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Archive for July, 2009

Today, the official statement of concern about the ongoing demolition of Old Kashgar was released by SAFE (Saving Antiquities for Everyone). It can be found HERE.

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
Director
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.

Respectfully,


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

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Most of you should be aware, by now, of the protests against ethnic discrimination and religious intolerance that are currently going on in Urumqi, the capital city of the Chinese province of Xinjiang.

My question is: what, if any, reprocussions does this have on the cultural heritage of the area? specifically, the ongoing demolition of the Old City of Kashgar (seen on the map below)?

Image taken from the Washingtonpost.com

Image taken from the Washingtonpost.com

First, a little background: For the past three days, violence has beeen erupting between the Han Chinese and the Uighurs, who area Turkic ethnic group and practice Islam, but who have inhabited the Xinjiang area for millenia.

The clashes have been over, primarily, the increasing marginalization felt by the Uighurs at the hand of the Han Chinese. They (the Uighurs) feel that they have been suppressed and overruled in what they consider to be their own territory by the Han Chinese who are ethnically different, do not practice their religion, do no speak Uighur language, and deny them access to fair competition in education and business.

Until recent years, the province of Xinjiang was only lightly inhabited by Han Chinese because of its arid climate and desert terrain (the feared Taklamakan Desert of Central Asian fame makes up the heart of this province) and its distance from major Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai. For the most part, this area was left to the Uighur population to inhabit as they have been for centuries (hence: Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region). However, in the last couple of decades, more and more Han Chinese have settled in the region, mostly on govt. incentives (sort of the way Tibet has been settled by Han Chinese who were bussed in from Sichuan). It seems as though here is another veiled attempt at suppression through ethnic majority, something that has become somewhat of China’s M.O. for dealing with ethnic minorities in their border regions (Tibet being a case-in-point).

But what reprocussions might this ethnic clash have on the area besides a political and media nightmare? Well, if you recall the contents of several previous posts on this blog, as well as THIS news article, you’ll remember that the ancient city of Kashgar is located in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Now, the demolition of the majority of Kashgar’s Old City, the historic district in the very centre of the modern city of Kashgar where most of the historic and archaeological remains of Islamic and Uighur culture are situated, has been going on for months (and has been years in the making), and until the recent violence, it has all but been forgotten by western media. I do not believe, however, that the two incidents are unrelated.

It may very well be that part of what fuels the anger felt by the Uighurs towards the Han Chinese includes the demolition of Kashgar’s Old City. To them, the destruction of Old Kashgar might have been the last straw in a slow and drawn-out silent extermination of their culture. A straw that may have served to incite anger in those who feel wronged by the Han Chinese and the Chinese government.

Unfortunately, it may very well be too late for what remains of Kashgar’s Old Town (as supposedly, 85% of the historic district has already been destroyed), but does the recent uproar from the Uighur community against complete ethnic integration and assimilation mean that more historic districts are soon to be torn down? Will the protests only serve to expedite the controlled destruction of cultural heritage in the Xinjiang area? The current progression of events in Xinjiang, especially Wang Lequan’s hardline policies towards the suppression of potential Uighur seperatists, do not make me hopeful that something like the protection of archaeological heritage will rank high on anyone’s list.

It is unfortunate that in many cases, especially in countries where totalitarianism reigns supreme, that archaeological and cultural patrimony fall victim to political whims. The legacy of Central Asia, an area of the world where whispered political struggles have been played out silently for centuries, has been savagely compromised at the hands of changing political regimes. It is unfortunate that such a rich historical and archaeological cache is slowly being destroyed without much of a chance for salvage.

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A couple of days ago, an open letter addressed to the government of the PRC was posted on the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center‘s website. Check it out HERE.

It was written by the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Earthen Architectural Heritage (ISCEAH), and is in regards to the ongoing demolition of Kashgar’s Old Town. Some of the main points that are suggested instead of a whole-sale demolition of the area are:

  • Consideration of tried and proven methods of seismic retrofitting for mudbrick structures to  allow a reappraisal of current plans and preserve as much as possible of the Old City intact;
  • Review of current plans for inhabitant relocation and redevelopment of the area in light of seismic retrofitting and continued sustainable use of the historic city;
  • Development of a Conservation Management Plan. This would delimit the site and design appropriate mechanisms for the protection and conservation of the buildings. Such a plan would include the documentation of the extant structures, including recording and analysis of building types, use, and circulation patterns within the Old City. Such a plan would integrate the preservation of the historic fabric, related intangible heritage, and encourage continued safe and economically viable habitation of the historic urban settlement.

ICOMOS is the International Council on Monuments and Sites, and is a Paris based association of professionals that “works for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places.” It is a non-government organization, and is “dedicated to promoting the application of theory, methodology, and scientific techniques to the conservation of the architectural and archaeological heritage.”

JOIN ICOMOS, or simply learn more about it HERE.

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