politics of archaeology
A Buddhist monastery carved out of a cave complex in the rainforest of Malaysia stands to be evicted after losing a legal appeal in its case against a cement manufacturer that seeks to demolish it to mine limestone Sept. 8. The Court of Appeal ruled for Associated Pan Malaysia Cement in the case brought by the century-old Dhamma Sakyamuni Caves Monastery, finding that the company has the right to evict "squatters" from the tract at issue on a limestone massif known as Gunung Kanthan—despite the fact that it lies within the Kinta Valley National Geopark. The forested massif is home to several endangered species of both flora and fauna, and most of it has already been cleared for quarries. After the appeals court ruling, the Perak state government formed a special committee to mediate in the conflict. The Dhamma Sakyamuni monks pledge they will resist eviction. (The Star, New Straits Times, NST, Free Malaysia Today)
UNESCO released a statement July 23 condemning Russian strikes on the Ukrainian port of Odesa, and especially damage to World Heritage Sites, including the city's 18th-century Transfiguration Cathedral, which is within the Historic Centre of Odesa World Heritage Site.
UNESCO's Director-General Audrey Azoulay stated:
The predominantly Hui Muslim town of Nagu in China's Yunnan province saw street-fighting between residents and police over planned demolition of the dome of the locality's historic mosque. Orders were issued in 2020 to demolish the dome, which had recently been expanded, as part of President Xi Jinping's campaign for the "Sinicization" of Islam in China. The campaign mandates that mosques in what is deemed an overly "Arabic style" must be "rectified." The order for "rectification" of Nagu's 13th-century Najiaying Mosque went unenforced until May 27, when a crew of workers with cranes, scaffolds and bulldozers arrived unannounced, accompanied by some 400 riot police. Clashes ensued when residents spontaneously mobilized to defend the mosque. Authorities responded by flooding the town with up to 5,000 police and military troops, and cutting off the internet in the area. Dozens of protesters have been arrested, and authorities in Tonghai County, where Nagu is located, have issued an ultimatum for accused instigators to turn themselves in by June 6. (Bitter Winter, Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC News, The Guardian, India Today)
Israel's new National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir made a brief visit to al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on Jan. 3, flanked by a heavy security detail and a fellow Orthodox Jewish worshipper—eliciting immediate outrage from both the Palestinian leadership and the Jewish state's own allies. The Palestinian Authority called the move "an unprecedented provocation," with Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accusing Ben-Gvir of staging the visit as part of an agenda to turn the site "into a Jewish temple." He called on Palestinians to "confront the raids into al-Aqsa mosque." Hamas warned that Israel is approaching a "red line."
A preliminary report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Oct. 25 revealed the extent of damage to Ukraine's cultural heritage since Russia invaded in February. UNESCO verified damage to 207 cultural sites, including 88 religious sites, 15 museums, 76 buildings of historic or artistic interest, 18 monuments, and 10 libraries. The report is sourced from satellite images taken before and after the start of the war by both the UN and private companies. UNESCO defines cultural properties under Article 1 of the 1954 Hague Convention (Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict). The worst damage was found to be in Donetsk region, now declared annexed by Russia, with 59 damaged sites.
New clashes broke out on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan Sept. 13, with each side accusing the other of violating the ceasefire. Fighting was first reported near the Lachin Corrdior, which connects Armenia to the autonomous ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh. But attacks on the Armenian border have also been launched from the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan (also rendered Nakhichevan or Naxçıvan), which is cut off from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenian territory. A land corridor through Armenia to Nakhchivan is one of Azerbaijan's key outstanding demands in the conflict. (See map)
The Israeli Supreme Court on May 15 ruled in favor of the government's planned cable car over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The ruling was met with approval by proponents such as Jerusalem's mayor, Moshe Lion, who claimed the project will "reduce air pollution in the area, solve the transport and parking distress and allow comfortable and efficient access to the Western Wall and the Old City." However, the decision has been met with condemnation by many, including city planners and architects, environmental groups, and Karaite Jews, a minority sect with a cemetery located along the proposed cable car's path. Palestinian groups have especially criticized the proposed path, as it would travel over East Jerusalem, an area ceded to Arab control in the 1949 armistice but occupied by Israel in 1967. Ir-Amim advocacy group tweeted: "Folks will hop in in WJ [West Jerusalem] and have no idea they're cabling over the heads of occupied Palestinians."
The Republic of Armenia on Sept. 16 instituted proceedings against the Republic of Azerbaijan at the International Court of Justice, the United Nations' top judicial organ, over alleged violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) by Azerbaijani authorities. In its application, Armenia contended that "for decades, Azerbaijan has subjected Armenians to racial discrimination," including mass killings, torture and other abuses. Armenia also contended that these violations were directed at individuals of Armenian ethnicity regardless of their actual nationality.