Rehabilitation after a natural disaster consists of motivating the community to overcome destruction and reestablish their cultural environment and activities
A colloquium was recently held at the ICOMOS Secretariat in Paris on post trauma reconstruction. The focus was on dealing with the heritage that is being destroyed due to armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. In many of these places the ongoing conflicts, which are linked to greater global political wrangling have not allowed for any concrete
interventions. So how is it possible to protect the heritage, which has become weapons of propaganda and therefore targets of retribution? As comparision, trauma of natural dis-asters was presented through the example of earthquake in Nepal.
The complexity of the conflict in Syria is beyond comprehension, even when focusing only on the destruction of heritage. In the World Heritage site of Palymyra various monuments have been specifically targeted and
destroyed such as Temple of the Semitic god Bel along with the iconic 2000 year old remains of Arch of Triumph built to welcome Roman emperor Septimius Severus after their victory over the Partian kingdom. Another monument that was destroyed was Baalshamin temple dedicated to Phoenician god of storms and sky from the first century AD. Some of these monuments are known to have been partially reconstructed in the past, however they had never experienced such total obliteration.
Large parts of ancient World Heritage city of Aleppo has been destroyed due to the ongoing armed conflict that began in 2012. The ancient city has been a battlefield with constant bombing and street fighting destroying city fabric along with the grand covered souks or markets. Monuments such as the 11th century Umayyad Mosque and the 13th century Al Sultania Madrasa have been damaged as well as the main citadel used as a fortification since the second century BCE.
Further destruction is found around Homs such as that of Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque and the nearby Krak des Chevaliers, the crusader fortresses built between 12th and 14th centuries. Large-scale damage can also be noted on the archaeological landscapes of Hellenistic-Roman walled city of Dura Europos and ancient Semitic city of Mari. There is still ongoing large-scale destruction due to the total disregard or even specifically targeted assaults on cultural heritage.
Much less is heard of the destruction caused by the aerial bombing of cities in Yemen. The ancient World Heritage city of Sanaa consists of about 6,000 houses and more than 100 mosques. Many of these iconic earthen structures were built before 11th century. Indiscriminate bombing and rocket attacks have destroyed numerous ancient buildings. It seems as if crimes of destroying heritage has been committed by all parties involved in conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The complexity lies in conflicts themselves, on how to stop further destruction as well as on how to rehabilitate that has already been destroyed.
The question arises on whether there is a difference in understanding the loss of value when heritage is destroyed through intentional human acts compared to destruction caused by natural phenomena like earthquakes. These are events that erase testaments of the past, which lead to loss of historic memory. Destruction during armed conflicts is often carried out with intent, while natural disasters would need to be seen as part of intrinsic characteristics of the place. The rehabilitation after a natural disaster consists of motivating the community to overcome destruction and reestablish their cultural environment and activities. In case of armed conflicts, clashing communities are themselves the cause of destruction and would need to find a means of reconciliation. This still does explain the loss of value of cultural heritage due to destruction caused by natural disasters and armed conflict. How should we rebuild Aleppo? How should we rebuild Bhaktapur?
(The author is an architect and can be contacted through email@example.com)
A version of this article appears in print on March 12, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.