Affiliation: Cornell University
Lori Khatchadourian is Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Anthropology at Cornell University. Her research uses the methods of archaeology and ethnography to study imperialism, ruination, modernity, and the relations between people, objects, and landscapes, with a particular focus on Armenia and the South Caucasus. She is author of Imperial Matter: Ancient Persia and the Archaeology of Empires (2016) and numerous articles on the Caucasus, Anatolia, and Iran which have appeared in such journals as Cultural Anthropology, American Journal of Archaeology, and Antiquity. Khatchadourian also researches cultural heritage and conflict, and is co-founder and co-director of Caucasus Heritage Watch.
As cultural heritage has moved to the center of 21st century conflicts, it has become a spectral presence, leaving traces of trauma, erasure, and loss. Nowhere has the spectrality of heritage been more acute than in the South Caucasus, a region wracked by decades of violence, ethnic cleansing, animosity, and nationalism. This paper introduces the praxis of heritage forensics in relation to the ongoing research program of Caucasus Heritage Watch (CHW). Founded in 2020 in the wake of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, CHW uses the techniques of cultural aerospace to document, detect, and deter attacks on the fragile remains of the human past. Heritage forensics is an approach to cultural remains that operates at the intersection of archaeology, law, cultural aerospace, and politics. Where heritage is constituted by the corpus of curated materials and intangible practices passed down to the present from the past, forensics refers to investigations that document disruptions of that legacy by state and non-state actors. Heritage forensics is thus an inherently public and post-disciplinary form of scholarship. We present the results from our investigations in multiple fora where critique, debate, and accountability take root, from the courtroom to the news media, to social media, to the university. As such, our primary commitments reside in exposing abuses of power, post-truths, and the erosion of human rights as these unfold through the materiality and spectrality of heritage. Our primary tool is the satellite image. We use this tool not in service to an ethic of archaeological stewardship; rather, we detect, document, and try to deter attacks on tangible heritage to help expose and combat the racism, ethnic hatred, and state violence that drive such attacks. This talk is organized around three forensic dossiers on medieval and early modern heritage caught in the crosshairs of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.