Syria:  Cultural Patrimony Under Threat

Opens June 25, 2017
New Mexico History Museum

113 Lincoln Ave., Santa Fe  •  505-476-5200  •  nmhistorymuseum.org
open daily 10am-5pm daily, free Fridays 5-8pm

In 2015 and 2017, Syria’s most important archaeological sites, including the Temples of Baalshamin and Bel and the Roman ruins of Palmyra were destroyed by members of the Islamic State (ISIS). The world also witnessed during this time the fallout of Syria’s ongoing civil war that has taken tens of thousands of lives: the monumental diaspora of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees across the world. Today, significant aspects of Syrian culture, both ancient and contemporary, stand at the brink of destruction.

But the problem of destruction of cultural patrimony, indeed the destruction of a civilized society, are relevant to us all, to the universal human experience. The safeguarding of cultural patrimony and its representation in architecture, material culture, and living written and oral traditions, is the domain and responsibility of each and every human being.

The Palace of the Governors Photo Archives plays a vital role in preserving knowledge of these archaeological sites, albeit existing now only in the documentary record, in the form of seven albums containing 642 photographs of historic sites in Syria, taken between 1899 and 1909. The result of three separate expeditions to Syria, led by Princeton University, these albums were part of Edgar Lee Hewitt’s Collection at the Museum of New Mexico.

The New Mexico History Museum and the Palace of the Governors launch this exhibition as our community’s gift to the Syrian people, not just international refugee communities via the replicable kiosk in this exhibition, but also as a welcome to the Syrian refugee community of New Mexico. This is an awareness campaign offering open and free access to these historical images and education describing the sociopolitical realities, including the global refugee crisis, of Syria today. It is Syria’s story. It is everyone’s story.

The principal message we hope to convey to all visitors to this is one of shared concern, empathy, unity, and support for those suffering amid diaspora. As New Mexico has been the home to many different groups through its millennia who sought refuge from social, political, ethnic and religious strife, it continues to welcome most recently Syrian refugee families who are escaping the terrors of life in Syria today.

Image: Courtesy of New Mexico History Museum