The Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage as a Tool for Ethnocide: The Case of Kuwait
Following the horrors of the Holocaust, psychological genocide became a new technique for destroying a group of people. Since cultural heritage greatly contributes to a group’s sense of belonging and recognition, it becomes an easy target for uprooting and eliminating the group’s identity. Elements of both tangible and intangible culture underpin the group; members pass their sites, practices, and values through generations. By attacking the material cultural heritage of a group, such as a building or sacred object, part of the identity of the group is also attacked. This action requires no physical violence, but is more than a mere material loss, and so the effect of such an act can be just as devastating as murder. People rely heavily on their identity to define themselves, their lifestyle, and their place in the world. Erasing that identity similarly erases a part of that person. In effect, a piece of them has died. Thus, this thesis argues that ethnocide, or the targeted destruction of a group of people, is committed not just through physical violence, but also through the deliberate targeting of a group’s heritage. Applying this argument to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, this thesis further asserts that the actions of Iraqi forces constituted ethnocide. When Saddam Hussein’s forces entered Kuwait, they looted the cities and destroyed the cultural heritage of Kuwait’s museums and archives in order to destroy the Kuwaiti identity and re-establish Kuwait as a part of Iraq rather than a distinct ethnic group. Considering the devastation wrought upon the Kuwaiti community, it is clear that the efforts of Iraq to eliminate all vestiges of a distinct Kuwaiti identity equaled ethnocide.
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