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The History of the IICAH

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The Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage (IICAH) is the result of a remarkable Iraqi-American partnership. Since opening in 2009, IICAH has hosted Iraqi and internationally sponsored courses and meetings.  Programs have reached hundreds of Iraqi heritage professionals.  The courses, and other activities at the IICAH, help to fulfill the IICAH mission to help rebuild Iraq's cultural heritage sector. The Institute is located in Erbil, the largest city in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and home to the ancient 8,000-year-old Erbil citadel.

The Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage represents a collaboration between numerous Iraqi and US governmental and academic institutions that began in 2008.

Iraq's problems, however, began long before 2008. Prior to 1980, Iraq boasted a robust and internationally recognized cultural heritage sector, staffed by career professionals with advanced degrees and decades of experience in museum management and archaeology. The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980's, the 1991 and 2001-2003 Gulf Wars, decades of disinterest in cultural heritage on the part of a repressive government, and the sanctions of the 1990's resulted in a precipitous reduction in Iraq's professional heritage staff, and neglect and deterioration of museum collections and archaeological and heritage sites. Iraq's heritage crisis culminated with the highly visible looting of the Iraq Museum in 2003, which drew international attention to the decades of decline in Iraq's heritage sector.

Seeking a solution to Iraq's heritage preservation needs, in 2008 the US Embassy Baghdad awarded a two-year Targeted Development Program (TDP) grant to fund the Iraq Cultural Heritage Project (ICHP). The keystone of this project was the creation of a cultural heritage educational program for Iraqi heritage professionals. Designed in consultation with the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) and leading American conservation and preservation educators, the program created the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage to deliver critically needed preservation education.  The creation of IICAH met the goal of providing in-country courses offering programs to international standards, taught by international experts using local resources and materials.

In consultation with the SBAH, this center was located in Erbil, in the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq, to ensure ready access both to Iraqis and foreign experts.  The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been extremely supportive of this initiative. The governor of Erbil provided a large residential teaching facility in downtown Erbil located immediately below the historic citadel, and contributed funds to renovate and furnish the building, which now boasts modern classrooms, laboratories and dormitory space.

The IICAH's core educational program in museum collections conservation launched in October 2009 under the guidance of three expert partner institutions heavily engaged in conservation education: the University of Delaware Department of Art Conservation, the Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library and the Walters Art Museum. The course, consisting of three 8-week modules followed by weeklong practicums, was offered to current Iraqi government employees working in cultural heritage.  A second 16-week program in historic preservation was introduced in 2010 and a course in archeological site preservation in 2013. These programs established the basic course organization with class instruction modules in Erbil alternating with practicums in home institutions.

A program for Master Trainers was established in 2010, to provide advanced students with the opportunity to serve as teaching assistants and further their education with the goal of assuming increasing amounts of the teaching responsibilities. One of these master trainers was awarded a Leon Levy Visiting Fellowship to study at New York University's Art Conservation Program in 2012.

The University of Delaware served as the lead partner through 2015 using funds from a variety of sources (US Embassy, Baghdad, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of US Department of State, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Getty Institute, and the Kurdistan Regional Government) to continue the project. Jessica S. Johnson served as Academic Director, working with the current IICAH Director Dr. Abdullah Korsheed, the Board and the Advisory Council in implementing and developing collaborations for training, outreach, and education in support of the Institute mission.

2014 brought many changes to the IICAH. In January, Brian Lione was named Executive Director, to better support the administrative needs of the IICAH in addition to academic programming. ISIS continued to move through the country, and the IICAH and others anxiously tracked their progress. In August 2014, IICAH was forced to evacuate students and staff and temporarily close as ISIS threatened Erbil. 

Also, in 2014, Academic Director Jessica Johnson accepted a new position as Head of Conservation of the Museum Conservation Institute at the Smithsonian Institution with the understanding she would remain heavily involved with IICAH. 

In 2015, the IICAH worked to reconnect with its US partners while establishing new opportunities for collaboration. In direct response to the ISIS threat to cultural heritage, the IICAH hosted the "Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Response" course in May and August. This course brought together experts from the University of Pennsylvania with funding from the Prins Claus Fund and the JM Kaplan Foundation. The effort provided needed training to twelve Iraqi heritage specialists; it was also notable as the first time the IICAH received and managed a grant without external assistance.

In 2015, as the ISIS threat decreased, long-time US partners were able to again plan for comprehensive coursework at the IICAH. With the Smithsonian Institution at the lead, classes began again in early 2016.  Eighteen Iraqi students enrolled in the 22-week "Fundamentals of Conservation" course which provided the foundational context and skills for more advanced courses in conservation of ancient and historic objects, architecture and archeological sites.  Students continued to be drawn from the active ranks of the SBAH and KRG, and provincial antiquities departments and university faculty and staff. The course organizers continued to employ the proven model of teaching to those already working in positions where they can apply their newly acquired training and access to international networks.

Throughout its history, IICAH has provided a rich assortment of introductory and advanced courses and opportunities in addition to the longer foundation courses.  Other groups such as the International Committee on Missing Persons, the World Monuments Fund, the University of Arizona, Boston University and the Superior Institute for Conservation and Restoration in Rome of the Italian Ministry of Culture have used IICAH facilities for preservation related courses and workshops. The IICAH has also hosted an international array of archeologists engaged in field work and their analysis, planning meetings of Governorate antiquities directors, targeted response and recovery workshops for cultural heritage, and tours for Iraqi school and university groups.

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The History of the IICAH
  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489
  • art-conservation@udel.edu