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The destruction of invaluable cultural artefacts has long been a side effect of war. The efforts of some to protect such treasures is the theme of the latest Hollywood movie “Monuments Men” - but Deakin can proudly count real Monument Men and Women amongst our community.
Dr Ben Isakhan and Ms Di Siebrandt have been working on the ground to protect Iraq’s cultural heritage in war-torn and post-war Iraq.
Ms Siebrandt, an archaeologist, has just been named by the US’s Combatant Command Cultural Heritage Action Group (CCHAG) as one of its “Monument Men and Women of Today” for her work with Iraqis to preserve the country’s archaeological resources for future generations.
From 2006 until early 2013, Ms Siebrandt worked as the State Department’s Cultural Heritage Liaison Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.
She is currently undertaking her PhD at Deakin on the relationship dynamics that existed between US/coalition military troops and Iraqi archaeologists during the Iraq War and the effect of those relations on protecting archaeological sites.
Ms Siebrandt’s work is part of a larger Australia Research Council (ARC) project headed by Dr Isakhan that is examining the relationship between heritage destruction and violence in Iraq since 2003. Dr Isakhan is Senior Research Fellow in Deakin’s Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation.
Ms Siebrandt worked in Iraq during the Iraq war with the aim of establishing dialogue between US government personnel and Iraqi heritage experts. Issues such as widespread looting and damage to Iraqi heritage sites were foremost on the list of needed ‘fixes.'
“There were huge mistakes made on many levels, but mostly they were made because of lack of communication between the US military, the State Department, the Americans in Iraq and the Iraqis,” she said.
Ms Siebrandt updated the training the troops received. She also worked with Iraqi conservators, the Iraqi Ministry of Culture and State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, the US military and State Departments, as well as UNESCO and universities, to establish a conservation centre to train Iraqi museum professionals.
“I have always loved Iraq, and its role in the birth of civilisations fascinates me,” she said.
“Being able to walk in the footsteps of where great kings once ruled and where the wheel, astronomy and the written law code were all invented is exhilarating to say the least.”
Dr Isakhan said the movie “The Monuments Men” has come at an interesting time, given that conflict in much of the Middle East has seen heritage sites destroyed on an industrial scale. The film is the story of a group of men during World War II who worked to protect heritage objects from damage, massive theft and smuggling.
“Their efforts mean that we have paintings in the Louvre and other galleries, and many historic buildings still stand in Europe,” Dr Isakhan said.