Cultural Heritage Across the Christian East


A symposium exploring the challenges of preserving the cultural heritage of the Christian East.



Welcoming Remarks
Brandie Ratliff, Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture
Christina Maranci, Tufts University

ASOR CHI’s Role in the Cultural Heritage of the Christian East
Allison E. Cuneo, American Schools of Oriental Research Cultural Heritage Initiatives

The armed conflict that began in Syria in 2011 has produced a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. In 2014 the regional nature of the situation escalated, beginning with the take-over of Mosul by the so-called Islamic State, known as ISIL, followed by their subsequent gains in northern Iraq. Thousands of cultural properties have been damaged through combat-related incidents, theft, and intentional destruction. Ethnic and religious minorities, some of the most vulnerable communities in Syria and Iraq, have been specifically targeted by ISIL in a systematic campaign to erase culture, memory, and diversity. This paper examines the impact of the conflict on the protection of cultural property by discussing the activities and outcomes of the Cultural Heritage Initiatives (CHI) project, a cooperative agreement between the US Department of State and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR).

Allison Cuneo is Project Manager for ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives. She is an archaeologist specializing in heritage management. Allison is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Archaeology at Boston University and her dissertation concerns the protection of cultural sites in Iraq. Her work revolves around the management of threatened cultural resources and involving local communities in archaeological research. She also has an MA in Archaeological Heritage Management from Boston University, which focused on the protection of cultural property during armed conflict. Prior to ASOR, Allison was the Program Manager for the Mosul University Archaeology Program, part of the Iraq University Linking Program (ULP) funded by the US Embassy to design and implement online courses and real-time video conferences with Mosul University and conduct cultural study programs in the US and in Iraq. She has ten years of archaeological fieldwork experience in Iraq, England, Spain, Greece, and Israel.

The Presence-Absence of Arapgir’s Armenian Heritage in Present-Day Eastern Turkey
Laurent Dissard, University College London

The town of Arapgir in present-day Eastern Turkey possesses a rich Armenian cultural and architectural heritage. Its AKP municipality has recently embarked upon ambitious renovation projects in an effort to attract visitors. By restoring its Ottoman architectural heritage, Armenian and non-Armenian, and by promoting its other cultural and natural assets, the mayor is “giving a direction” to the town and encouraging tourism, while simultaneously reinventing its identity as the Turkish nation turns more and more to its Ottoman culture and past. In this presentation, I first examine Arapgir’s neo-Ottoman restorations and memories, and later describe the absence-presence of the town’s Armenian past within this broader push to reinvent itself. In the end, I discuss the simultaneous exposure and erasure of Armenian cultural heritage in Turkey today by examining the town’s “restored” Armenian cemetery.

Laurent Dissard is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies at University College London. After completing his PhD in Near Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley, he held a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania Humanities Forum. He is currently working on two book manuscripts. Submerged Stories (forthcoming at IB Tauris) discusses the politics of the past in Eastern Turkey and asks, Whose past is worth rescuing and whose history remains submerged? A Nation Under Construction (under consideration with MIT Press) takes the mega-dam built at Keban in the 1960s to examine the politics and poetics of infrastructural development in Turkey. It tells the interconnected stories of US scientists and European engineers, newly trained Turkish politicians and technical experts, anti-dam activists and human-rights NGOs, and Kurdish and Alevi internally displaced families, constructing and contesting the nation of Turkey during and after the Cold War.


Deir al-Surian, A Monastery on Cultural Crossroads
Karel C. Innemée, University of Amsterdam

The so-called Syrian monastery in the Egyptian desert of Sketis was inhabited by a mixed community of Coptic and Syrian monks between the 9th and the 16th centuries. In the past years a Dutch-Polish team of scholars and restorers has uncovered mural paintings and inscriptions from this period that shed a new light on the history of the community and the cultural interactions between these two groups of monks. Some of the names found in the inscriptions on the walls occur also in colophons of manuscripts from the once famous library of the monastery and this adds valuable information to the prosopography of its inhabitants. Many of the Syrian monks originated from the region of Mosul and Tikrit, where nowadays little survives of Christian heritage and these recent discoveries are also a welcome addition to the limited knowledge of Syrian Christian cultural heritage.

Karel Innemée is a researcher at the University of Amsterdam (Department of Ancient History) and director of the Deir al-Surian project. He studied history of art, archaeology and Egyptology at Leiden University, where he was assistant professor in the faculties of the Humanities and Archaeology. He specialised on Christian culture in the Nile valley and excavated in various Christian sites in the Near East.

Chaldean Manuscript Collections. ʽAdbīshōʽ of Gazarta: Patriarch, Poet, Scribe and Commissioner
Anton Pritula, Hill Museum & Manuscript Library and The State Hermitage Museum

Until recently, scholars lacked access to most of the numerous collections of the so-called Chaldean Church—that is, the East Syriac Uniate Church, officially named Chaldean Patriarchate of Babylon; as a result, research about these manuscripts was confined to descriptions in early-20th-century printed catalogs. Due to the digital work and re-cataloging conducted by the HMML (Hill Museum and Manuscript Library) during the last several years, the scholarly community has obtained access to thousands of manuscripts belonging to this tradition. Their digital preservation has become increasingly important because of a history of destruction beginning in the early 20th century and continuing in recent dramatic events in the Near East.

With this new access to manuscripts, scholars can now define the circulation and distribution of certain texts within the general Chaldean Church tradition. It should be noted that despite the general use of the term ‘Chaldean,’ historically, there was not one Uniate Church, but rather three that co-existed within the Eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire, that competed with each other, and that unified with and separated from the Roman Catholic Church at different periods. The disparities in these Church traditions developed separate manuscript transmission histories that require specific studies of the history of each collection.

The present paper, apart from providing a general review of the Chaldean collections’ history and characteristics, focuses on the beginning of the Uniate East Syriac tradition that emerged in the Ottoman Near East exactly one hundred years after the fall of Constantinople. The Uniate East Syriac tradition begins with the name ʽAdbīshōʽ of Gazarta, the Church’s second patriarch (1555-1571), first poet, and writer of numerous liturgical and non-liturgical poems, including descriptions of his travels to Rome in a previously unedited long versified text. The majority of his poems, not yet studied, can be found in the manuscripts now available through the HMML. Dozens of these texts are epigrams addressed to the author’s contemporaries. This paper aims to identify these persons—some of whom are well-known historical figures—and to reconstruct their relationships with the author. These reconstructions are possible because of my recent discovery of several autographs written by the renowned poet himself. Using his colophons and marginalia (all in the same hand and referring to his name in the first person), this paper discusses the circumstances of his career, identifies the books he had owned or commissioned, and thereby establishes the textual corpus that influenced his poetic style.

Anton Pritula, Ph.D., is Lead Cataloger of Eastern Christian manuscripts at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML) of St. John’s University. He is also Lead Researcher in the Oriental Department at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Before coming to the HMML, Pritula earned his doctorate in Iranian Philology at St. Petersburg University in Russia. After graduating, he was a curator in the Oriental Department at the Hermitage Museum. Specializing in the culture of Christian communities in the medieval Islamic Near East, Pritula has authored two books: Christianity and the Persian Manuscript Tradition in the 13th through 17th Centuries (2004) and The Warda: An East Syriac Hymnological Collection (2015), the latter of which was supported by a two-year fellowship and publication subvention from the Humboldt Foundation in Germany. He has also curated and edited catalogs for two international exhibition projects at the Hermitage Museum: In Palaces and Tents: The Islamic World from China to Europe (2008) and A Gift to Contemplators: Ibn Battuta’s Travels (2015). Currently, he is working on three book projects; one on the literature of the so-called Syriac Renaissance (11th-14th centuries); one on the history of Garshuni textual transmission; and one on the Chaldean Church’s literary tradition as exemplified by ʽAdbīshōʽ of Gazarta.

Coffee Break

Roundtable & Closing Remarks
Christina Maranci, moderator
Allison E. Cuneo, Laurent Dissard, Karel C. Innemée, Anton Pritula

Wall painting, cave-tomb of Tigran Honents’, Ani. Photo: Christina Maranci
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