September 10th, 2022

Research in the Near & Middle East and ethics

The purpose of all research on Ancient Near and Middle East matters must be to contribute to the development of our knowledge of the area by advancing science and scholarship in quantitative and qualitative ways. It seems evident that this research must abide by the principles that characterize an open and ethically aware society: honesty, scientific integrity, and responsibility.

The ethical principles that our disciplines are expected to follow do not substantially differ from those in any other scientific or scholarly field. Archaeologists of the Ancient Near and Middle East, as well as Assyriologists, should remain attuned and sensitive to events that take place in the host countries, in which they carry out their professional activities. These scholars are ethically obligated to do so, especially when basic human rights are being blatantly violated.



Recent announcements as concerns the creation of a new archaeological Syro-Italian Mission in the Damascene Ghouta and resuming activities at Tell Mardikh/Ebla

The Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums of Syria (DGAM) has officially announced two years ago a new joint project with faculty members of the University of Rome, La Sapienza. The project is slated to start at Tell Ferzat, near Damascus. It is co-directed by Italian and Syrian colleagues. A recent press campaign in Italy reminds and advertises this new excavation project, and mentions an appeal to the Italian government for funding the resumption of activities at Tell Mardikh/Ebla, a wish formulated by its former mission Director.

One should note that Tell Ferzat is located in the area of Eastern Ghouta, a region that has been subjected to a barrage of atrocities and war crimes by the current Syrian regime, including chemical attacks and a massive siege aimed at starving the civilian population; see the report issued by the United Nations Human Rights Council on February 12, 2014, concerning the use of sarin in the area on the part of al-Assad’s forces. We must also note that the region of Tell Mardikh has paid a terrible tribute due to shelling and bombing, and is currently largely depopulated.

As members of the international community of Archaeologists of the Ancient Near & Middle East, Assyriologists, and Scholars of the Ancient World in general, we are profoundly saddened by such developments and would like to share our deepest concerns. We question the wisdom, and more importantly, the morality of the investment of the University of Rome in a new archaeological mission that joins forces with the current DGAM, a government agency that functions as a propaganda organ for the Syrian regime. In the context of the massive destruction of human life, property, and cultural heritage, collaboration with this regime would offend the most basic dictates of common decency and humanitarian concerns. Academic cooperation with the current DGAM would negate the elementary ethical rules that bind our community of scholars and scientists and it would affront the abused inhabitants of Syria, who are being subjected to these ongoing atrocities.

We are concerned that such a cynical and heartless project will provide aid and comfort to a regime engaged in war crimes against its own civilian population. Moreover, to embark on this endeavor at the very sites of the most outrageous and obscene violations of basic human rights adds insult to injury to the Syrian people.


Archaeologists of the Ancient & Middle Near East, Assyriologists & Scholars of the Ancient World

Tarek Ahmad, Freie Universität, Berlin
Cheikhmous Ali, Université de Strasbourg
Osssama Ayash, LVR-Amt für Bodendenkmalpflege, Germany
Mariam Bachich, Syrians for Heritage (‎سوريون من اجل التراث‎ – SIMAT)‎

Francesca Baffi, Università del Salento

Janine Balty, honorary, CBRAp, Bruxelles

Jean-Charles Balty, emeritus, Université Paris IV (Sorbonne)/Université libre de Bruxelles 

Dominique Beyer, emeritus, Université de Strasbourg

Frank Braemer, emeritus, Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Nice

Maria Giovanna Biga, Università degli Studi “La Sapienza”, Rome
Nicole Brisch, University of Copenhagen

Franco D’Agostino, Università degli Studi “La Sapienza”, Rome
Michel Fortin, Université Laval, Québec
Jean-Jacques Glassner, Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Paris

Simonetta Graziani, Università di Napoli « L’Orientale »
Ahmad Karbotly, Università degli Studi “La Sapienza”, Rome

Salam al-Kuntar, Rutgers University

Marc Lebeau, European Centre for Upper Mesopotamian Studies (ECUMS), Brussels‎

Richard M. Leventhal, Penn CHC, University of Pennsylvania

Brigitte Lion, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
Peter Machinist, Harvard University
Piotr Michalowski, University of Michigan

Cécile Michel, Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Paris‎

Pierre de Miroschedji, Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Nanterre
Lubna Omar, Binghamton University

Marcel Otte, Université de Liège
David I. Owen, Cornell University
Daniel T. Potts, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University

Christine Proust, Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Université Paris Diderot
Nasser Rabbat, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Marco Ramazzotti, Università degli Studi “La Sapienza”, Rome
Lauren Ristvet, University of Pennsylvania
Gonzalo Rubio, Pennsylvania State University

Maurice Sartre, emeritus, Université de Tours

Annie Sartre-Fauriat, emeritus, Université d’Artois

Shaker al-Shbib, Syrians for Heritage (‎سوريون من اجل التراث‎ – SIMAT)‎

Piotr Steinkeller, Harvard University

Jason Ur, Harvard University
Harvey Weiss, Yale University


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