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This project aims to document Syrian and Iraqi opinion on the destruction and reconstruction of heritage sites following the destruction unleashed by the ‘Islamic State’ (IS) and other actors.

Since the Iraq war of 2003 and the Syrian civil war from 2011, the people of Syria and Iraq have witnessed a cataclysmic wave of both human suffering and heritage destruction. Most notoriously, after the militant jihadist network known as the ‘Islamic State’ (IS) seized large swathes of territory across both Syria and Iraq, they unleashed brutal genocidal pogroms against innocent civilians and devastated several key heritage sites such as Palmyra and the Mosul Museum.

In response to the heritage destruction perpetrated by groups such as the IS, a number of state institutions and global bodies have launched initiatives to protect and reconstruct the heritage of Syria and Iraq. While such efforts are undoubtedly well-intentioned, they often rely on problematic assumptions about how the people of Syria and Iraq value and engage with their heritage, how they perceive and interpret its destruction, and the value they place on its reconstruction.

This project – a unique partnership between Deakin University, the University of Pennsylvania, the Arab Barometer (Princeton University) and several local partners – is the first to collate, measure and analyse Syrian and Iraqi public opinion on heritage, and to compare and contrast these opinions with the attitudes and actions of key state actors and global institutions.

It includes the world’s first survey of Syrian and Iraqi public opinion regarding heritage sites, their destruction and reconstruction, administered to a representative sample across both Syria and Iraq. The survey data will be supplemented by conducting semi-structured in-depth interviews with Syrians and Iraqis – including refugees and migrants who have recently fled the two countries. It will also include further interviews and archival research to document the attitudes and actions of key state and global actors to heritage issues in Syria and Iraq.

The empirical data generated from the study will be published in academic outlets, but also made available to local, state and global institutions concerned with heritage preservation in (post-)conflict environments. This will enable ongoing efforts to preserve and reconstruct heritage sites across the region. It will also be critical to understanding how local communities view heritage related initiatives in relation to other urgently needed humanitarian support – and the role that it can play in peacebuilding, as well as the return of internally displaced people, refugees and migrants.

Header Image Credit: Levi Meir Clancy via Unsplash