Cultural heritage is the intangible assets that are inherited by generations of people. These resources include art, literature, and traditions. They are selected by societies and shaped by their cultural context. Some examples of cultural heritage are oral stories, folktales, and ritual practices. Throughout history, intentional destruction of cultural heritage has been carried out. It is often associated with mass atrocities, human rights violations, and persecution of individuals.
Intentional destruction of cultural heritage is a phenomenon that can be traced back to the earliest periods of human civilization. In the past, the primary motivations for intentional destruction of cultural heritage were religious, ideological, and political. Ideologically or politically motivated iconoclasm is the desire to destroy symbols of a vanquished system, such as ancient buildings or artworks. This is especially pronounced in the context of ethnic conflicts.
The early twentieth century was marked by massive destruction of cultural heritage in the form of wars and atrocities against Indigenous populations. These were carried out by radical groups with a variety of political and social agendas. During World War I, for example, the destabilization of the continent made it possible for radical ideologies to gain ground. Among the most prominent were National Socialism and Bolshevism. Eventually, these groups were crushed by the guillotine.
During the early Stalin years in the Soviet Union, an unprecedented sell-off of art occurred. Artifacts were bought and sold on international markets. One of the most popular targets was the sacral architecture of the enemy ethnic group. Another target was the Catholic places of worship. Eventually, these works were destroyed or incinerated.
In a similar fashion, the Red Khmer revolt was fueled by a radical ideology. This revolution in Cambodia targeted art. The destruction of this cultural heritage led to the expulsion of the former cultural identity of the Cambodian people.
In the early twentieth century, the Russian Revolution was another catalyst for the destruction of cultural heritage. In this case, the goal was to dismantle the previous system and replace it with one that was more favorable to the new regime. To accomplish this, the works of art from the period of the French Revolution were targeted.
In the Middle East, intentional destruction of cultural heritage has become a part of ongoing conflicts. As a result, many members of ethnic groups and other minority religions have been targeted. This practice has been accompanied by illicit trafficking and organized looting. Moreover, the language used to categorize cultural artifacts has been used as a tool of oppression and injustice.
Intentional destruction of cultural heritage can be a form of genocide, particularly when it is carried out by religious extremists. The destruction of this type of heritage has the potential to harm all humanity. For example, it can cause the development of vulnerable religious beliefs and the loss of education for future generations. Moreover, it may also be a security issue.
Because of the wide range of purposes for which heritage is preserved, it is important to understand the historical and cultural factors that have shaped its protection. Specifically, we need to know what types of cultural expression are eligible for protection and who will decide on their value.