Jerrold Cooper studies Iranian antiquities -- in Paris, Philadelphia, London and Istanbul. Last year, he hoped to study them in Iraq, too -- a dream long-deferred for Jewish scholars who have been unable to visit that Muslim country.
But when the Iraqi army marched into Kuwaiti, the scholar's hope beat a hasty retreat.
"I was supposed to go to Iraq in December 1990," said Dr. Cooper, a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University. "It was the first major conference in Baghdad of people who study Iraqi antiquities. I had never been to Iraq before because it's almost impossible for Jews to get visas. But this time they said everybody, except Israelis, were welcome.
"Naturally, after the invasion of Kuwait, it didn't take place. The opportunity of a lifetime was scotched by George Bush and Saddam Hussein."
Dr. Cooper's conference is one item in a long list of scholarly enterprises to have suffered from recent events in the Middle East. There are also canceled projects, suspended grants and missing antiquities. This state of affairs, distressing to all Near East scholars, concerns many locally who are affiliated with the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), an academic venture headquartered at Hopkins.
"Iraq is the cradle of civilization, everything comes from Iraq," said Dr. Cooper, who heads ASOR's committee on Mesopotamian civilization. "The first cities, the first writing, the first advanced technology -- that's where it came from. It's the mother of us all."
Dr. Cooper said one of the more tragic ironies of the war occurred because of Iraqi fastidiousness.
Before the war began, in November 1990, authorities closed the Baghdad Museum and dispersed more than 150,000 antiquities to regional museums. Allied bombing spared the Baghdad Museum, and most other cultural sites, but the civil war which erupted after the fighting ended exacted a harsh toll on many historical treasures.
"Objects were devastated and looted during the troubles," Dr. Cooper said. "Iraqi authorities expect to see many of these objects reappear in a few months on the antiquities market."
Another loss from the war was a new academic center which American scholars planned for Iraq. Michael Graham, Fulbright Program Officer for the United States Information Agency, said his organization was prepared to donate start-up costs for the project.
"It was a cooperative effort to study archaeology, social sciences, humanities and education," Mr. Graham said. "We thought it would take a year to organize and would open in September 1991.
"But the American community withdrew support after the invasion of Kuwait."
Mr. Graham's agency also withdrew grants to scholars at ASOR institutions in Israel and Jordan after the war broke out.
"When the State Department issued travel advisories it precluded our continued support for exchange programs in those countries," he said.
Mr. Graham said the grants were reinstated this spring.
But some ASOR officials say the grants are subject to other tensions in Middle Eastern politics. Dr. Eric Meyers, ASOR's president, says the Arab-Israeli situation makes the USIA more prone to fund scholars at the Jordanian center than those studying in Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem Center, W. F. Albright Institute for Archeological Research, is located over the Green Line, the pre-1967 border of Israel.
"The location [of the center] over the Green Line and America's continued non-recognition of the annexation of Jerusalem is reflected in limited funding opportunities for the Albright Institute," said Dr. Meyers, who is a professor at Duke University and Director of the Annenberg Research Institute in Philadelphia. "Yet federal aid has been most generous for the Jordan school, allowing it to survive many dark periods."
HTC Mr. Graham said USIA grants to the Albright Institute were not related to American policy in the Middle East. Rather, he said the grants reflected the agency's preference for the multidisciplinary program in Amman as opposed to the more archaeologically-oriented Israeli center.
ASOR, which began in 1900, was the first formal American academic center devoted to Middle East studies. The organization, which encompasses 1,400 individual members and 165 institutions worldwide now has three sites -- the Albright Institute in Jerusalem, the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan, and the the Cyprus American Archeological Research Institute in Nicosia.
The Jordanian center started because of political tensions in the region.
When the Six-Day War erupted in 1967, the Arabs upgraded an earlier boycott of American companies that traded with Israel. That boycott extended to the American School of Oriental Research which had been founded in Jerusalem in 1900.
Jerusalem had been the site for the school because it was a convenient staging ground for excavations in what were then Palestine and Transjordan (which included parts of Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan).