Archives as targets for destruction in Timbuktu

In the recent ongoing clash between Islamist militants and the Malian government forces, backed by French military support, thousands of historical records and manuscripts have been burned in Timbuktu. Records dating back 1204, were targeted by the militants who were using the Amed Baba Institute as sleeping quarters, where the archives are housed. 

These records had been designtated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, and were undergoing a digitization project in conjunction with Institutions in Norway and Luxembourg.  A prime example of the use value of digitizing at risk collections for future electronic preservation and use, even archives that may appear to be protected under the UNESCO designation.  Having also destroyed mausoleums and shrines to Sufi saints throughout the city, it is evident that heritage of a people is under attack. 

As an archivist, the alarms immediately go off when the legacy of a people are designated as targets in war, as they have been countless times throughout history.  However, in the immediacy of events, we far off onlookers must retain an awareness of violence happening to people first and foremost and not just property – be it commercial, private, or State owned.  These are all crimes, but protection of people and their rights is a historical preservation in itself.  What good is protecting a statue if 10 civilians were killed across the street from it?  What story is lost when endangered peoples of our time are wiped out?  The users of archives and the witness to events are primary sources that embody an archive.  It is through the preservation of life that records are given meaning.           

The Archives and Special Collections at the University of Connecticut holds records relating to the Darfuri people and their existence in refugee camps which exemplifies a people under threat without land, losing their traditions and culture.