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Connected Open Heritage/Countries/Syria

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Government agencies and cultural heritage in Syria


Before the civil war, the Syrian state was a semi republic formally known as the Syrian Arab Republic and was headed by President Bashar al-Assad. Since the inception of the civil war in 2011 various factions has broken up the country, notably al-Assad’s remaining military forces, the Syrian Opposition, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan).

al-Assad’s regime, with the benefit of having been established in 1960s, formally have a Ministry of Culture. While the de facto activities by the Ministry is presently uncertain, the nature of the civil war and the regime’s limited control in Syria suggest that the Ministry currently lack a capacity to effectively maintain its mandate.

Other factions have to a varying degree established functional governments.

Legislated protection of cultural heritage in Syria


Several legislations concerning cultural heritage were enacted by al-Assad’s regime prior to the civil war. But following from the regime's lack of control and several reports of destroyed and looted heritage it must be assumed that these laws are not properly enforced.

  • Data about cultural heritage is stored by the following organization:
  • The data is available through: <offline, bulk download, api, linked data, printed reports>
  • The data includes information about the following: <base data (ID, type etc.), geographical, archaeological/architectural, images>

Policy decisions on access to public information


No law enacted by al-Assad’s regime has granted every natural or legal person a right to information from public authorities, nor has any corresponding law obligated public authorities to disclose information.

Regulation hindering the distribution of pictures in Syria


Prior to the civil war, Syrian law seemingly allowed buildings to be photographed without any explicit limits (Art. 3; 37, Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Law). But, similarly to the legislations regarding the protection of cultural heritage, the enforcement of these laws is in question.

Museum or archives that are willing to add their material


The National Museum of Damascus is a still operable museum in Damascus to which several artefacts from across the country have been evacuated.

Network of contacts: Syria


We maintain no contact with any organisation seated inside Syria, but AEF still retain, albeit limited, contact with individuals in the country.

Quality and availability of data


The basic premise that guides this project, Connected Open Heritage, is that data on cultural heritage shall be gathered through official channels. Today there is little international support afforded to any of the various parties to the Syrian civil war. Since the legitimacy of these parties is in question, access to ”official” data on cultural heritage is rendered problematic.

This issue is further deepened by the Swedish Syrian Strategy, which prohibits any cooperation with al-Assad’s regime, ISIL and any other organisations with political intentions. Only local administrations are permitted as partners by the strategy, and only within the framework of humanitarian aims. Hence, despite the fact that the Ministry of Culture still might maintain certain activities, collaboration with the Ministry would still conflict with the Swedish Syrian Strategy.

UNESCO could function as an alternative source since the organization has composed various lists concerning cultural heritage. However, this raises ethical questions due to the nature of the Syrian conflict. Looting of cultural heritage is presently occurring all over Syria, most notably and systematically by ISIL. Anas Khabour, former director of the National Museum in Raqqa, has pointed out that since profits from sold loot make up a significant part of ISIL’s economy, this has made the question of what heritage could be looted of particular importance to ISIL. According to Khabour, UNESCO’s lists (as well as other expert lists) are used by ISIL to determine which heritage to loot next. This illustrates that providing easy access to information on cultural heritage (such as locations or archaeological importance) need to be done with care because of the current situation in Syria.

Amount of time it will take gain access to information


Following from both the difficulties of gathering official data and the ethical dilemmas concerning spreading such data we are currently not focusing our efforts towards gathering any national data. Any data from UNESCO will be be handled with care and will require further discussions what type of data to include.

Wikimedia activity in Syria


Syria is part of the Wikimedians of the Levant user group, and participated in Wiki Loves Monuments 2013 and 2014.