The field of Near Eastern Studies and its various disciplines, from Archaeology to Assyriology, from prehistory to modern times, are now more than ever in need of a charter addressing general ethical principles that concern all scholars in this field, both as individuals and collectively. Such a charter must also respect the autonomy of scholars and their freedom of expression. The current document constitutes a first step in that direction.
Research in the Near East
The purpose of research is to contribute to the development of knowledge and the advancement of science. It relies on the principles of honesty, scientific integrity and responsibility, on which the society bases its confidence.
The ethical principles by which these disciplines should abide do not substantially differ from those of any other scientific or scholarly field: awareness of plagiarism/copyright infringement, fair processing of collected data, responsibility for the reliability and objectivity of the information, safeguarding intellectual property, abstaining from harassment or discrimination of any kind, obligation to communicate the results of the research to the scientific community and to the public in a timely fashion.
Nevertheless, the actual practice of these disciplines is often carried out in the different countries of the Near East. This means that scholars need to be mindful of their host country’s specific customs and social norms.
Scholars must respect the laws and regulations of the countries in which they work, in particular as they apply to their research endeavors. Along with the due respect to these laws, scholars should exhibit respect for the labor force they hire to assist them in their projects, for the local students they help to teach and train, for the local colleagues with whom they collaborate, and for the local administration with which they work together.
Near Eastern Archaeology and Assyriology in Wartime
Archaeologists of the ancient Near East and Assyriologists have an ethical obligation to be attuned to what is happening in the lands where they carry out their professional activities, especially when basic human rights are being violated. The current conflicts in Syria and Iraq and the subsequent instability in the entire region put scores of human lives in jeopardy and represent a serious threat to the cultural heritage of the region.
The international community of scholars must contribute to the assessment of the damages done to the cultural heritage of these areas and to inform the general public. Scholars must also educate both society and the media in regard to the consequences of the tragic destruction of cultural heritage and advise on how to restore or reconstruct whatever may have been damaged. The international community of scholars must join the local archaeological bodies and the civil society in each country in order to prevent further irreparable losses.
Nevertheless, it is ethically unacceptable to use the reality of this destruction to further political agendas or to spread propaganda. To dwell exclusively on the destruction of a country’s cultural heritage is callous and ethically questionable as are disregarding or glossing over the loss of human lives, the tragedy of those who suffer in the midst of conflict, and the pain of those who must live in exile for their own safety. It is the duty of the scholarly community to pay respect to and show compassion for the inhabitants of those countries ravaged by war. Respecting the laws of a country does not imply insensitivity.
In the context of a violent conflict, scholars must exercise extreme caution before establishing, or maintaining preexisting, relations with belligerent factions, governments included. All individuals are free to hold their own political beliefs. Nonetheless, because researchers often act as members of institutions and in many ways represent the field at large, it becomes incumbent especially in these difficult circumstances to adhere to basic ethical rules.
Relations with the International and Non-Governmental Organizations
In the case of the destruction of and damage to cultural heritage, UNESCO is mandated to provide assistance, expertise and financial aid. It is also true that UNESCO is only allowed to collaborate with governments recognized as such by the UN, regardless of human rights violations. Other international organizations, such as ICOMOS, ICOM, ICCROM, and the World Monuments Fund do not need to follow the same UN constraints.
The role of the international community of scholars is to assist these international organizations while being simultaneously aware of their inherent limitations. Expertise and recommendations are welcome during a conflict and in the post-war period, as by then the task of restoration and reconstruction will be immense. By the same token, scholars should assist and respect the endeavors of NGOs, as well as those of colleagues and students, including all those living in exile, by providing them with assistance, support, and encouragement.
This document, based on official statements and an exchange of views among members of the community of Assyriologists, Near Eastern Archaeologists and specialists of the ancient worlds is intended as a starting point to assist colleagues in often difficult or uncertain conditions, and for general guidance.
Voices for Syria and Iraq: An International Collective of Assyriologists, Near Eastern Archaeologists & Specialists of the Ancient Worlds
Stefano Anastasio, Soprintendenza ABAP, Firenze; Francesca Baffi, Università del Salento, Lecce; Janine Balty, chercheur honoraire CBRAp, Bruxelles; Jean-Charles Balty, émérite, Paris IV (Sorbonne)/Université libre de Bruxelles; Dominique Beyer, Université de Strasbourg; Maria-Giovanna Biga, Sapienza, Roma; Frank Braemer, émérite, CNRS, Nice; Franco D’Agostino, Sapienza, Roma; Rita Dolce, Università Roma Tre; Michel Fortin, Université Laval, Québec; Steven Garfinkle, Western Washington University; Simonetta Graziani, L’Orientale, Napoli; Andrew Jamieson, University of Melbourne; Marc Lebeau, ECUMS, Brussels; Richard M. Leventhal, Penn CHC, University of Pennsylvania; Brigitte Lion, Université de Lille 3; Mario Liverani, Sapienza, Roma; Piotr Michalowski, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Cécile Michel, CNRS, Nanterre; Lucio Milano, Ca’ Foscari, Venezia; David I. Owen, Cornell, Ithaca; Christine Proust, CNRS, Paris; Philippe Quenet, Université de Strasbourg; Marco Ramazzotti, Sapienza, Roma; Gonzalo Rubio, Pennsylvania State University; Maurice Sartre, émérite, Université de Tours; Annie Sartre-Fauriat, émérite, Université d’Artois; Jack M. Sasson, emeritus, Vanderbilt, Chapel Hill; John M. Steele, Brown University, Providence; Piotr Steinkeller, Harvard, Cambridge; Carlo Zaccagnini, L’Orientale, Napoli.