Identicide:   The Problem withPost-War Reconstruction     Dr. Sarah Jane Meharg     Royal Military College of Canada    Pe...
Identicide Identicide is the intentional killing of the  relatedness between people and place that  eliminates the bond, ...
Old and New Wars:The Destruction of Cultural Heritage
Jenin, 2002.
AfterBefore         The Golden Done Mosque of Samarra (Iraq), 2006.
AfterBefore         Temple of the Tooth Relic, Sri Lanka, 1998.
Vijecnica, 1936.
Vijecnica, 1992.
Stari Most, Mostar, circa 1912
Stari Most, Mostar, circa 1985
Stari Most, Mostar, 1993.
Post-Conflict Reconstruction
Infrastructure reconstruction, Bosnia 2001
Inside Cinema Jenin during reconstruction, West Bank, 2003
Vijecnica, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, 2012
Temporary Bridge, Mostar,Bosnia-Herzegovina, 2001
Post-Conflict Construction
Indonesian Mosque, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, 2001
King Fahd Mosque (Saudi), Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, 2009
Catholic Church, Mostar,Bosnia-Herzegovina, 2007
Christ Monument,Hum Mountain, Mostar, 2004
Identicide:   The Problem withPost-War Reconstruction     Dr. Sarah Jane Meharg     Royal Military College of Canada    Pe...
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction
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Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction


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Coined by Dr. Sarah Jane Meharg, identicide is the intentional targeting and destruction of things that represent identity. In this presentation, Dr. Meharg presents a slide show that outlines cases of identicide, with a focus on the sites of cultural heritage destroyed during the Bosnian war in the early 1990s, and the problem with post-war reconstruction.

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  • The destruction of the everyday lived-in world – the familiar, the mundane, the ordinary - home/hearth. Despite the individual and collective trauma caused by conflict, people still cling to their lived-in world. There are examples of people trying to create normalcy in war-zones through a multiple of everyday actions. There are accounts of people placing pots of flowers on their bombed out apartment balconies, or continuing their daily rituals of washing and dressing in their best clothes despite the bombs and bullets flying around them, or continuing the daily ritual of walking to the market to buy the day’s meal, although the market no longer exists. These are some of the ways in which people react to the destruction of those places that are representative of their lives, and their identities. As well, people try to protect their places from further destruction, particularly places in which their collective identities are embedded. Librarians have tried to save books from burning libraries, architects have attempted to protect famous bridges, and students have occupied forbidden places for particular causes during very dangerous times.
  • Al-Askari mosque/Askariya shrine in Samarra/The Golden Dome Mosque of Samarra (Iraq). (Source: Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press, ). “ Some cultural sites, such as the minaret of Samarra, sustain heavier damage because they are placed squarely in battle situations.” The 162 feet tall spiral minaret was built in the 9th century by Caliph Al-Mutawakil. Due to the vantage point at the top of the tower that allows a clear view of the entire city, insurgents and U.S. forces have battled for control of the minaret. “Insurgents use the tower to calibrate their mortar fire, while the U.S. military uses it as a watchtower to prevent placements of roadside bombs.” After the first Iraw elections, insurgents attempted to blow up the platform to prevent U.S. Troops from returning. As a result, the minaret is littered with bullet holes and miniature craters. There is concern that this structure will not survive the continuous gunfire. “Despite unwavering criticism from Iraqi officials and academics worldwide, the U.S. insists that using the minaret is necessary. Iraqi antiquities officials have asked for compensation for the damage to the minaret and other ancient sites in and around Samarra” (Steen, p. 24-25). Attack on the Askiriya shrine in Samarra - The struggle for power between Sunnis and Shiites is nothing new and Saddam Hussein meted out harsh treatment towards Shiites during his regime. After Saddam Hussein was ousted, Sunnis boycotted the first open elections. Consequently. Shiites gained control and some Shiites used this as an opportunity to “seek redress for old resentments against Sunnis.” Tensions between the two groups worsened after the attack on the Al-Askari shrine in Samarra (also referred to as The Golden Dome Mosque of Samarra) , believed to date from the tenth century A.D. This shrine is “one of the most important religious destinations for Shiite Muslims and at the time of its bombing was full of worshippers.” Not surprisingly, Shiites responded by attacking approximatey 90 Sunni mosques, killing 78 people.(Steen, 25-26) According to UNESCO, “The explosion on 22 February 2006 caused the collapse of the shrine’s Golden Dome and of the Ali al-Hadi shrine. The explosions of 13 June destroyed two 36 metre high minarets of the Al-Askari shrine...The reconstruction will start as soon as security conditions are guaranteed and will continue over a period of ten months. The first phase of the project includes preventive works, an assessment of needs and the preparation of the final restoration project. The total budget amounts to $US8.4 million. The United Nations Development Group Iraq Trust Fund (UNDG ITF) will provide $US 5.4 million and the Government of Iraq $US 3 million.” (“UNESCO launches the reconstruction project of the Al-Askari shrine in Iraq”)
  • Before (Source: After (Source: ) Temple of the Tooth Relic (Sri Lanka) In 1998, the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka (a World Heritage Site) was deliberately destroyed by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam) fighting for a separate state in Sri Lanka. This attack was seen as an attempt to destroy the identity of a group, the Singhalese Buddhist community. This was a site of “living religious heritage,” and therefore extremely important to the community. This temple was the “most powerful national, religious and cultural symbol of the identity of Singhalese Buddhists, who form the majority (69%) of the population in Sri Lanka.” It also has political significance (newly appointed politicians and bureaucrats elected to a higher office are to pay homage to the Tooth Relic) and significance for the community (for ordinary Buddhists it is a place of worship and pilgrimage; the first outing for a newborn child is to the temple). “Since the arrival of the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buudha from India in the fourth century AD, the rulers of the country have accorded it the utmost care and protected it as an object of veneration.” (“Cultural Heritage in Postwar Recovery,” pp. 87-89). In the week following the destruction of the temple, political analysis based on all major national newspapers showed unprecedented news coverage, greater even than the loss of lives in related attacks (i.e. bombing of Central Bank and a passenger train where hundreds died). The day after the temple was destroyed – newspapers announded that the restoration would begin immediately. Public support was abundant for restoration; it was announced that the government had made available two million Rupees for the restoration process. Fundraising campaigns were also created by the Government and the lay custodian of the temple. “Interestingly, the total public donations exceeded 100 million rupees (about one million dollars) whereas our estimate for the necessary restoration work was only a third of that sum!” Political support was very visible; the Government banned the LTTE (after more than 19 years of civil war and over 200 suicide bombings, etc.) right after the temple was attacked. “The establishment of a Presidential Task Force chaired by the President herself to faciliate and monitor restoration of the temple symbolized the highest political support.” The Department of Archaeology immediately made its professional services available to temple authorities. This was very important because they were able to rescue most of the fragments from the paintings that had collapsed, broken pieces of sculptures and other historic materials which would have otherwise been swept up and discarded by the army team that had been sent to clean up. (“Cultural Heritage in Postwar Recovery,” p. 90) The community expected to see “the revival of the function of the temple.” However, there were some contentious issues that needed to be resolved. For example, members of the religious community demanded use of local timber even though timber was a scarce resource for restoration work. They also insisted that local craftsment be employed for making new stone carvings, even though the old tradition had almost completely disappeared. In the end, final conservation decisions did not rest in the hands of professionals, but rather in the hands of members of the religious community. Despite the challenges, “The final result was a restored building complex demonstrating a close resemblance to that which existed prior to the destruction, with damaged elements replaced with new materials. All damaged stone sculptures were made new. In the case of paintings on lime plaster that had shattered into pieces, these were carefully reassembled and the missing parts reintegrated.” (“Cultural Heritage in Postwar Recovery,” pp. 91-92).
  • 1992
  • Photo Source: Conde Nast Traveller 1993. People tried to protect this famous foot-bridge from destruction by draping it in truck tires, protective scaffolding, and a white UNESCO flag of peace. Despite the bridge’s fame, despite its symbolic importance, no assistance arrived. In a turn of events, the original protectors of the Bridge, the Bosnia Croats, attacked the Bridge in May 1993, when they turned against their Muslim allies on the left bank. Their intent was to split the union of the two shores of Mostar - one shore would be Muslim and the other Croat. This systematic and intentional elimination of the non-military target of great cultural importance culminated on Tuesday 9 November 1993, when after months of heavy shelling by Croatian forces and despite frantic makeshift efforts to protect it, the bridge collapsed into the Neretva River (Ricasio 1995: 64).
  • An example of a post-conflict reconstruction project near Sarajevo (2001, B-H) This is a typical post-conflict infrastructure project. (non-partisan, non-ethnic)
  • Source: – Inside Cinema Jenin during the reconstruction Jenin In 2002, numerous Palestinian families lost their homes when the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) attacked Jenin and its refugee camp with “ one thousand ground troops, columns of tanks and armored bulldozers, and aerial bombardments from Apache helicopters” in April 2002 “as part of a “broader military operation to reoccupy the West Bank.” (Tabar) After several days, huge armored bulldozers entered Jenin, “destroying roads, sewers, water pipes, electric and telephone lines, and hundreds of homes in the heart of the refugee camp.” (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs) The first phase of the reconstruction project cost Dh 16 million (US $4.3 million) and involved removing debris, restoring over 2000 houses, and maintenance of schools and hospitals. The project has been delayed several times due to Israeli blockades and curfews. The second phase of the Jenin reconstruction project began in July 2003 by the UAE Red Crescent Society (RCS). The project will cost Dh 100 million (US $27 million) and is part of a reconstruction plan carried out by the RCS and UNRWA. (“RCA Begins Second Phase of Jenin Reconstruction Project” and “Second Phase of Jenin Reconstruction Project Begins: UN Official”) The second phase saw the construction of one-story homes and four-storied apartments, the restoration of utilities, and the rebuilding of the school and health clinic. “In the end, the project will have built 435 apartments ($12 million), performed major repairs on 419 homes and 42 shops ($2.2 million), and minor repairs on 173 homes ($1 million).” (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs) The bulk of the funds came from United Arab Emirates’ Sheikh Zayed ($27 million), along with funds from Britain’s Department for International Development. This project has been accomplished with “remarkable speed, and virtually no publicity. Sheikh Zayed promised to rebuild Jenin, and he did.” (Washington Report)
  • Olympic Stadium, Sarajevo (Source: Google Maps)
  • Olympic Stadium, Sarajevo (Source: Google Maps)
  • Graveyard, Olympic Stadium, Sarajevo (Source: Meharg, 2008).
  • Source: In 1999, Vijecnica was seen as a “symbol of the failure of reconstruction.” No worker had touched the building for a year and a half, and the only money spent on the project was $825,000 donated by the government of Austria in 1997 to replace the roof. However, the total cost of reconstruction was estimated at more than $13 million. Despite the “great emotional appeal,” it did not generate reconstruction. In contrast to other reconstruction projects, Vijecnica only “produced a very modest amount of money and assistance” even though public support for its reconstruction was high. One of the major obstacles to reconstruction was the fact that no one knew who actually owned the building. (Barry) 2007 – Hungarian government donated EUR 100,000 and the City of Sarajevo donated EUR 17,000 for the Vijecnica building reconstruction (protection of facade). (FENA) Field report from Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2007 – general agreement among interviewed stakeholders concerning the importance to “conserve, restore, and re-establish the Vijecnica as (i) a national monument of the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural history of the country, (ii) a symbol of the city of Sarajevo and (iii) a symbol of the historical ties between Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina.” But, different opinions were expressed regarding the future use of the building. (Thematic Evaluation, p. 19) The evaluation concluded: “It is not quite clear if the objective of the Austrian support has been only to stabilise the building or if longer term reconstruction and re-establishment of old and new functions have also been envisaged (although not necessarily with Austrian funds only)...Assuming that stabilisation has been the objective, the Austrian support - together with the support from the EU, has achieved a high degree of effectiveness. The building was saved from complete and irreversible destruction. However, as a more comprehensive and cultural heritage project that integrated conservation, reconstruction and popular usage, the support has been less effective as indicated by the fact that even after nearly 10 years of completion of the Austrian support, the building is still a ruin and there is no consensus as to its future function(s).” (Thematic Evaluation, p. 21) In July 2010, the House of Peoples approved amendments to the federal law in order to facilitate the reconstruction of Vijecnica. “The legislation in question is the Federal regulation on physical planning and land use that now stipulates that the state organs can reconstruct national monuments regardless of their titular; that is regardless of the owner.” It is anticapated that the adoption of such amendments will bring reconstruction money from loans from the City of Sarajevo or a grant from the Spanish government (“Amendments adopted to facilitate reconstruction of Vijecnica”) From Sept. 2010 – June 2011, Humanity in Action in Bosnia and Herzegovina launched an initiative titled BOOKS4VIJECNICA, with the support of the University of Sarajevo. Their goal is to assist in the modernization and re-establishment of the collection of books that was destroyed. Humanity in Action sent out appeals for donations, particularly modern and contemporary publications in world languages, so that the students at the University of Sarajevo have the “opportunity to study and learn from the quality literature used in the Universities all around Europe from with they would have have the chance to benefit otherwise.” Books donated in this project will be catalogued by certified librarians and ultimately (hopefully) be placed under library holdings of Vijecnica once it is repaired. Scientific books, prose, drama or other literature classics are all welcome. To date, close to 2,000 books have been donated from around the world, as recorded at (BOOKS4VIJECNICA) In July 2011, a new exhibition and tourist attraction opened in the central lobby of the Sarajevo City Hall (Vijecnica); funds raised from entry fees to the exhibit will be used to support the restoration of the building. “Sarajevo City Hall Revisited” is a six-month exhibition organized by the City of Sarajevo and URBING Construction Company, with the support of the USAID-Sida FIRMA Project and Sarajevo Navigator Foundation. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to view “extensive documentation on the history of the building and the surrounding area, as well as authentic architectural designs and photos from the first opening in 1896.” The final and overall restoration project being implemented by URBING is scheduled for completetion in 2014. According to Patrick S. Moon, US Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the international community, led by the governments of Austria, Hungary, Spain and the European Commission, is supporting the building's reconstruction. “However, it will take great effort to restore it to use as a library, museum and seat of the City of Sarajevo government...By supporting the Vijecnica exhibition, we believe that even though construction is ongoing, many visitors will come to learn about the history of Vijecnica, while the exhibition will support the reconstruction efforts.” After the renovation is completed, Vijecnica will house some city administration offices and part of the national library depository, and also be used for cultural events. (“Sarajevo City Hall Revisited”)
  • People reacted strongly to the absence of the Bridge in the place that had captured the imaginations of locals and visitors for centuries. Source: 1995. The temporary bridge was replaced by this more stable suspension bridge and now serves as a place to oversee the work of the engineers reconstructing the Bridge of Mostar below. Source: Meharg 2001.
  • – reconstruction of the bridge
  • – reconstruction of the bridge
  • Photo Source: The intended outcome of re-bridging the shores of the River was to symbolically re-bridge, or reconcile, the disparate warring parties involved in the Bosnian conflict and previous centuries-old cycles of conflict throughout this region. Although the Bosnian Muslims have been instrumental in the reconstruction project, and the Bosnian Croats grudgingly so, the Serbians have declined any involvement, politically or otherwise.
  • The Bridge of Mostar: Update Some are asking the question of whether or not the funds that poured into Mostar could have been better spent. Many in the international community believed that the reconstruction of Mostar's Old Bridge “would heal social wounds by physically reuniting former antagonists and literally stitching together a divided city...Unfortunately, few local citizens found much solace in the realisation of this project.” It is noted that “fixation on the Old Bridge as an emblem of recovery proved to be irresistible for foreign investors, but that project proved to be relatively unimportant in relation to the ongoing process of long-term social reconciliation in Mostar” (Calame and Pasic). “ If that piece of architecture ever stood for social harmony and solidarity across ethnic lines - and this may be easily debated - it does not stand for them now. Rather, it seems to represent a wish, or at best an opportunity, for these conditions to recur.” (Calame and Pasic) The rebuilding of the Old Bridge was a “motivational rehabilitation strategy that resulted in a kind of virtual rather than actual recovery, in part because the Old Bridge could not signify what many onlookers wanted it to.” It is also important to note that, “Most foreign investors left Mostar immediately following the gala dedication of the reconstructed Old Bridge, and even the outlines of an ongoing plan are blurry.” (Calame and Pasic) There was frustration among some people – apartment buildings and schools remained ruined while foreign donors focused on large-scale projects like reconstruction of the Old Bridge. “As the months and years progressed, these potential returnees gave up hope for rekindling their livelihoods in Mostar. Meanwhile, work on highly emblematic historic structures continued at a healthy pace.” (Calame and Pasic) Local responses : “Local cynics speculated that these investments only served the international tourist trade and soothed the troubled consciences of foreign nationals whose governments declined to intervene in a lop-sided war. Others embraced the notion, perhaps with some regret, that tourism would be the only reliable economic generator for Mostar so that emphasis on the historic core was affirmed. Still others simply noted that, had they been forced to choose, a factory on the outskirts of town would have been preferable to the restored Old Bridge at its centre.” (Calame and Pasic) In contrast to the findings of the researchers above, UNESCO has a very different view of the reconstruction of the Old Bridge: “With the “renaissance” of the Old Bridge and its surroundings, the symbolic power and meaning of the City of Mostar - as an exceptional and universal symbol of coexistence of communities from diverse cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds - has been reinforced and strengthened, underlining the unlimited efforts of human solidarity for peace and powerful co-operation in the face of overwhelming catastrophes.” (“Old Bridge Area of the Old City of Mostar”) In the case of Mostar and the Old Bridge, the CRIC Research Project investigated how the reconstruction of cultural heritage impacts on processes of identity building in societies after the war. “The destruction of the Old Bridge of Mostar was quickly interpreted internationally as an attack on Bosnian multi-ethnicity, and this view also influenced the way the post-war reconstruction went.” Rebuilding an exact replica of the Old Bridge was supposed to “symbolically reconnect the divided sectors of the city and bring alienated communities together.” In other words, it was meant to perform a symbolic function it had not previously held; before it was destroyed, the bridge was a landmark, not a political symbol. Locally, there were disputes over the reconstruction and the imposed symbolism; disputes that continue to this day. In largely Croat west Mostar, images of the Old Bridge are largely non-existent, while in Bosnian east Mostar, the image of the Old Bridge is everywhere (houses, shops, souvenirs, posters, graffiti). The reconstruction of the Old Bridge illustrates the importance of broad inclusion of the local community. (Dr. Ioannis Armakolas, CRIC Researcher)
  • This Mosque is being funded by an Indonesian Islamic sect. It is being constructed on the outskirts of downtown Sarajevo near the current United Nations headquarters. There are three other concrete mosques of this size being constructed within a two kilometre radius. Source: Meharg 2001. Approximately 150 mosques and other religious buildings have been flattened by overzealous benefactors in order to erect new buildings representative of a purer faith. Such groups have mixed motives and despite UNESCO’s attempt to build sensitive sustainable projects in the war-torn Balkans, huge concrete prosaic mosques have appeared around and in Sarajevo. Such philistinism is creating a new landscape of identity in Bosnia. The adage “those who pay have the last word” has become common in the Balkans. Yet, in a recent Bosnian Institute conference, a Bosnian Muslim spoke out against the sectarian landscape of his country. He said “I’m from Sarajevo, what can we do about these horrible new mosques?” Clearly, some locals feel as if their new sectarian landscape is not as symbolic or meaningful as their pre-war landscape that they enjoyed. Walasek points out that despite the many ruins of Turkish mosques awaiting reconstruction, new constructions continue: “There is a sense of loss for the old landscape” (Walasek pers. comm. 10-10-02)
  • “ The King Fahd Mosque is located in Sarajevo’s Alipasinio Polje suburb. The huge, Saudi monumental style building made of gray-brown sprinkled marble looks like a UFO complete with antennas shaped like minarets stranded among the high-rise apartment buildings on the edge of the city.” (Source: 25 February 2009
  • In the year 2000, the Catholic Church in Mostar began construction work above the besieged city and placed a large cross on Hum Mountain to mark the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ. It was from Hum Mountain that Mostar had been bombarded during the war. From there the shells were fired at the Old Bridge, destroying it. Bosnian Serbs had positions there at the start. Later on, Bosnian Croats held positions there and used Bosniac prisoners to dig trenches and fortifications. The work was undertaken on the initiative of the Catholic Church. The road leading up the hill is used for a yearly pilgrimage hike. The cross rises 33 meters (100 ft.) into the air, clad in shining aluminium, which towers over the ancient Muslim quarter with its modest, elegant mosques and Turkish bazaar (Keep the Hate Alive, September 28, 2004). It now stands silhouetted against the sky when seen from Mostar, floodlit in the evenings. The Vicar General has said that the cross is meant as a symbol of peace and reconciliation, and that it has no ulterior meaning beyond that (Strandenes 2003). It can be strongly argued, though, that the placement of the cross is the politicization of religion, and it does not contribute to the development of tolerance in the city below (Vila 2000).
  • Identicide: The Problem with Post-War Reconstruction

    1. 1. Identicide: The Problem withPost-War Reconstruction Dr. Sarah Jane Meharg Royal Military College of Canada Peace & Conflict Planners Canada
    2. 2. Identicide Identicide is the intentional killing of the relatedness between people and place that eliminates the bond, which underpins individual, community, and national identity (Meharg 1999); This method of destroying people and their places is most obvious when applied through military means.
    3. 3. Old and New Wars:The Destruction of Cultural Heritage
    4. 4. Jenin, 2002.
    5. 5. AfterBefore The Golden Done Mosque of Samarra (Iraq), 2006.
    6. 6. AfterBefore Temple of the Tooth Relic, Sri Lanka, 1998.
    7. 7. Vijecnica, 1936.
    8. 8. Vijecnica, 1992.
    9. 9. Stari Most, Mostar, circa 1912
    10. 10. Stari Most, Mostar, circa 1985
    11. 11. Stari Most, Mostar, 1993.
    12. 12. Post-Conflict Reconstruction
    13. 13. Infrastructure reconstruction, Bosnia 2001
    14. 14. Inside Cinema Jenin during reconstruction, West Bank, 2003
    15. 15. Vijecnica, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, 2012
    16. 16. Temporary Bridge, Mostar,Bosnia-Herzegovina, 2001
    17. 17. Post-Conflict Construction
    18. 18. Indonesian Mosque, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, 2001
    19. 19. King Fahd Mosque (Saudi), Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, 2009
    20. 20. Catholic Church, Mostar,Bosnia-Herzegovina, 2007
    21. 21. Christ Monument,Hum Mountain, Mostar, 2004
    22. 22. Identicide: The Problem withPost-War Reconstruction Dr. Sarah Jane Meharg Royal Military College of Canada Peace & Conflict Planners Canada