The following essay was written by E. Emmons Hahn, in December 2012, for Professor Magnus Fiskesjö’s seminar “Global Movements of Cultural Heritage” at Cornell University. All rights reserved.
This 38-page essay, although not in the format of a usual blog post, is directly relevant to several of the themes throughout this blog, including characteristics that make a site desirable as a destination for unusually high amounts of cultural tourists, what it takes for such a destination to support a sustainable environment (culturally, materially and economically), and what negative effects can occur when a site is turned rapidly into a mass-tourism destination without an extensive infrastructure in place to help that process lead to sustainable development. Angkor, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, is considered a prime exemplar of not only World Heritage, but also of many of the issues that affect areas struggling with spectacle-driven cultural tourism and sustainable development.
The Repercussions of World Heritage Status:
Angkor Archaeological Park and Obstacles to Sustainable Tourism Development
Angkor Archaeological Park, in the Cambodian province of Siem Reap, consists of a complex of linked archaeological sites, monumental structures, ancient urban infrastructure, and natural resources that together form one of the best recognized historic sites in Southeast Asia. This area, focused around the temples of Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Preah Khan, and Ta Prohm, is considered by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to include “a unique concentration of features testifying to an exceptional civilization,” the Khmer Kingdom, which had its royal capitals within the Angkor region from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries. However, in 1991, the United Nations and UNESCO’s affiliated organizations became concerned that the monuments of Angkor were in a precarious state due to the presence of landmines around the structures, a long-term lack of preservation planning, and extensive looting activities. As a result, UNESCO took a series of unusual measures to designate this region as a unified World Heritage site under the title of Angkor Archaeological Park in 1992. This means that the international organization of UNESCO formally recognizes the “outstanding universal value” of Angkor, thus promoting it as a major destination of cultural tourism, a site deserving of extensive international assistance in its preservation and management, and an important symbol of the richness of human experiences across the world. This designation succeeded in bringing tremendous resources and attention to the stabilization of the Park’s monuments, but also led to the rise of new problems resulting from the need for sustainable cultural tourism development, while doing little to prevent the politicization of the Site’s narrative of significance.
These issues have grown out of the high demand among international tourists for access to the exotic grandeur of the temples of Angkor and the temples’ mixed states of preservation. The former of these led to the latter, which combine attempts to restore the buildings to something resembling their condition while in use by the Khmer Kingdom and decisions to leave some buildings partially damaged by the growth of strangler fig and banyan trees, among other natural forces. Images of Angkor temples, in either of these states, have found their way into the imaginations of foreign travelers, adventurers and collectors since the nineteenth century, when French colonial powers encountered the structures and brought back tales of their “melancholy” glory to Europeans, hungry for sensationalist images, objects, and stories from the mysterious “East.” The values that such Europeans placed onto the cultural landscape of Angkor still affect the impressions of contemporary tourists to Cambodia as a result of the ways in which the region is marketed to potential visitors. This led to over one million international tourist arrivals to Siem Reap province in 2008, which was about half of all visits to the entire country that year, with comparable numbers in the nearby years. This amount of international consumer attention to Angkor has fit in well with the long history of the ancient capital city’s involvement in national and local politics, as the monumentality and cultural history of the region has made it an easy icon on which to place narratives about the identity and heritage of the Khmer people. However, neither the exoticist nor the nationalist interpretations of Angkor have easily complemented any processes that would allow the site’s tourist and local cultural functions to develop in a sustainable manner. This is due to emphasized priorities placing more value on immediate benefits to the people using the site, rather than on what it would take to balance the interests of all the major stakeholders in the long run. And although the designation of Angkor Archaeological Park on UNESCO’s World Heritage List has certainly brought some benefits to the management of the site, it has also augmented its tendencies towards touristic overuse and local political manipulation as a result of the increased status that inclusion on such a list brings.
Despite this, there is little doubt that the buildings, natural resources, and cultural landscape of the Angkor Archaeological Park deserve UNESCO’s celebration of them as World Heritage, given the degree to which they easily symbolize the values promoted by the World Heritage List. UNESCO’s values of “world heritage,” although derived from the complex set of conceptions about culture that have evolved with UNESCO over time, rely on the existence and monumental interpretability of historically significant places in order to be realized. There are, however, countless such locations throughout the world, and, in particular, the sacred complex of Angkor has the history and contemporary narrative potential to function as an exemplar of the kind of location that UNESCO’s system of “world heritage” requires and seeks. This is the result of the physical monumentality of the temples at Angkor, its long role as a social and political center for the region, its importance as a religious space, the level of architectural innovation and artistic workmanship throughout the site, the relationships over time among the buildings, the people and the land of Angkor, and the ways in which the ancient capital has served as a politico-cultural symbol of success for numerous different rulers of the region.
The site first grew in importance when King Yasovarman relocated the Khmer capital to the Angkor region during the ninth century, commissioning the construction of Phnom Bakheng in the process. The holy city became even more obviously central to the Khmer Kingdom’s place-making strategies in the twelfth century, when King Suryavarman II created the magnificent temple of Angkor Wat, and proclaimed his capital to be “the spiritual, political, cosmological and astronomical center of the Hindu world.” This construction included the massive central building that has become so emblematic of Cambodia over the centuries, and some of whose renown comes from “two awe-inspiring features … : a number of bas relief series tracing scenes from the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Khmer political history, and a towering statue of Vishnu, most likely symbolizing the King himself.” Soon after, the symbolic power of the temple complex prompted the rival King of Champa, aiming to reduce Khmer authority, to attack Angkor on an unprecedented scale and wreak havoc on the kingdom. Following that, King Jayavarman VII, the son of Suryavarman II’s disgraced successor, not only defeated the Chams just outside of Angkor, but then proceeded to expand Angkor by means of an extensive construction program of religious and urban revitalization that included a new stone city called Angkor Thom and three Mahayana Buddhist monastic complexes designed to celebrate the new royal religion of Buddhism and Jayavarman VII’s own family. This process firmly reestablished Angkor as the dominant capital in the region, both politically and religiously, as the King built up the city physically and culturally, commissioned a vast network of roads throughout the kingdom that all led back to Angkor, expanded the borders of his empire, and promoted the idea of himself as a compassionate God-King ruling over the kingdom from Angkor in order to ensure the prosperity of the Khmer people through the Kingdom’s re-stabilized material wealth.
Over the subsequent centuries, Jayavarman VII’s monumental commissions and politico-religious message maintained their potency. They became the target of backlashes from the predominantly still Hindu local population against the Khmer king, and from external adversaries such as the Theravada Buddhist armies of Ayutthaya from fifteenth century Thailand. Throughout such attacks, Angkor Wat and the surrounding complexes of the Khmer capital city were used for monumentally proclaimed reinterpretations of the religious affiliation and political power structures of the region, remaining significant to both the government and the people as signs of legitimacy and validation for whoever was most recently victorious. The power of Angkor to unequivocally validate the authority and longevity of its ruler is evidenced by the way in which seventeenth century Thai leaders spread claims that the cities and temples of Angkor were originally constructed by the first Ayutthayan king, rather than by the Khmer – a historical interpretation that continues to fuel controversy even today. Eventually, these sites would be reinterpreted once again by the French, as they used the exotic grandeur and apparent ruination of Angkor to support “colonial claims legitimizing the “necessary” formation of French Indochina,” and by the various governments of postcolonial Cambodia, from the extreme and revisionist propaganda of the Khmer Rouge to the current day government of Cambodia. Moreover, the artistic styles and techniques developed among the many buildings and statues of Angkor became models for architecture and art throughout Southeast Asia, both during and after the height of the Khmer Kingdom. It led to the creation of notable masterpieces, as well as distinctive local styles, all drawing upon the formative innovations developed under the blessing of Angkor’s major rulers. Due to the far-reaching narratives of power and sacredness with which Angkor was associated for over a millennium, and due to the artistic and architectural influence of its monumental complexes, the site is exemplary as a geographically united symbol of the rich history of the Khmer, the identifiably distinct cultural styles and symbol systems developed in this region, and the extensive effects that such spectacular constructions can have on the political, economic, social, religious and artistic lives of the region over time.
Therefore, it is clear that the collective elements of Angkor combine to create a site that is both materially and symbolically critical to the cultural history of Southeast Asia. Through this process, Angkor has come to constitute a semiotic icon of local cultural heritage. This is due to the fact that the symbol of Angkor represents fundamental elements of the political, artistic, and religious history of the region’s various cultural groups, and has been filled with narratives of value connecting this history of conquest, triumph, and innovation to the very identities of those cultural groups. As such, Angkor embodies significant components of how the Khmer and their neighbors define themselves and their relationships to each other, signifying the rich traditions and achievements of these peoples. Therefore, it is no surprise that Angkor and its constituent structures have become such famous icons of Cambodian heritage as to make the UNESCO World Heritage List and draw international attention from tourists and scholars alike.
The term cultural heritage, however, is a complicated one, bound up in narratives of identity and significance, and requires elaboration in order for the significance of UNESCO’s involvement in Angkor to have proper contextualization. Even UNESCO, in its numerous documents referencing the concept, has yet to determine a single definition, instead drawing upon broad categories of culturally entangled objects and experiences as a reference point that can then be defined further depending on the context. The term heritage, as distinct from history, is deeply linked to the concept of identity, as well as to the connection between people living in the present and people, groups, ideas, material objects, practices, events or places from the past. Uzi Baram and Yorke Rowan’s simple definition summarizes the social nature of this process: “heritage is a particular version of the past that belongs to a group.” This link between past and present here derives in part from the etymology of the word heritage itself, as the root has its source in the Latin term for heir, “heres, heredis”, with the modern term referring to that which may be inherited. Indeed, this etymological approach to the term heritage evokes the passage of property from one person or group to another over the course of time.
The relationship between heritage and issues of identity reflects two questions one must ask when defining the former term: that is, 1) “Who inherits what from whom?” and 2) “What rights does that process of inheritance give the inheritor?” These questions require the explicit identification of present and past owners of inherited cultural property, whether it is tangible or intangible, of what property constitutes that inheritance, and of the implications that the answers to these first questions have for power over that inheritance. In indicating the subject, object and associated contemporary power structure referenced in these questions, the process of identifying something as heritage rather than just historical brings “that which may be inherited” into the realm of identity politics. Indeed, Derek Gillman, who served as President of the International Cultural Property Society in 2010, proposed that “heritages (or cultures) are ways of thinking and talking about communities of people in space and time, related by shared practices, conventions and norms,” thus indicating the discursive, community-based and non-objective elements of heritage production.
Additionally, this framing of heritage as evidence for a link between the past and the present also serves as a common tool for the creation of identity stories for groups of all sizes, of all affiliations, and across the time and space of human history. However, both of these evocative terms, identity and “heritage,” lack unique or explicit definitions, with many potential interpretations and implications depending on the paradigm and agenda of the one writing the definition. One common component of the term identity as expressed by scholars of the field of cultural heritage is that it is something that “aggregates people, no matter how different their individual selves may be. But identity is not just about inclusion. It is also about exclusion. In order to identify with some, people also need to dis-identify with someone else,” even when those same people profess to affiliation with multiple, overlapping identities. Anthropological investigations into the formation of such identities have shown that the methods and manifested types of identity production can drastically complicate this view. In practice, the many forms of and creative processes involved in the construction of these perceived similarities and differences among groups of people – particularly when such processes come to justify various heritage management policies – give rise to vehement arguments over how heritage and identity should be institutionally linked, and who should get to decide the “who/whom” in the process of defining that link. Here, polarized debates can spring up concerning who gets to be stakeholders with significant interest in and power over the heritage/identity connection, with each side often choosing different interpretations for the meaning of not only these central terms, but also favoring either very specific or very broadly-defined groups for the roles of “giver” and “receiver” in the fundamental question of “Who inherits what from whom?”.
The narratives that constitute this process of linking heritage and identity build on the past of the peoples in question, utilizing stories and material evidence supposedly inherited from those who have come before in order to symbolize solidarity for a select group, provide legitimacy to those telling the stories and to create focal points that can stand in as representatives of greater historical patterns, values, and perceived truths marked as unique to the group in question. When these stories integrate components of tangible and intangible history into contemporary symbol systems, this kind of identity narrative begins to answer the first of the above questions, in the process constructing cultural heritage and cultural property out of stories and objects believed to be from the past. Alasdair MacIntyre, a scholar of contemporary political thought, has discussed how communal narratives and traditions support the creation of particular identity stories; Derek Gillman, building on MacIntyre’s work, proposes that “‘Heritage’ objects, then, are deeply associated with aggregations of cultural narratives, practices, values and virtues.” In this way, the conception of heritage can provide the content for expressions of identity, support for identity narratives, locations for performing the continual process of creating identity, and give people a way to “experience community [while] they simultaneously legitimize and consent to the agendas of its builders and caretakers” and distance themselves from those outside their community. In this way, the association between heritage and identity, as terms, processes and objects of study or agency, leads the conception and production of cultural heritage itself to rely on representations of unity and diversity, and therefore to be a useful tool of national, transnational and subnational institutions that utilize the ideas of unity and diversity to their own benefit, particularly where controversies over identity politics are clearly pronounced.
It is exactly this set of functions that has led to the politicization of cultural heritage as one of the domains governed by the United Nations and its subset of UNESCO. The relationship between cultural identities and those objects and practices deemed cultural heritage has led to their easy manipulation as part of political agendas meant to unite one group or alienate and demotivate another, as commonly occurred during World War II. The ability of cultural heritage narratives to unite and divide in this way meant that the appropriate management of such heritage logically fell into the purview of the young organization of UNESCO as it sought to assist in international efforts to use education and cross-cultural awareness to support the United Nations’ focus on global peace.
This connection between the United Nations and the politicization of identity through heritage narratives derives from the organizations’ foundation in the aftermath of World War II and the resultant creation of UNESCO and its World Heritage Centre, as these institutions developed ideas of pan-humanism as a method for peace-building. In particular, the genocides of the Second World War begot the idea that multicultural awareness and respect impedes conflict, while ignorance and neglect of foreign cultures facilitates distrust and eventually war. Indeed, UNESCO’s 1945 Constitution states “that since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” Building on this foundation, UNESCO soon began working with its constituent member states to create international legislation for protecting cultural heritage as a method of reducing conflict and building peace. To this end, UNESCO’s treaties and declarations concerning the protection of cultural heritage have primarily sought to reconcile particularist interests with those of the broader international community, trying to promote a value system in which both the richness of distinct human cultures around the world and attributes that are common across many cultures are complementary causes of celebration.
This approach has led to, as Michael A. di Giovine calls it, a “unity-in-diversity” value system, where diversity itself is considered one of the qualities that all humanity has in common, therefore meaning that exceptional symbols of that diverse richness, such as those found in the Angkor Archaeological Park, should be considered as the “cultural heritage of humankind.” UNESCO’s novel paradigm for cultural heritage is that the achievements of all people add to the richness of human history, and that therefore the individual cultural contributions of diverse societies act as nodes within a cross-humanity network. Due to the resultant interconnectedness of myriad cultures across this conceptual network, damage to one culture’s symbolic nodes of heritage means damage to the network as a whole. This framework reduces hierarchical differences associated with historically based socio-political power structures by presenting the heritage of all cultural groups as worthy of celebration and protection, while still acknowledging their unique differences and capacity for symbolic significance to particular peoples. As such, UNESCO’s meta-narrative provides an alternative to traditional understandings of cultural boundaries, seeking to reduce us-versus-the-other mentalities into a more inclusive, peaceful and open-minded approach to transnational and cross-societal interactions.
UNESCO intends this process of totalizing differences through the promotion of cultural heritage to help “individuals interacting with [cultural heritage] to appreciate and celebrate diversity, [thus nullifying its] divisive quality [and reducing] worldwide strife.” If this were to be successful, the process would entail the promotion of a cross-cultural identity focused on that which communities around the world share or can value about each other. The history on which such narratives would be based would be complex and would need to reflect the fact that so many identity building events throughout the past have involved exclusion and social hierarchy, just as much as they have resulted in places and traditions worth celebrating. This value system, in order to function, would need to convince those engaging with it that the inheritors of such elements of cultural heritage include both the entire human race and the people with the most specific affiliations to that heritage. Despite the approximately half-century in which UNESCO has operated, such a complicated value system remains difficult to enact. This is due to its reliance on not only the open-mindedness of its participants, but also on cooperation among multiple scales of government in many countries around the world with each other and with international organizations concerned with the fair protection and promotion of cultural heritage in a peaceful manner.
In order to handle the logistics of such a lofty goal, in 1972 UNESCO passed an international treaty entitled the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which built upon the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict: both relied on the values of the “unity-in-diversity” narratives to argue for mechanisms that could protect cultural properties from attack, and in the case of the 1972 Convention, also protect against neglect and improper management. It did this by establishing broad criteria for the identification of heritage sites suitable for combining particularist and universalist interests, and practical mechanisms for the maintenance of these sites through a World Heritage Centre, a World Heritage List, and regularized interactions between UNESCO, states sovereign over the heritage sites, and other organizations meant to assist with their management. Through the procedures set up by UNESCO and the World Heritage Centre, in particular, States Parties to the 1972 Convention identify sites that they would like to be added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, prove that the sites meet the qualifying criteria for consideration, agree to uphold UNESCO’s symbolic values and practical standards for the maintenance and curation of the sites, and work with UNESCO to arrange and monitor the preservation, management, and promotion of the sites in accordance with the principles of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre. This system places the majority of the actual work dedicated to the management of World Heritage Sites under the responsibility of the governments that have sovereignty over the land on which a site resides, with UNESCO primarily functioning as an overseer and advisor. In return for dutifully caring for world heritage, the regions of each site gain in prestige, internationally available marketing for potential tourists, and practical forms of assistance for the preservation of sites from UNESCO and its affiliates. By distributing accountability for the 962 (and counting) cultural and natural sites on the List among the 157 States Parties that nominated them, UNESCO relieves itself of the burden that would come with actively managing all of the sites directly and reduces conflicts over sovereignty, while still providing enough incentives to motivate participating national governments to try to follow UNESCO’s standards.
As the cultural community that UNESCO seeks to involve in the management of those places that fit its values for world heritage includes both local and international stakeholders, this often requires overlapping several different narratives of significance, as well as conflicting priorities concerning how to allocate resources for the management of the sites. As part of the system for negotiating these conflicts, and for ensuring the continued upkeep of heritage sites according to UNESCO standards, the organization and its affiliates regularly review World Heritage Sites in order to determine if their physical stability, indicators of cultural importance, and associated narratives of identity are maintained in sustainable ways. In addition to the similar evaluations that occur before sites’ inscription on the List, these later reports affect the status of sites, with possible repercussions for inadequate maintenance including increased UNESCO assistance, placement on the List of World Heritage in Danger, and, if necessary, eventual removal from the World Heritage List. Given the international social status, touristic attention, monetary assistance, and cultural resource management advice that many locations receive as a result of their inclusion on the World Heritage List, many countries intentionally try to keep their World Heritage Sites in good standing with UNESCO.
However, many Sites have ended up on the List of World Heritage in Danger over the years, some as the result of natural disasters and military conflicts, and others as the result of unsustainable or immediately damaging developments in or around the Sites. Angkor Archaeological Park unfortunately serves as a major case study among such Sites, as it has long struggled with both types of reasons for instability and has experienced many difficulties in consistently meeting UNESCO’s standards since its designation as World Heritage in 1992, despite its facility of becoming an icon for Southeast Asian cultural heritage. To begin with, there had been little care of and much damage to the monuments of Angkor since 1973, due to the violent wars and general instability in the region during that time. Primarily, such damage took the form of a thriving market in looted artifacts and extensive encroachment of vegetation, both of which occurred in good part because of the lack of oversight and reduced regular usage of the monuments during wartime. Additionally, landmines were buried throughout the complex, and the local populace of Siem Reap was still far from recovering from the Khmer Rouge’s devastating attacks. This meant that, at the time of the international community’s mobilization to “Save Angkor” in the early 1990s, the ancient complex met none of the World Heritage Centre’s usually strict requirements for a potential World Heritage Site to include a physically and politically stable environment. Instead, Angkor possessed enough symbolic capital as a heritage site that both fit UNESCO’s “unity-in-diversity” value system and could encourage the Cambodian recovery, if managed properly, that emergency proceedings occurred to inscribe Angkor on the World Heritage List anyway.
In fact, Angkor in 1992 only satisfied four of the ten possible criteria for establishing that a site has “outstanding universal value” and none of the other typical requirements. And yet, in an unprecedented way, the Site still was considered to be a cultural landscape with such potency that all of the rest of the prerequisites for inscription on the World Heritage List were temporarily waived “in order to guarantee protection of the site” during its period of high duress in the early 1990s. This was explicitly due to the long extant narratives in both Cambodia and Europe of Angkor’s cultural and historical significance, in addition to Angkor’s recognized potential to symbolically reunite the Cambodian people and their government, both of which reasons were expressed in the 1993 Declaration of Tokyo, the result of an Intergovernmental Conference on the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor. At the time of the Park’s inscription, though, UNESCO expressed the ways in which Angkor possessed “outstanding universal value” as fundamentally linked to the historical – and not contemporary – importance of the Site:
Criterion (i): The Angkor complex represents the entire range of Khmer art from the 9th to the 14th centuries, and includes a number of indisputable artistic masterpieces (e.g. Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Banteay Srei).
Criterion (ii): The influence of Khmer art as developed at Angkor was a profound one over much of South-east Asia and played a fundamental role in its distinctive evolution.
Criterion (iii): The Khmer Empire of the 9th-14th centuries encompassed much of South-east Asia and played a formative role in the political and cultural development of the region. All that remains of that civilization is its rich heritage of cult structures in brick and stone.
Criterion (iv): Khmer architecture evolved largely from that of the Indian sub-continent, from which it soon became clearly distinct as it developed its own special characteristics, some independently evolved and others acquired from neighboring cultural traditions. The result was a new artistic horizon in oriental art and architecture.
Criteria for selection of a World Heritage Site, such as these, can affect later interpretations about what should be preserved and promoted in the development of the Site; this is due to the criteria’s status as the initial defining characteristics that lead the international community to recognize someplace as “world heritage.” Since the attributes of Angkor that here led to its “outstanding universal value” all look to the history of the region rather than additionally including the ways in which contemporary stakeholders continue to use and value the site, these criteria potentially skew administrators’ perceptions of Angkor’s significance towards an emphasis on that which has come and gone, rather than balancing a celebration of the achievements of the past with the continued livability of the region for present and future locals.
Despite the fact that UNESCO now considers the 1972 World Heritage Convention and its resultant procedures for the nomination and oversight of World Heritage Sites under UNESCO’s care to be “the epitome of sustainability,” procedures for the preservation and promotion of Angkor as a newly developed World Heritage Site, beginning with the selection criteria cited above, have yet to live up to the ideals of sustainability UNESCO sees within the values of its 1972 Convention. Part of this derives from Angkor’s long history of renown in Euro-American cultures as an almost magical place to visit, because of its monumentality, beauty, and supposed exoticism, and thus the increased stability of Cambodia in the early 1990s encouraged people in the leisure class to return to this well-known destination in rapidly increasing numbers. This meant that the touristic traffic around Angkor surpassed what the existing infrastructure could support, and locals taking advantage of the growing hospitality industry in the area, in turn, effectively overdeveloped some of that infrastructure beyond what would be appropriate for the sustainability of the environmental, architectural and cultural integrity of that region. Moreover, corruption and attempts to personally gain political and economic power as a result of involvement with the tourist industry surrounding Angkor have led to politicians at a variety of levels within Cambodia competing over control of the Site in ways that are often unhealthy for the local community and environment. Finally, because UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre did not consciously and overtly incorporate sustainability into its management agendas on any significant scale until the production of the 2005 Operational Guidelines, and because it took until 2004 for the Cambodian government to officially acknowledge the rights of local villagers to continue using the site for even minor amounts of traditional agriculture, customs and residences, Angkor Archaeological Park lacked an administrative system that incorporated sustainability into its explicit goals for the Site. With all of these factors combined, the economic and status benefits granted to Angkor as a result of UNESCO’s valuation of the site as world heritage themselves contributed to challenges for the healthy management of the Site, instead of being a cure-all for Angkor’s instability, as some may have hoped initially.
As a result, the improved development of sustainable measures for administering Angkor Archaeological Park, particularly given how the numbers of tourists to Angkor rose so dramatically in the last twenty years, has been and continues to be crucial. This is because of the extensive economic, social, material and cultural effects brought about by tourism, both positive and negative, that should be controlled in order to maintain the health of the community and the Site, as irreparable changes to the historic sites, the environment, or the integrity of the community can occur. The concept of “sustainable tourism” has recently arisen to deal with just such a situation; this tourism management paradigm promotes long-term solutions that take into account a wide variety of stakeholders and resources, in avoidance of more short-term, exploitative and immediately profitable practices. These better practices include acknowledgment of the natural ecosystems and cultural ecosystems that constitute a destination’s environment, and management of both tangible and intangible capital that results from working with these ecosystems in ways that will not exhaust their resources or their standards of livability. In turn, this undoubtedly adds significantly to the development potential of a host region over time, although relevant industries have yet to agree upon how to best balance “economic efficiency, social equity and environmental conservation” when addressing the amount of development that should be carried out now versus later. Such approaches better protect the assets of a cultural heritage-based tourist destination as a form of long-term investment, for those concerned with the money and status that control of such sites brings, and is far more respectful of those living stakeholders that do not have the political or economic power to control heritage sites by themselves. Moreover, sustainable tourism practices have the potential to protect both the economic and cultural values of significant locations in a way that is fairly congruent with UNESCO’s ideology concerning world heritage.
An expert in cultural policy and the economics of cultural tourism, David Throsby, has proposed “three golden rules” for healthfully managing cultural heritage sites, which Angkor has often not followed due to their long-term emphasis on expanding the tourist base of the Site quickly in conjunction with a narrative focus on the past. These rules are “get the values right… get the sustainability principles right… get the analytical methods right.” The actualization of these suggestions involves taking into account not only the economic values of a heritage site, but also the cultural values, which include aesthetic, spiritual, social-identity, historical, symbolic, and authenticity criteria of significance. Additionally, it includes the acknowledgment of requirements for sustainability, such as
the capacity of a project to maintain the flow of its benefits into the future; intergenerational equity… and fairness in the treatment of future generations; intragenerational equity… in the distribution of benefits or the incidence of costs within the present generation;… recognition of the values attributable to diversity;… balance in natural and cultural ecosystems;… [and] recognition of the fact that economic, ecological, social and cultural systems do not exist in isolation…
Finally, the appropriate incorporation of planning tools and methodology is required for the above elements of heritage tourism sustainability to be appropriately identified and carried out. Crucial to the success of any such heritage tourism destination over the long-term, therefore, is taking into account a lot more factors than just the significance of the site in the past and how that narrative of importance can be advertised for increasing the number of tourists en masse over a short period of time. Similarly, the integration of related planning and management methods into the administration and curation of a Heritage Site must occur for the realization of UNESCO’s own goals of creating a more peaceful world through the globalized identity system of “unity-in-diversity.” This is why Angkor’s overall emphasis on the exotic and monumental grandeur of its long history, at the sake of the inclusion of contemporary local stakeholders, has provided an insufficient framework for the healthy development of the region.
The resultant problems of Angkor’s skewed administrative values have primarily affected the natures of local life, tourism, and preservation in and around the World Heritage Site. International concerns over the preservation of the monuments of Angkor date back to the late nineteenth century, when the École Françes d’Estrême Orient (EFEO) worked “tirelessly and often in good faith to excavate, research and preserve Khmer material culture,” a task which they saw as part of the “white man’s burden” to safeguard the glorious civilization of Angkor that had been left to ruin “through ignorance or barbarism… [by the ancient Khmer’s] undeserving and feeble heirs.” In truly Orientalist fashion, they compared these “ruins”– itself a term emphasizing the abandonment and neglect of a previous achievement by more recent populations – to the monuments of ancient Rome, medieval France and Machu Picchu, trying to incorporate Khmer history into a Eurocentric narrative about the rise of “Western” culture, in which the nineteenth century French were the heroes and the Cambodians unappreciative savages. This manifested in conservation decisions on the part of the EFEO and their comparable successors to “restore” some structures, including Angkor Wat and the Bayon, to a reconstructed idea of how they looked during their long-ago period of intended use, and to “preserve” others, such as Ta Prohm and Preah Khan, in a slightly stabilized version of the state in which the French “discovered” them. This meant that all who witnessed the result of these conservation efforts could potentially be reminded of the French culture’s achievements and the disreputable conditions into which the locals allowed these sites to fall. Although it is undeniable that the ancient significance of Angkor in its constituent monuments provides the substance of a tremendous amount of its importance in the modern day, and that a number of the EFEO’s acts were indeed praiseworthy, the narratives of colonial “power over primitivity” that accompanied such conservation decisions encouraged a tendency to neglect the then-current and future inhabitants of Angkor that continues through today. This narrative structure certainly does not concur with UNESCO’s contemporary goals of increasing the inclusion of diverse peoples into a newly international, respectful, non-racist identity group, and therefore any lingering effects from the colonial period’s rhetoric add to the obstacles faced by the modern Angkor Archaeological Park.
In the approximately 20 years since Angkor’s inscription on the World Heritage List, preservationist organizations have continued to struggle with their role as determiners of each building’s period of significance to which it should be restored or preserved. This is particularly so given the competing claims in the site’s interpretive history concerning the valorization of ancient Khmer culture, the valorization of “Western” culture, and the valorization (or lack thereof) of modern Khmer culture. As John Sanday, a former head of the World Monuments Fund branch in Siem Reap, has been quoted as saying, “when you are dealing with historic buildings, you have no right to decide what period you should return to; history began yesterday.” However, historic preservation, by its very nature, requires such decisions, and even with the best intentions guiding them, choices about what and how to preserve or restore involve a certain degree of loss of information about the life history of the monument or site. This fact does not make preservation practices an obstacle to sustainability, but it can complicate their impact on such healthy development, as it creates opportunities for preservation decisions based on biased ideologies, as manifested in the French colonial preservation work at Angkor. Moreover, proper preservation work requires extensive planning, and with thorough enough planning, preservation activities can assist in increasing the sustainability of a community; without it, there arise conflicts of interest, insufficient communication, or opportunities for the misuse of resources and funds.
Some organizations, such as the World Monuments Fund, have attempted to handle this quandary by means of creating a thorough system for handling the administration of the buildings over which they have authority, and by primarily only restoring building elements that structurally, and not just aesthetically or ideologically, need restorative work. However, there is no guarantee that this approach will completely reduce the distorting effects of imposed narratives of significance throughout the site as a whole. This is especially so because the administration of such preservation and curation at Angkor is actually split among a number of organizations ranging from the nongovernmental and nonprofit World Monuments Fund (WMF) to the national government sponsored Authority for the Protection and Safeguarding of the Angkor Region (APSARA), and from American universities to a number of government sponsored teams from nations in both Asia and Europe – and each of these organizations has a different agenda, set of preservation methods, value system and section of the Angkor complex on which to work, leading to continued conflicts in methodology and narrative. Moreover, these organizations, even the Cambodian APSARA or the most respected of the international groups, have yet to achieve much involvement on the part of locals in decisions made about what in Angkor is significant or how Angkor contributes to the modern Khmer community’s identity. This multi-organization system arose around the time of Angkor’s designation as a World Heritage Site, because of the tremendous amount of work needed to stabilize the physical structures of the site and because of the extensive political and social distress still afflicting the region. As Tim Winter indicates, “such an organizational culture was undoubtedly justifiable in the early 1990s when the priority was emergency conservation,” but the high amount of international interest in Angkor as a tourist destination over the subsequent years – and the pressures that interest has placed on the region’s infrastructure and stability – has meant that the system is not fully sustainable. This is because of its fractured nature and of the unreliability of the Cambodian APSARA authorities, to which UNESCO and its most relevant constituent, the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of Angkor (ICC), take a fairly passive approach.
The interpretation of Angkor for tourism has added more layers to this discrepancy between the institutional use of Angkor’s perceived exotic past and UNESCO’s valuation of Angkor as a World Heritage Site, with effects over questions of both preservation and quality of local life. In particular, the development of the tourist experience at Angkor has built on the same interpretations of the site as occurred under the EFEO and related colonial groups. This has meant that much of the message that tourists receive upon their visit emphasizes an almost magical feeling of “discovering” these mysterious and awe-inspiring complexes as they rise out of the jungle in a similar fashion to that of the French colonists, or what people imagine it would be like to be an archaeological explorer like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. In catering to that which the tour administrators think would most interest their prime audience – wealthy travelers from Europe and America, they create a romanticized image of life at Angkor, without quite respecting either the qualities that made the site significant in history or those that continue to give it meaning for the modern population of Cambodia today. Although quite effective for augmenting the potential attractiveness of the site for tourists, this approach has actually created new problems for preservationists or for those trying to make the region around Angkor sustainably healthy, in addition to failing to uphold the values that UNESCO originally tried to protect through its designation of Angkor as a World Heritage Site.
This particularly manifests in the first half of a typical itinerary that Cambodian guides and tour operators promote, with APSARA’s support. Usually, this trip will involve entering the complex in a bus that swiftly moves past a variety of colonial-style hotels, then the small entrance sign, which does not mention the World Heritage designation or UNESCO, finally arriving at the West Gate of Angkor Thom. This structure, which would have been Angkor Thom’s exit according to traditional Khmer architectural cosmology, has become many visitors’ entry point into the grandeur of the Archaeological Park; this is due to its impressive proportions, state of preservation, and general location, all of which visually function to re-create the imposing and mysterious impression of the complex that the eighteenth and nineteenth century Portuguese and French explorers experienced upon “discovering” Angkor amidst the jungle. For a while, these tour buses were allowed to actually squeeze through the Gate itself, which physically damaged the structure. Now, at least, this practice has been restricted, and tourists must travel by foot through the massive expanse of Angkor Thom and its famous Bayon temple, just as those distant explorers once did. After this, the buses bring visitors to Ta Prohm, which has remained enveloped in the massive roots of strangler fig and banyan trees, along with other vegetation, as the EFEO “preserved” it in its inspiring and evocative state of partial destruction. Here, visitors are allowed to clamber over the structures and explore in a hands-on fashion, often citing childhood desires to be like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft’s “Tomb Raider.” This exploratory act, however, has been further damaging Ta Prohm, and encourages visitors to undertake similar behaviors in other areas that are supposed to be more restricted, but lack sufficient supervision. Although Angkor is no longer riddled with landmines, the touristic attention that the international community renewed at Angkor after the removal of those landmines has created a new threat to the physical structure of the complex, with many of its buildings facing extensive wear and tear from visitors eager to touch – or take home – a piece of Khmer history.
The dangers from this tendency of visitors to touch, climb on, and sometimes break off pieces of Angkor’s structures in fact directly correlates to the Tomb Raider franchise. This series, constituting video games and a blockbuster action movie, stars the character Lara Croft, who uses nearly superhuman stunts to explore exotic locales filled with ancient monuments, underground crypts, and similar types of archaeological sites in search of forgotten treasures – which sometimes end up in the illicit antiquities market. Not only is it dangerous to many archaeological sites to have a pop-culture figure be seen looting them professionally, but the premise of Tomb Raider is particularly unfortunate for Angkor itself, a site that has already suffered from a history of looting: the main character carries out some of her “tomb raiding” in the recognizable location of Ta Prohm, and in the process destroys a number of Buddhist statues contained within the ancient monastery. After viewing this scene, “one Cambodian viewer responded, ‘for the first time Angkor has been brought to life for the world to see, only to be chopped down again’,” a sentiment which indicates how disrespectful the promotion of such behavior in Tomb Raider has been viewed relative to the integrity of Angkor, in addition to the damaging touristic exploration of Ta Prohm that guides actively encourage in reference to the movie. Moreover, some tour guides will emphasize the making of Tomb Raider and the presence of Angelina Jolie, the American actress who played the infamous Lara Croft, instead of the long and rich history of Angkor itself, when visiting relevant areas within the Angkor Archaeological Park, particularly for European or American visitors. Through such interpretive practices, the administration of Angkor allows guides and their touristic flocks to effectively celebrate the experience of being an explorer or tomb raider as one of the primary values achievable through a visit to Angkor Archaeological Park. Although this has some potential benefits for getting visitors actively engaged with the monuments and the history of the site, the negative angles to these practices, particularly those directly related to Tomb Raider, have far more immediate and concrete effects, as they directly lead to higher traffic through sensitive structures and encourage the valuation of Angkor as something quite far from the peacemaking, “unity-in-diversity” promoting symbol that UNESCO has hoped it would be.
In addition to this Tomb Raider–inspired destructive exploration reducing Angkor’s touristic interpretation from the serious endeavor that UNESCO desires as part of its peacemaking efforts to a more pop-culture based and exoticized version of history, it also reflects potentially long-term obstacles to the regions’ healthy development in the shape of the aforementioned inappropriate government agendas that UNESCO has struggled to keep in check. This is particularly so for the challenges that APSARA faces and poses in its efforts to manage Angkor and Siem Reap in balance with a sustainable proportion of international interest. In trying to assist in the development of the region through an internationally–boosted economy, APSARA decided to take advantage of Paramount Pictures request to use Angkor in order to create Tomb Raider, the first international film shot in Cambodia for over thirty years, thus potentially increasing touristic attention, as well as receiving money for the actual filming process. However, the negative effects from the latter, which itself may have damaged parts of Ta Prohm, and the long-term influences it had on the narrative of Angkor’s significance and how visitors interact with the site were not topics that gave APSARA sufficient pause. Instead of creating restrictions on how Tomb Raider could represent Angkor and on how tourism at Angkor should represent the history of the site, APSARA officials chose to accept the film studio’s proposition with little restraint, an unusually low rental cost of USD $18,000 a day, and no consultation of UNESCO, the ICC, or other relevant groups specializing in conservation or sustainable tourism.
In this case, the immediate economic benefits of having Tomb Raider shot in Angkor and the resultant increase in touristic income in the subsequent years was something that very much supported APSARA’s power and own goals. Despite this, the government agency’s decision to support the movie so threatened the UNESCO meta-narrative that World Heritage Sites belong to the whole human race – and not to those that romanticize pillaging or possessing such heritage for their own benefit – that the international organization threatened to remove Angkor completely from the World Heritage List and therefore remove the funding and status that the List gives to a Site. This was because the new narrative of authenticity that the movie promoted and the related tourist behavior that APSARA permitted was damaging not only to the physical structure of the site but also to the interpretation that UNESCO wanted in order to use Angkor in a more sustainable, and respectful manner than it had been under previous regimes. However, the fact that UNESCO and the ICC do not have a heavy level of involvement in the practical enactment of their “visions of conservation and tourism development” means that their idealistic “unity-in-diversity” rhetoric – which could actually support the sustainable development of the region if marketed consistently – is “prone to subversion by competing localized agendas.” Moreover, these internationally grown ideals for how a heritage site, such as Angkor, should represent itself come into conflict with the fact that “Angkor’s largely autonomous management body operates within a domestic political environment with a less than ideal system of governance and one that is driven by the needs of countrywide socioeconomic development.”
This is not to say that APSARA does nothing good for the region; some of its projects are clearly constructive, while others have a mix of benefits and detriments. On the more obviously positive side of their work, the Cambodian organization has supported the values and resources of the World Monuments Fund as it has sought to preserve or restore sections of Angkor Wat, Preah Khan, and Phnom Bakheng. They recently have approved the WMF’s management plans for more sustainable oversight and guidance of the incredible amount of tourists that touch and climb on the temples of Angkor, and will hopefully use the organization’s models for tourist management at Phnom Bakheng and Preah Khan for other areas of the ancient complex that are under threat from the hazards of too many eager tourists overriding the site’s infrastructural capacity. Additionally, they have supported the WMF’s research into the complex, ancient drainage systems of Angkor’s temples, which originally would have reduced the amount of damage to the structures, such as that which has occurred in more recent years due to rain water infiltrating weaker areas of the buildings. In allowing the WMF to rebuild these drains and encouraging them to supplement this work with restorations of nearby roof and ceiling elements based on extensive research, APSARA has made steps toward stabilizing the physical and aesthetic integrity of Angkor in a way that is congruent with sustainable preservation techniques and with UNESCO’s goals for the site, while setting a precedent that reduces the degree to which less research-based preservation decisions, such as happened under the EFEO, can occur. Any accompanying celebration in the interpretive narratives at Angkor Wat or other affected temples, as in if the tour guides were to draw visitors’ attention to what such conservation and restoration work revealed about the original site’s innovative aesthetic designs and architectural engineering, would serve to combat some of the less productive narratives to which tourists are exposed in the earlier section of their tours’ visit to Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm by easily leading into the kind of rhetoric that World Heritage status encourages.
On the other hand, APSARA’S extreme encouragement of increasing tourism over the last two decades have led to a number of other problems with mixed benefits and detractions for the local natural and cultural ecosystems of Angkor and Siem Reap. Given that appropriate protections for such ecosystems are a necessary component of sustainable tourism development, as according to David Throsby, the resulting imbalance here between sustainability and development is an obstacle to the healthy recovery of this region, at least in the way that UNESCO envisioned when it inscribed Angkor onto the World Heritage List. Primarily, manifestations of this imbalance have taken the form of rapid increases in the number of hotels and other infrastructural changes around Siem Reap for accommodating the influx of tourists, on the one hand, and inconsistent and poorly communicated zoning laws that affect traditional uses of the Angkor Site, on the other. The former of these is motivated by the predicted economic benefits that a regular tourist trade would bring to this region that had been so devastated in previous decades. The other is inspired by UNESCO’s own requirements for the physical conservation of the World Heritage Site. As a result, both of these challenges perhaps grew out of good intentions, but have not yet found a balance with the full set of conditions that make up Angkor and the reasons for its long-term significance to Cambodians, as well as to the international community.
With the listing and subsequent promotion of Angkor as a World Heritage Site, the economy of Siem Reap province has been shifting from mostly agriculture-based to labor and service intensive industries. This has dramatically increased the opportunities for job creation and raised hopes that the proximity of Angkor Archaeological Park could help bring this region out of poverty. This province was in 2011 the seventh most populated in Cambodia, and the third poorest, with over half living on less than the equivalent of USD $1 per day. Additionally, rapid in-migration from other areas in Cambodia of similarly impoverished people seeking jobs in the Angkor tourism industry has exacerbated the situation. As a result, it is easy to see why the Cambodian government would encourage APSARA’s promotion of hotel and shop development in order to provide steady incomes for all these people. This has led to a rise from twenty-three hotels and thirty-one guesthouses in Siem Reap in 1999 to one hundred and fifteen hotels and two hundred and eight guesthouses in 2008. As can be expected, available jobs in the hospitality industry have indeed increased along with the drastic growth in accommodations, but primarily only for those who already have education and specialized professional skills, meaning that most of the local inhabitants of Siem Reap continue to make very low wages, despite the overall boost in the economy. Some of the other opportunities that have arisen for new forms of income include running souvenir shops, providing cheap transportation to and around the region, doing menial labor for the hotels, restaurants, and shops around Siem Reap, working in construction on the new hotels, and being a beggar in locations where tourists frequent. One of the other options is to join the Heritage Police, whose job it is to monitor threats to preservation on the part of tourists and locals who are near to the archaeological sites, but who make a notable portion of their still-meager income from imposing illegal fines and fees on those in a number of the above mentioned low-income positions. This particular niche is clearly related directly to both the rise of tourism and the promotion of Angkor as a World Heritage Site.
However, a large number of studies that various international and Cambodian organizations have carried out over the last two decades have indicated that the economic development has yet to actually reduce the level of poverty in the region, and merely has increased the gap between the area’s rich and poor. This is problematic for the sustainable development of Siem Reap and Angkor, as it fails to satisfy Throsby’s criteria for sustainability, particularly in the form of intragenerational equity, wherein a large number of stakeholders within contemporary generations share the costs and benefits of development in a manner that improves the quality of life for many of those stakeholders, not just a small few. In addition to this, the average demographics within the local population are suffering in other ways as a result of the massive increases in accommodation around the city, including those who have continued to try making a living through agriculture. In particular, this involves potentially severe effects on the natural environment, as well as the social, due to the unsustainable amount of local water resources that these many new hotels require for the use of their guests. This water is therefore increasingly unavailable for agriculture just outside the city, for the balance of the natural ecosystem, or for use outside of hotels by the rest of the populace. As the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which had conducted master plan studies of Siem Reap’s resource usage, pointed out in 2006, the burden this places on the local water supply is quickly and unequivocally becoming unsustainable. As a result, the JICA recommended that local policymakers shift from emphasizing quantity driven tourism to quality-oriented alternatives that both reduce the stress on the physical and natural infrastructure of the region and could potentially balance out the job market in Siem Reap and Angkor. Despite all this, APSARA has struggled to keep such development in line, although it has since 2008 focused more overtly on promoting sustainable practices in a variety of fields, including water use, forest management, housing management, community agriculture, cultural landscapes, and public order.
The last major area in which Angkor has faced regular obstacles to sustainable development is the mismanagement of zoning laws that indicate different degrees of protected land throughout the Angkor complex. These laws grew out of Angkor’s status as a World Heritage Site in Danger and as a follow-up to the initial waving of most of the conditions for inscription on the World Heritage List. This follow-up process included several conditions which Cambodia had to satisfy in order to maintain Angkor’s World Heritage designation, including the need to “establish permanent boundaries… [and] define meaningful buffer zones.” Initially, the campaigns associated with these measures – most notably the “Save Angkor” campaign promoted by UNESCO‘s Federico Mayor, and by the governments of Japan and France – became “symbol[s] of national reconciliation, peace, recovered past glory, and national prestige and hope.” The zoning laws that resulted from this progressive and optimistic movement created five units around Angkor: Zone 1 for core monumental sites, Zone 2 as a buffer around protected archaeological areas, Zone 3 for protected “cultural landscapes” along rivers, Zone 4 for any archaeologically, anthropologically or historically significant sites not included in Zones 1 and 2, and Zone 5 for economic and cultural development around the region of Siem Reap. The purpose of these laws was to indicate the boundaries of areas in which the protection of natural and cultural resources was a high priority, while also promoting a limited amount of development. As a result, these zones, which are managed by APSARA and the Heritage Police, undoubtedly have some significant benefits for the protection of Angkor from continued looting or from even more damage due to development than has occurred with the excessive use of water and land for new hotels. However, these zones have not been quite effective at sustainably balancing the interests of preservation, tourism and local life, particularly due to their mimicry of zoning laws from the French colonial period, and extensive corruption or inappropriate practices on the part of APSARA and the Heritage Police.
Although rooted in concerns for the preservation of the monuments of Angkor, the former of these reasons is problematic because the model on which the modern zoning relies included heavy restrictions on local inhabitants’ abilities to continue with traditional practices that took place within the boundaries of the Angkor complex. Moreover, the modern restrictions are more thoroughly enforced, and come with heavier penalties. This affects the integrity of the cultural ecosystem that gives Angkor its significance as a living cultural landscape, which is today one of the elements that UNESCO would prefer to protect in regards to Angkor as a World Heritage Site. These rules, which affect traditional management practices of rice farming, tapping trees for resin, fruit harvesting and fishing, have reduced opportunities for agricultural-based incomes for locals residing in areas close to the Angkor complex, even though these traditional systems for resource use were not harming the Angkor monuments or infrastructure, and had reached levels that had been sustainable for centuries. The degree of restriction on such activities that APSARA imposed on the residents of Angkor reduces the diversity of the local natural and cultural ecosystems, as well as removing the intangible heritage of traditional skills and relationships with the environment that these local residents have practiced for generations and would prefer to pass on to those to come. Both of these effects are contrary to criteria that Throsby suggested as crucial for sustainable development within a destination site for cultural tourism.
There have been similar repercussions on the spiritual, social, and symbolic values that local residents have traditionally given to Angkor, and that they tried to continue as the country recovered from the disasters of the previous few decades. Specifically, worship practices around Angkor became extremely limited under APSARA and the Heritage Police, including prohibitions on acts of symbolically decorating, interacting with, and taking care of statues throughout the temples of Angkor, and praying to the Buddha, bodhisattvas, Hindu divinities, and guardian spirits of the community (neak ta) that have formed an integral component of the local culture since the early years of Angkor’s existence. Indeed, these practices serve as living memories of what constitutes the personal and communal heritage for many whose families have lived in and around Angkor for centuries. For them, this worship contributes to their sense of identity, as well as inspiring many to have developed conservation and temple maintenance skills in order to better protect these monuments with such spiritual value, beginning decades prior to the reorganization of such maintenance around the site by APSARA in the 1990s.
Despite the fact that such practices contribute to the significance of Angkor as a Heritage Site, provide the stability that comes with cultural continuity and communal purpose, and lead to locals voluntarily assisting with the valuable maintenance work needed by the massive complex, the Heritage Police have explicitly forbidden “any human interaction with the heritage site” on the part of those who are not tourists or government sanctioned conservation officials. The only way in which locals could continue actively using the lands or buildings of Angkor for any of their traditional practices was to bribe the Heritage Police, who would often intimidate villagers, caretakers of religious statues, farmers and sellers of souvenirs, and thereby extort a large portion of locals’ incomes. Although the level of these restrictions goes far beyond what UNESCO and even APSARA wanted for the zoning of Angkor – as neither of these organizations discouraged the practice of those traditions that did not harm the site – such illegal extortions by the Heritage Police have continued through at least 2010. APSARA’s bureaucratic system has not been able to stop them completely. In 2000, the Heritage Police Chief even declared that the local heritage was unimportant, and that it should be subsumed within a higher cause, such as the internationally driven tourism industry. Moreover, this Police Chief sought to promote colonial-era laws that valued freezing the past as a symbol of the presumably lost civilization of Angkor, and removing contemporary narratives of significance, both of which constitute outdated archaeological policies derived from nineteenth-century Orientalist theories on the development of “Western” civilization.” Such intentional disregard for the right of the local inhabitants to practice their traditions as long as they do not damage anything around the sites of Angkor clearly presents an obstacle to the sustainable development of this region, as it excludes a significant number of stakeholders involved in the interpretation and management of Angkor from participating in any of the traditions that have given this World Heritage Site much of its meaning over the centuries. Additionally, it violates several of the conditions that Throsby set out for a cultural heritage site like Angkor to be healthy in the long run.
The zoning restrictions on cultural practices around Angkor rely on the idea that the “foreground” that paying visitors want to experience when at the site is that of the exotic and mysterious version of Angkor that European explorers once encountered, which reinforces the hierarchy between the “frozen in time” version of the site and the more sustainable, living cultural landscape that locals have sought to keep it. This mentality has forced the impoverished residents of the region into the relative “background,” not only in terms of their traditions for interacting with the complex, but also in terms of where they live in proximity to it. This is despite the fact that UNESCO promotes Angkor as a “cultural landscape,” in which there is a dynamic relationship between man and nature. On the level of this World Heritage Site’s meta-narrative, such dismissals of local heritage in fact work against the “unity-in-diversity” value system that UNESCO supports, and therefore is counterproductive for both the healthy development of Angkor and Siem Reap, on the one hand, and the peacemaking goals that drive UNESCO’s work, on the other.
With more immediate repercussions, this dichotomy between the “foreground” and “background” of Angkor’s interpretive narrative of significance has additionally led to the forced relocation of many villagers to locations away from their sources of income, and from their traditional residences close to Angkor Archaeological Park, moving them into more isolated villages with strict rules about a façade of clean traditionalism that could entertain foreigners seeking insight into this supposedly primitive society. In areas where the old villages are allowed to remain, the effects of the laws concerning Zones 1 & 2 are particularly felt, as they include rules about maintaining the authentic version of Angkor (read as that which authorities think would most appeal to tourists). Although this could be helpful for prohibiting too much modern development close to the ancient monuments, APSARA and the Heritage Police have been very inconsistent about informing villagers of exactly where the Zones end, and what they are and are not allowed to do in those zones, with some officials being inclined to accept bribery about some activities and to enforce other rules apparently on a whim. The confusion and abuses of power that this situation has created have led to a number of residences being demolished with little warning and no remuneration; the intimidation by the Heritage Police that has accompanied such demolitions has even involved acts of torture and theft against villagers who protest or resist. This has occurred even among villages where constructions had approval from some local authority, but not from the correct branch of APSARA, a requirement that had not previously been communicated to those particular villages.
Such cases are clearly not healthy for this region to develop in a sustainable manner, as such a process should not involve the erasure of those people who are not working solely and directly for the tourism industry, but rather contribute to other elements of the diverse cultural and socioeconomic integrity of the area. The insufficient communication of the zoning laws, and the inconsistent, often sudden application of those laws to the residents of Angkor and its surrounding lands are symptoms of, at best, how far the local authorities yet need to come as part of Cambodia’s recovery in order to be working in the best interests of the communities they purport to serve. At worst, they function as one more in a long line of abusive government agencies that interfere with locals’ basic rights and with the healthy integration of Khmer society into a more globalized modern world.
All of these problems involve a tendency in the administration of Angkor to focus on a somewhat exclusive interpretation of the site’s value as heritage and for identity building: in practice, local authorities with situational power and those who bring in more money from tourists are the effective inheritors of this Site’s rich history, not either the Khmer stakeholders or the human race as a whole. The valuation of Angkor here primarily revolves around a narrative steeped in Orientalist and colonialist policies, which story does not promote Angkor as a node for sustainable development of the region on a modern scale or as a focal point for encouraging the Khmer people to unite behind their shared heritage as part of the long-term recovery process they face. Rather, the fact that UNESCO’s very welcome drive to remove the landmines and encourage the stabilization of the government has made the area safer for foreign tourists to visit than in previous years has in turn motivated those in charge of Angkor, particularly APSARA, the Heritage Police, and those constructing so many hotels around Siem Reap, to emphasize the rapid growth of the tourist trade at a rate beyond what the existing social structure and physical infrastructure can easily handle. These processes have been supported by the long-standing tradition in international treatments of Angkor to celebrate the adventure and awe-inspiring mystery that the ancient complex represented for many early European explorers in the region, which mentality does not take into account the fact that locals continued to build their cultural traditions in and around Angkor even after the Khmer Kingdom fell from power. It also does not do enough to spread the ideals of World Heritage, which UNESCO meant to increase cross-cultural respect and support the sustainable development of societies that are worthy in their own right and are part of the international community.
By making the colonial explorers’ period in Angkor’s history one of the dominant lenses affecting the interpretation of the site, administrators both local and international have insufficiently promoted the integration that has happened since between that piece of admittedly intriguing history with the more modest but still culturally significant uses of Angkor by Cambodians in more recent years. Although it is undeniable that the ancient and early-colonial histories of Angkor easily make for compelling stories that attract income-bringing tourists, it would be healthier for the community – and the Site itself – if administrators better supported local engagement with their heritage, on the one hand, and promoted curatorial narratives that included less emphasis on exploring the site and more focus on celebrating the significance of Angkor for Cambodians throughout the site’s long life. As part of that process, continued oversight needs to occur of the environmental and preservation effects that the burgeoning tourist industry imposes on Angkor and Siem Reap, as well as concerning the discrepancies between UNESCO’s social goals for Angkor as a World Heritage Site and the ways in which it is administered on the ground. The measures put in place to “save Angkor” succeeded to the point where the site has been off of the List of World Heritage in Danger for nearly a decade, luckily, but still have much to accomplish before the ancient capital of the Khmer Kingdom becomes part of a sustainable system balancing international attention and local development.
From the point of view of the physical stabilization of the temples of Angkor, relative to their fragile state in the early 1990s, the massive amount of work conducted by UNESCO, the ICC and a wide variety of conversation groups from around the world has absolutely been a success. In fact, this great amount of work has allowed Angkor to be considered “one of the most successful cases of World Heritage Sites … [due to] the conservation of monuments and sites” around the complex. In this way, the extensive involvement of UNESCO and the international community in efforts to save this undeniable exemplar of World Heritage has been a tremendous boon. However, a World Heritage Site’s success should also be measured in terms of the sustainable benefits that its elevated status accrues for the physical environment around the Site and for those who live with the Site on a daily basis. Evaluations of a Site’s achievements should also consider how well the curation of the Site communicates UNESCO and the World Heritage Centre’s goals of spreading peace through the “unity-in-diversity” value system, in considering the degree to which it respects both local and international stakeholders’ takes on the Site’s significance. As the increased international tourist attention UNESCO’s designation brought to the site has in fact led to a series of damaging complications for the cultural, environmental and socio-economic health of Angkor and its neighbors, including the effective removal of the local community from the heritage and identity narratives of Angkor, this World Heritage Site still has far to go before it will achieve that which it deserves: A sustainable environment that supports the local and national economy, protects the material and intangible heritage of the area, spreads knowledge of the significance of Angkor and the Khmer in world history, and celebrates all that truly gives Angkor its outstanding universal value for humankind, including its living cultural landscape.
Anico, Marta and Elsa Peralta. 2009. Introduction to Heritage and Identity: Engagement and Demission in the Contemporary World, edited by Marta Anico and Elsa Peralta, 1-11. New York: Routledge Press.
Baram, Uzi and Yorke Rowan. 2004. “Archaeology after Nationalism,” in Marketing Heritage, edited by Uzi Baram and Yorke Rowan, 3-23. New York: Altamira.
Coccossis, Harry. 2009. “Sustainable Development and Tourism: Opportunities and Threats to Cultural Heritage from Tourism.” In Cultural Tourism and Sustainable Local Development, edited by Luigi Fusco Gerard and Peter Nijkamp, 47-56. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing.
Fiskesjö, Magnus. 2012. Class lecture and discussion on Angkor and Tomb Raider for the course “Global Movements of Cultural Heritage.” Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. November 15, 2012.
Francioni, Francesco. 2007. “Cultural Heritage,” in informally compiled textbook for “The International Legal Framework for the Protection of Art and Cultural Property” course at The Tulane-Siena Institute for International Law, Cultural Heritage and the Arts: 2011, edited by Francesco Francioni, 1-12. Originally published in the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, edited by the Oxford University Press. Last modified March 2007. http://www.mpepil.com/ subscriber_article?script=yes&id=/epil/entries/law-9780199231690-e1392&recno=16& subject=International%20humanitarian%20law. Accessed December 10, 2011.
— 2002. “Thirty Years On: Is the World Heritage Convention Ready for the 21st Century?,” in The Italian Yearbook of International Law, vol. 12: 13-38.
Gerard, Luigi Fusco, and Peter Nijkamp. 2009. “Narrow Escapes: Pathways to Sustainable Local Cultural Tourism.” In Cultural Tourism and Sustainable Local Development, edited by Luigi Fusco Gerard and Peter Nijkamp, 1-12. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing.
Gillman, Derek. 2010. The Idea of Cultural Heritage. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Di Giovine, Michael A. 2009. The Heritage-Scape: UNESCO, World Heritage and Tourism. New York: Lexington Books.
Hauser-Schäublin, Brigitta. 2011. “New Chances for Local Farmers and Artisans? Efforts and Strategies to Change the Existing Structures of Tourism Supply in Siem Reap.” In World Heritage Angkor and Beyond: Circumstances and Implications of UNESCO Listings in Cambodia, edited by Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin, 177-202. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen.
Henderson, Joan C. 2009. “The Meanings, Marketing and Management of Heritage Tourism in Southeast Asia.” In Cultural Heritage and Tourism in the Developing World: A Regional Perspective, edited by Dallen J. Timothy and Gyan P. Nyaupane, 73-92. New York: Routledge.
Hitchcock, Michael, Victor T. King, and Michael J.G. Parnwell. 2010. “Heritage Tourism in Southeast Asia.” In Heritage Tourism in Southeast Asia, edited by Michael Hitchcock, Victor T. King, and Michael Parnwell, 1-27. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Lenzerini, Federico. 2003. “10.2 The UNESCO Declaration Concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage: One Step Forward and Two Steps Back,” in informally compiled textbook for “The Protection of Art in Times of Crisis: From War to Natural Disasters” course at The Tulane-Siena Institute for International Law, Cultural Heritage and the Arts: 2011, edited by Riccardo Pavoni and Federico Lenzerini, 205-213. Originally published in The Italian Yearbook of International Law, vol. 13: 131-145.
Lowenthal, David. 1996. Possessed by the Past: The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History. New York: Free Press, 249. Quoted in Uzi Baram and Yorke Rowan. 2004. “Archaeology after Nationalism,” in Marketing Heritage, edited by Uzi Baram and Yorke Rowan, 3-23. New York: Altamira.
Miura, Keiko. 2010. “World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia: Angkor and Beyond.” In Heritage Tourism in Southeast Asia, edited by Michael Hitchcock, Victor T. King, and Michael Parnwell, 103-129. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
— 2011. “From Property to Heritage. Different Notions, Rules of Ownership and Practices of New and Old Actors in the Angkor World Heritage Site.” In World Heritage Angkor and Beyond: Circumstances and Implications of UNESCO Listings in Cambodia, edited by Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin, 97-120. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen.
— “Sustainable Development in Angkor. Conservation Regime of the Old Villagescape and Development.” In World Heritage Angkor and Beyond: Circumstances and Implications of UNESCO Listings in Cambodia, edited by Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin, 121-146. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen.
— “World Heritage Making in Angkor. Global, Regional, National and Local Actors, Interplays and Implications.” In World Heritage Angkor and Beyond: Circumstances and Implications of UNESCO Listings in Cambodia, edited by Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin, 9-32. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen.
Neth, Baromey. 2011. “Angkor as World Heritage Site and the Development of Tourism. A Study of Tourist Revenue in the Accommodation Sector in Siem Reap-Angkor.” In World Heritage Angkor and Beyond: Circumstances and Implications of UNESCO Listings in Cambodia, edited by Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin, 147-176. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen.
Nicholas, Lynn H. 1995. The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Random House.
Online Etymology Dictionary. S.V. “Heritage.” Accessed November 30, 2012. http://www. etymonline.com/index.php?term=heritage.
Throsby, David. 2009. “Tourism, Heritage and Cultural Sustainability: Three ‘Golden Rules’.” In Cultural Tourism and Sustainable Local Development, edited by Luigi Fusco Gerard and Peter Nijkamp, 13-30. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing.
— 2010. The Economics of Cultural Policy. New York: Cambridge University Publishing.
Timothy, Dallen J. and Gyan P. Nyaupane. 2009. “Heritage Issues and Challenges in Developing Regions.” In Cultural Heritage and Tourism in the Developing World: A Regional Perspective, edited by Dallen J. Timothy and Gyan P. Nyaupane, 1-68. New York: Routledge.
Turner, Michael. 2012. “World Heritage and Sustainable Development.” UNESCO World Heritage Review 65: 8-15.
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). 1945. Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. London: UNESCO 1st General Conference, November 16, 1945.
— 1954. (The Hague) Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict with Regulations for the Execution of the Convention. The Hague: First Protocol, 14 May 1954; Second Protocol, 26 March 1999.
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— “World Heritage List: Angkor.” http://whc. unesco .org/en/list/668. Accessed December 8, 2012.
— “World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Programme.” http://whc.unesco.org/en/tourism/. Accessed December 8, 2012.
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Winter, Tim. 2003. “Tomb Raiding Angkor: A Clash of Cultures.” In Indonesia and the Malay World, 31:89, 58-68.
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— 2012. “Press Release: WMF Celebrates the Completion of Work on Angkor Wat’s Famed Churning of the Sea of Milk Gallery.” Angkor: World Monuments Fund. January 8, 2012.
 UNESCO World Heritage Centre: Angkor
 di Giovine 2009: 329
 di Giovine 2009: 31
 Neth 2011: 151
 di Giovine 2009: 311
 di Giovine 2009: 28
 di Giovine 2009: 28
 di Giovine 2009: 29
 di Giovine 2009: 29 – 31
 di Giovine 2009: 31
 di Giovine 2009: 342
 di Giovine 2009: 332 – 333
 Baram and Rowan 2004: 6
 Online Etymology Dictionary
 Gillman 2010: 21
 Anico and Peralta 2009: 1
 I.e.: Groups associated with a particular regional, national, religious, ethnic or language, etc. affiliation on one hand, or all of humankind, on the other.
 Anico and Peralta 2009: 1
 Lowenthal 1996: 6
 Gillman 2010: 91
 Anico and Peralta 2009: 1
 Anico and Peralta 2009: 2
Indeed, Anico and Peralta state that “Heritage, in this sense, is closely linked with power and is an influential device in the construction of nation-states as well as in the identity politics led by multiple groups that are globally situated.” (Anico and Peralta 2009: 1). It is important to keep in mind that innumerable instances of creation, manipulation, representation and destruction of cultural heritage stories occur at the hands of those not directly associated with a political institution. However, the way that the conception of identity constitutes a key ingredient in the transformation from merely historical object, place, story, etc. and into an item of cultural heritage makes this process inherently socio-political. (Anico and Peralta 2009: 2)
 See Nicholas 1995 for more information about the manipulation of European cultural property in World War II.
 UNESCO 1945: Preamble
 Lenzerini 2003: 134
 di Giovine 2009: 120
 di Giovine 2009: 10
 UNESCO 1954; UNESCO 1972
 UNESCO 1972
 A “State Party” is a government who ratifies and becomes participant in the agreements laid out in the document of an international Convention, similar to the signatories of a treaty.
 UNESCO 2005
 UNESCO World Heritage Centre 2012
 di Giovine 2009: 106
 Miura “World Heritage Making in Angkor” 2011: 11
 Miura “World Heritage Making in Angkor” 2011: 12
 World Monuments Fund 2011: 4
 Miura “World Heritage Making in Angkor” 2011: 13
 di Giovine 2009: 332
 UNESCO World Heritage Centre 2012: Angkor
 UNESCO 2005: IID 77
The template criteria that Angkor initially satisfied are as follows; note that they, perhaps inappropriately, do not include any of those incorporating living cultural significance or natural environmental attributes:
(i) Represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; or
(ii) Exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design; or
(iii) Bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared; or
(iv) Be an outstanding example of a type of building or architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history.
 UNESCO 1992: 37
 UNESCO 1993
 UNESCO World Heritage Centre 2012: Angkor
 Miura 2010: 106 – 107
 Turner 2012: 11
 di Giovine 2009: 4 – 5
 Miura 2010: 107
 Turner 2012: 11
 Miura 2010: 107
 Throsby 2009: 13
 Throsby 2009: 14
 Throsby 2009: 16 – 19
 Coccossis 2009: 51
 Throsby 2010: 107 – 113
 Throsby 2009: 19
 Throsby 2009: 20 – 24
 di Giovine 2009: 32 – 33
 di Giovine 2009: 302 –303
 di Giovine 2009: 41
 di Giovine 2009: 41
 di Giovine 2009: 354
 di Giovine 2009: 349
 Quoted in di Giovine 2009: 359 and elaborated on in note 66 of the same
 di Giovine 2009: 359
 di Giovine 2009: 336-340
 di Giovine 2009: 364
 The ICC’s founding purpose in 1993 was to oversee any international projects working to protect Angkor Archaeological Park once Cambodia opened up to foreign experts and advisers after the fall of the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent Vietnamese occupation. This organization is a subset of UNESCO, with the latter being the standing secretariat of the ICC. It “incorporates all the major international and domestic organizations involved in Angkor’s management. Meeting twice a year to review both technical and strategic issues relating to Angkor, the ICC’s remit revolves around two closely integrated goals: first, the conservation of the temples and surrounding area; and second, the development of the site, particularly in relation to a rapidly expanding tourism industry.” Winter 2003: 60
 Winter 2003: 63
 di Giovine 2009: 283, 346
 di Giovine 2009: 281
 di Giovine 2009: 345 – 346
 For example, in reference to a similar Angkor experience at Preah Khan in which “she climbed over the temple’s delicate rooftops, one Canadian tourist explained it made her ‘feel like Lara Croft exploring the jungled ruins of Angkor’.” Winter 2003: 65
 World Monuments Fund 2011: 4
 Winter 2003: 61
 Winter 2003: 62
 Fiskesjö 2012
 Winter 2003: 61 – 63
 Winter 2003: 64; di Giovine 2009: 320
 di Giovine 2009: 321
 Winter 2003: 66
 World Monuments Fund 2011: 4
 World Monuments Fund 2012: 1 – 2
 See the following edited books for extensive critical evaluations relevant to this part of the process in Angkor’s development as an internationally recognized heritage site: World Heritage: Angkor and Beyond: Circumstances and Implications of UNESCO Listings in Cambodia; Cultural Heritage and Tourism in the Developing World: A Regional Perspective; and Heritage Tourism in Southeast Asia. Particularly relevant articles from these books are included in this essay’s Works Cited section.
 Neth 2011: 147
 Neth 2011: 153
 Tourism expenditure in Siem Reap included about 29% of all expenses going towards accommodations and about another 26% to shopping, both of which are individually far above all other expenses, with the next closest being food and drink at 13%. As a result of the fact that this is where tourists are spending their money, these areas are in turn where local tourist agencies and development groups focus their own expenditures, and therefore where many of the available jobs arise. Neth 2011: 152
 Neth 2011: 159
 Neth 2011: 170 – 171
 Miura “World Heritage Making in Angkor” 2011: 29
 Neth 2011: 180 – 181
 Miura “World Heritage Making in Angkor”2011: 28
 Miura “World Heritage Making in Angkor” 2011: 29
 UNESCO 1993: 22
 Miura “World Heritage Making in Angkor” 2011: 14 – 15
 Miura “World Heritage Making in Angkor” 2011: 17
 Miura “From Property to Heritage” 2011: 99
 Miura “World Heritage Making in Angkor” 2011: 19
 Miura “From Property to Heritage” 2011: 100
 Miura “From Property to Heritage” 2011: 99 – 110
 Miura “From Property to Heritage” 2011: 111 – 113
 Miura “From Property to Heritage” 2011: 112 – 113
 Miura “From Property to Heritage” 2011: 113
 Miura “From Property to Heritage” 2011: 116
 Miura “From Property to Heritage” 2011: 113
 Miura “Sustainable Development in Angkor” 2011: 124 – 126
 Miura “Sustainable Development in Angkor” 2011: 130
 Miura “Sustainable Development in Angkor” 2011: 131 – 136
 Miura “Sustainable Development in Angkor” 2011: 137
 Miura “World Heritage Making in Angkor” 2011: 23
 Miura “World Heritage Making in Angkor” 2011: 30