THROUGH COORDINATED ACTION AND MEASURED DIALOG, THE UNDERSIGNED BELIEVE THAT WE CAN SAVE ONE OF THE JEWELS OF THE SILK ROAD BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.
July 6, 2009
Mr. Francesco Bandarin
UNESCO World Heritage Centre
7, place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris, France
Dear Mr. Bandarin:
We write to convey our profound concern for the ancient city of Kashgar in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of Northwest China and urge you to exert your influence to have the city included in the Chinese portion of the Silk Road being considered for the World Heritage List.
Reportedly, 85% of the ancient portion of the city is under demolition. The stated reason is that the old buildings are susceptible to earthquakes and pose a danger to residents. Though we support taking measures to ensure the safety of citizens, we are concerned that the demolition of Old Kashgar will deal a serious blow to the cultural heritage and archaeological patrimony of the Uyghur people, China, and all mankind.
Since Old Kashgar was a key transit point on the Northern Steppe Route of the Silk Road, it is startling to discover that this fabled oasis city has not been included in the World Heritage List proposal. Besides having been an important Silk Road trading post, Old Kashgar is an historic center of Islamic and Uyghur culture, being the home of China’s largest mosque as well as the holiest Muslim site in Xinjiang, the tomb of Abakh Khoja. According to historian George Michell, author of the 2008 book Kashgar: Oasis City on China’s Old Silk Road, Old Kashgar is “the best preserved example of a traditional Islamic city to be found anywhere in Central Asia.”
Given the city’s vast tangible and intangible cultural heritage, we believe that considering the Silk Road for the World Heritage List without including Old Kashgar would be an incomplete designation. According to the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, “To be deemed of outstanding universal value, a property must also meet the conditions of integrity and/or authenticity and must have adequate protection and management system to ensure its safeguarding.” We believe Old Kashgar meets the criteria for cultural heritage under the Assessment of Outstanding Universal Value.
China’s present treatment of Kashgar is all the more perplexing when one considers that as recently as 2007, the country appeared to be committed to preserving the old city in a way that respected its heritage and complied with international expectations. In that year, according to published reports, the Xinjiang Construction Department organized a group of experts to begin assessing an urban preservation plan for Kashgar. Among the topics discussed were how to preserve the old town, how to further study the relationship between Kashgar’s modern condition and its rich cultural past, and how to protect Kashgar’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage.
The fact that this seminar was held with official sanction proves that China is capable of protecting historical sites within its borders if it so chooses. In fact, Chinese law supports our view. Articles 16-18 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China for the Protection of Cultural Relics, as amended and adopted in 2002, stipulate that protective measures for immovable cultural relics must be taken before beginning any and all construction activities, including drilling, digging, or blasting. These articles also require that devices for the preservation of cultural relics must be included in the design plan of any new construction project undertaken.
So China has a demonstrable commitment to protecting her past. What the country needs now is international support. Thus we ask the World Heritage Convention to confer with its colleagues in China to clarify the plans for Kashgar’s fate, and also to reconsider including this important historical site as part of the Chinese portion of the Silk Road nominated for World Heritage Site status.
In addition, we respectfully urge the World Heritage Convention to try to persuade the Chinese authorities to heed the Xinjiang Construction Department’s suggestions to either preserve Kashgar or conduct salvage archaeology to mitigate the destruction. For example: has a detailed photographic survey or documentation of Old Kashgar been conducted so that it would be possible to reconstruct the ancient quarter?
Finally, we urge the Chinese government to consider conducting a serious evaluation of the cultural and historical importance of what is left of Old Kashgar, utilizing professional archaeologists in the area and volunteer experts who, we are convinced, will consult if given the opportunity. Not doing so would violate the spirit and letter of the World Heritage Convention.
In so many other contexts, the Chinese government has shown it knows the country’s past belongs to all the Chinese people and indeed all the people of the world. It is important that the material remains of China’s long and illustrious past be protected, conserved, and studied so that the world might know of its great contributions to human society. Destroying the ancient portions of Kashgar without first undertaking a comprehensive photographic survey and salvage archaeology will damage China’s reputation for scholarship and result in the loss of an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of China’s role in the history of Central Asia. It is for these reasons that we voice our very grave concerns about the destruction of Old Kashgar.
Dr. Claire Alix, Research Associate, Alaska Quaternary Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Dr. Graeme Barker, Director, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
Joyce Clark, Board member of Heritage Watch
Lawrence S. Coben, Executive Director, Sustainable Preservation Initiative
Dr. Clemency Coggins, Professor of Archaeology and of Art History, Boston University
Dr. Margaret Conkey, President, The Society for American Archaeology
Dr. Laura Flusche, Assistant Academic Dean, University of Dallas
Dr. Donny George, Stony Brook University, former Director of the Iraq Museum
Cindy Ho, President, SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone
Dr. David Koester, Director of Global Studies and Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Dr. Richard M. Leventhal, Cultural Heritage Center at Penn, University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Tod A. Marder, Professor II, Department of Art History, Director, Certificate Program in Historic Preservation, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Susan McCabe, President, Society for Asian Art
Dr. Dougald O’Reilly, Director, Heritage Watch
Dr. Richard M. Pettigrew, President and Executive Director, Archaeological Legacy Institute
Professor Lord Colin Renfrew, Senior Fellow, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
Dr. C. Brian Rose, President, Archaeological Institute of America
Dr. Lawrence Rothfield, former Director, Cultural Policy Center, University of Chicago
Dr. Lucille A. Roussin, J.D.
Dr. Donald H. Sanders, President, The Institute for the Visualization of History, Inc.
Barnea Levi Selavan, Co-Director, Foundation Stone
Alim Seytoff, General Secretary, Uyghur American Association/Uyghur Human Rights Project, Representative for the World Uyghur Congress and the International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation
Dr. Charles Stanish, Director, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA
Dr. Gil J. Stein, Director, the Oriental Institute and Professor, University of Chicago
Nadia Tarzi, Executive Director Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology
About Claire Alix
Archaeologist Claire Alix’s area of expertise is ethnoarchaeology of wood use in the Arctic, past and present Inuit wood technology, driftwood transport and circulation, archaeological wood remains, wood and charcoal identification, tree-ring research. Her primary field research is in Alaska, Bering Strait and the Canadian Arctic.
About the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research exists to further research by Cambridge archaeologists and their collaborators into all aspects of the human past, across time and space. It supports archaeological fieldwork, archaeological science, material culture studies, and archaeological theory in an interdisciplinary framework. Learn more at www.mcdonald.cam.ac.uk.
About Sustainable Preservation Initiative
Sustainable Preservation Initiative seeks to preserve the world’s cultural heritage by providing sustainable economic opportunities to local communities. Learn more at www.sustainablepreservation.org.
About Clemency Coggins
Clemency Coggins has worked on problems of Cultural Property preservation and law since 1968. She served on the U.S. committee involved in drafting the 1970 UNESCO convention, and worked many years for the U.S. ratification and implementation of the Convention. She also served on the US Cultural Property Advisory committee for its first decade.
About the Society for American Archaeology
The Society for American Archaeology (SAA) is an international organization dedicated to the research, interpretation, and protection of the archaeological heritage of the Americas. With more than 7,000 members, the society represents professional, student, and avocational archaeologists working in a variety of settings including government agencies, colleges and universities, museums, and the private sector. Learn more at
About Laura Flusche
Laura Flusche, Etruscan art historian and archaeologist, is President of the Institute for Design and Culture in Rome.
About Donny George
Donny George served as Director General of the Iraqi Museums and Chairman of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and, as one of the world’s foremost experts in ancient Mesopotamian culture, has played a central role in the recovery of some of humanity’s most important antiquities following the looting of the Baghdad Museum.
SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving cultural heritage worldwide. Its mission is to raise public awareness about the irreversible damage that results from looting, smuggling and trading illicit antiquities. Learn more at www.savingantiquities.org.
About Penn Cultural Heritage Center
The Penn Cultural Heritage Center is dedicated to expanding scholarly and public awareness, discussion and debate about complex issues surrounding the world’s endangered cultural heritage. Learn more at www.upenn.edu/pennnews/article.php?id=1429.
About Tod Marder
Tod Marder’s principal research interest is in the field of Roman baroque architecture in general, and the art and architecture of Gian Lorenzo Bernini in specific. He is Co-Director of Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies (CHAPS) at Rutgers University.
About the Society for Asian Art
The Society for Asian Art is a non-profit organization working in conjunction with the Asian Art Museum of San Francsico – Chong-Moon Lee Center for Arts and Culture. Its main function is to provide education relating to the arts and culture of Asia. Learn more at www.societyforasianart.org.
About Heritage Watch
Heritage Watch is a non-profit organization working to preserve the world’s cultural heritage with a focus on Southeast Asia. Its mission is to educate people about the value of the world’s heritage resources. Learn more at www.heritagewatchinternational.org.
About Archaeological Legacy Institute
Archaeological Legacy Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the world’s cultural heritage and to telling the human story to people everywhere through media and the Internet. Learn more and experience our media programming at www.archaeologychannel.org.
About Colin Renfrew
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn received his PhD from University of Cambridge. He was appointed Director of Cambridge’s McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and has been a member of the Ancient Monuments Board for England, the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, the Ancient Monuments and Advisory Committee of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, and the Managing Council for the British School at Athens.
About the Archaeological Institute of America
The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) is North America’s oldest and largest organization devoted to the world of archaeology with nearly 250,000 members and subscribers belonging to more than 100 local AIA societies in the United States, Canada, and overseas, united by a shared passion for archaeology and its role in furthering human knowledge. Learn more at www.archaeological.org.
About The Cultural Policy Center
The Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago is a nationally recognized interdisciplinary research center dedicated to informing policies that affect the arts, humanities and cultural heritage. Learn more at culturalpolicy.uchicago.edu.
About Lucille A. Roussin
Lucille A. Roussin is the founder and director of the Holocaust Restitution Claims Practicum at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. She was Deputy Research Director of the Art and Cultural Property Team of the Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets and was an associate in the Art and International Law Practice Group at Herrick, Feinstein LLP in New York City.
About the Institute for the Visualization of History, Inc.
The Institute for the Visualization of History is a non-profit organization using interactive 3D computer graphics for the documentation, analysis, publication, teaching, and broadcast of information about our shared cultural heritage. Learn more at www.vizin.org.
About Foundation Stone
Foundation Stone is working to make the Land of Israel the prime resource for Jewish education, continuity and identity. The organization takes visitors to ancient sites, and produces media to share with educational and popular circles. Learn more at www.foundationstone.org.
About Uyghur American Association/Uyghur Human Rights Project
The Uyghur Human rights Project (UHRP)’s mission is to promote human rights and democracy for the Uyghur people, and to raise awareness of human rights abuses that occur in East Turkestan. Learn more at www.uhrp.org.
About World Uyghur Congress
The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) is an international organization that represents the collective interest of the Uyghur people both in East Turkestan and abroad. Learn more at http://www.uyghurcongress.org/.
About International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation
The main purpose of establishing IUHRDF is to promote human rights, religious freedom, and democracy for the Uyghur people. Learn more at http://www.iuhrdf.org/.
About the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology
The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA is a premier research organization dedicated to the creation, dissemination, and conservation of archaeological knowledge and heritage. Learn more at www.ioa.ucla.edu.
About the Oriental Institute
The Oriental Institute is a research organization and museum devoted to the study of the ancient Near East. Founded in 1919 by James Henry Breasted, the Institute, a part of the University of Chicago, is an internationally recognized pioneer in the archaeology, philology, and history of early Near Eastern civilizations. Learn more at http://oi.uchicago.edu.
About the Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology
The Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology’s goal is to bring understanding and raise awareness as well as ensure the promotion of the Afghan Archaeological and Cultural Heritage. Learn more at http://www.apaa.info/