Clark, Board member of Heritage Watch
Lawrence S. Coben, Executive Director, Sustainable Preservation Initiative
Dr. Clemency Coggins, Professor of Archaeology and of Art History, Boston University
Dr. Margaret Conkey, President, The Society for American Archaeology
Dr. Laura Flusche, Assistant Academic Dean, University of Dallas
Dr. Donny George, Stony Brook University, former Director of the Iraq Museum
Cindy Ho, President, SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone
Dr. David Koester, Director of Global Studies and Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Dr. Richard M. Leventhal, Cultural Heritage Center at Penn, University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Tod A. Marder, Professor II, Department of Art History, Director, Certificate Program in Historic Preservation, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Susan McCabe, President, Society for Asian Art
Dr. Dougald O’Reilly, Director, Heritage Watch
Dr. Richard M. Pettigrew, President and Executive Director, Archaeological Legacy Institute
Professor Lord Colin Renfrew, Senior Fellow, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
Dr. C. Brian Rose, President, Archaeological Institute of America
Dr. Lawrence Rothfield, former Director, Cultural Policy Center, University of Chicago
Dr. Lucille A. Roussin, J.D.
Dr. Donald H. Sanders, President, The Institute for the Visualization of History, Inc.
Barnea Levi Selavan, Co-Director, Foundation Stone
Alim Seytoff, General Secretary, Uyghur American Association/Uyghur Human Rights Project, Representative for the World Uyghur Congress and the International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation
Dr. Charles Stanish, Director, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA
Dr. Gil J. Stein, Director, the Oriental Institute and Professor, University of Chicago
Nadia Tarzi, Executive Director Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology