Decolonising Babylon

The popular imagination and the intellectual study of Babylon generally exclude any notion or understanding of the people who live most closely to it. Inscribed in 2019 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, little is known about the ways in which Babylon, located in Iraq’s Babil province, is viewed by the Iraqi people, most notably by the residents of al Hillah, the provincial capital. Institutional legacies and political structures brought about by the quest to capture and appropriate Babylon by US-European Empires, the rule of dictatorships and more recently the US Occupation as well as the outcomes of post-2003 sectarian-promoted politics, have constituted heritage trajectories that have been dispossessive and exclusionary of people from negotiating sustainable connections to Iraq’s ancient history. In this context, this paper examines Iraqi perspectives of those living and working in close proximity to Babylon and the ways in which connections to the historical site are negotiated in everyday life.

Published in the International Journal of Heritage Studies, 2020.


About Mehiyar

Dr Mehiyar Kathem is a researcher at University College London (UCL). Mehiyar completed a PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) where he researched peacebuilding interventions and the formation of Iraq’s domestic NGO sector after the 2003 War. During this research, he looked at the gradual evolution of Iraq from totalitarian dictatorship through the country’s emerging domestic organisations. His research interests include statebuilding, civil society peacebuilding and the ways in which development, politics and money interact at a local level. In 2012 and 2013, Mehiyar conducted field research in Iraq for his PhD programme, spending a year meeting with and interviewing domestic NGO actors, political parties, government officials and international donors. Previously, Mehiyar worked on a number of grassroots programmes geared to build the capacity of civil society organisations and continues to advise international donors on the effective design and delivery of projects in Iraq. He tweets at @mehiyar

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