Officials worldwide are denouncing the destruction of archaeological sites and cultural heritage that Islamic State militants have been causing since last week. People acknowledged in outrage how, on March 5, Islamic State jihadists bulldozed and looted Iraq’s ancient city of Nimrud, a world-famous archaeological site.
The unprecedented act has met stern condemnation from a wide array of public figures, ranging from UN institutions to government officials or religious heads. Iraq, who first reported the crime, was also one of the first nations to react. In a statement released late Thursday by the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, it was said the Islamic State continues to “defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity”, marking the heavy blow that was dealt to the country‘s pre-Islamic cultural heritage.
Although the Islamic State didn’t immediately claim responsibility for the incident, and there was no way it could be verified from other sources, it came just a week after an ISIL video was released showing jihadists destroying ancient Assyrian artifacts in a museum in Mosul, a city about 30 kilometers from Nimrud. The minister’s statement was quickly followed on Friday by a joint Iraqi officials and lawmakers denouncement.
Some of them even urged international military intervention to preserve the country’s impressive ancient heritage. Qassim al-Sudani, a ministry spokesman said Friday that the whole world is responsible for letting the Islamic State wage war “on the past as much as on the present”, and that “the current situation is linked to a military solution only.” Haneen al-Qaddo, a parliamentarian representing the Nineveh province, a province rich in ancient Assyrian archeology and artwork, explicitly designated the US-led coalition (that has been conducting air-strikes against ISIL since August last year) to do so, warning that the Islamic State “aims to wipe out civilization in this country.”
The bulldozing was labeled by the UN as a “war crime”. The spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon added in a March 6 statement that it represents an “attack on humanity as a whole.” UNESCO’s director-general, the UN cultural agency, Irina Bokova was set to met the Secretary General to discuss the demolition of Nimrud. In an earlier statement, she made a call for unity on both political and religious heads in the region against, in her own words, “this barbarity”.
Egypt’s al-Azhar institution, the leading authority in Sunni Islam, named the incident “evil” and stressed that the destruction on cultural heritage is forbidden in Islam. Al-Azhar followed by calling for solidarity in the Muslim world to cooperate against ISIL and other extremist groups.
Irina Bokova alerted prosecutors in the International Criminal Court for urgent measures on the situation. Iraqi officials claim they have no way of reaching the region now controlled by ISIL to protect the archeological values, although the liberation of Mosul, the main base of operations for the Islamic group, is the main priority on the Iraqi government’s agenda.
Why is the Islamic State doing this ?
First of all, it isn’t completely unprecedented for cultural heritage to be lost in conflict areas. Throughout history, many wars have resulted in the damaging or complete destruction of artifacts and sites of cultural relevance. However, what makes ISIL special, so to speak, what definitively makes their actions a war crime,is their determination in deliberately and systematically annihilating the country’s cultural heritage.
Since the summer of 2014, when they occupied the area, the Islamic stated has started exterminating holy sites. They first set explosives at the the Mosque of the Prophet Jonah, in July 2014, completely bringing the building down. Earlier this year, they announced their intention to destroy pre-Islamic artifacts, and reports in the media started flowing about thousands of books and manuscripts destroyed by militants in Mosul’s libraries. Recently, ISIL declared an intention to destroy the restored city gates in Nineveh. Last week, the Mosul museum video showed militants with sledgehammers destroying statues and other Akkadian artifacts.
Citing a Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official, BBC also brings reports of some Islamic State militants that have begun destroying the ruins of the ancient city of Hatra. A 2,000 year old city founded by the Parthian Empire, Hatra is located 110 km south-west of Mosul and is a UNESCO world heritage site. Said Mamuzini noted that militants had started destroying the site with shovels.
The rationale behind Islamic State’s anti-cultural policy resides in their religious interpretation. In the announcement they made at the beginning of the year, ISIS said the reason they have engaged in the annihilation of pre-Islamic cultural heritage is because it offends their religious views. The museum video they released last week claimed the shrines and artifacts represent idolatry, they are blasphemous and must be destroyed.
Nimrud was considered one of the greatest archeological findings of the 20th century, since the discovery of a collection of ancient jewels there in 1988. It has served as the Assyrian capital for almost two centuries and is widely regarded as an important crossroads among pre-Islamic civilizations.
Many of its artifacts were moved to museums in Mosul, Baghdad, Paris, or London. But the carved-stone reliefs and the lamassu statues (colossal winged bulls with human heads) could not be moved and remained on the site. Lately, art collectors in London have reported seeing looted items from these areas appearing in the British capital.
“Put an end to this catastrophe”
Iraqi forces and its allies are battling to regain control of the northern part of the country from ISIL. A major military operation set to recapture the town of Tikrit, north of Baghdad. Recent Pentagon reports say that Iraqi army, supported by Kurdish forces, Sunni tribes and Shiite militias have successfully driven Islamic state out of the town of al-Baghdadi, a strategic point from where the Jihadists threatened a US military base. The U.S.-led coalition delivered “precise and effective” airstrikes on Islamic State targets in support of the Iraqis.
The Mosul museum attack and the destruction of Nimrud and Hatra sparked global outrage. Last week, in what can be considered an act of defiance against the terrorists, Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad opened its doors to the public for the first time in more than a decade, putting a number of Mesopotamia artifacts back on display. The military struggle against the Islamic State has thus expanded on a cultural level.
As UNESCO director-general Ms. Bokova said, “at stake is the survival of culture and society”, making an appeal to the “entire international community to put an end to this catastrophe”.
Image Source: TheNational
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