Monday, March 09, 2015

ISIS continues its desecration of the past

THE ANTIQUITIES DEPREDATIONS OF ISIS IN IRAQ are coming so fast now that they are hard to keep up with. Here are some recent articles.

ISIS' destruction of biblical Iraq: A bitter irony of history. Nineveh has come full circle: After 2,700 years, the gleeful destroyer was itself destroyed. And now Hatra and Nimrud are gone too (Julia Fridman, Haaretz).
Within days, militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria destroyed three extraordinary cultural heritage sites in Iraq going back thousands of years: Nineveh, Hatra and Nimrud. For the ancient Assyrian capitals, their wanton destruction was a tragically ironic turn of events, given that their rulers, some 2,700 years ago, had been among the most brutal and destructive the region had known.

The destruction of cultural heritage by an occupier is nothing new. There is even a term for it: Urbicide, the destruction of an urban center in order to erase its memory for future generations.

The rulers of Nineveh, which fell first, then Nimrud and now, Hatra had done their share of destruction – records of which they proudly left behind, including in the form of wall art.

Though while ISIS seems to be following the Assyrians' rule book, whether in ignorance, irony or specifically to mimic long-gone great rulers, they do not cavil at selling antiquities they loot. In fact this is apparently a major source of funding for the group.

UNESCO: ISIS Antiquities Destruction in Iraq a 'War Crime.' UNESCO calls on ICC, UN Security Council to prosecute ISIS over destruction of antiquities in Nimrud, Iraq as 'war crime' (Arutz Sheva).
The head of UNESCO condemned on Friday the destruction of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in Iraq by the Islamic State group, saying it amounted to a "war crime."

"I condemn with the strongest force the destruction of the site at Nimrud," Irina Bokova said in a statement.

Islamic State militants bulldoze ancient Nimrud ruins as idolatrous (Reuters).
Islamic State fighters have looted and bulldozed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, the Iraqi government said, in their latest assault on some of the world’s greatest archaeological and cultural treasures.

A tribal source from the nearby city of Mosul told Reuters the ultra-radical Sunni Islamists, who dismiss Iraq’s pre-Islamic heritage as idolatrous, had pillaged the 3,000-year-old site on the banks of the Tigris river, once capital of the world’s most powerful empire.

Hatra, city featured in The Exorcist, destroyed by ISIS (Leslie Eastman, Legal Insurrection Blog). I didn't know about the connection with The Exorcist, but I have noted Hatra's importance in late-antique Aramaic-speaking Silk Road culture here and here.

And finally, what might come next:

Libyan Antiquities Feared as Next ISIS Target (Susan Raab,Nonprofit Quarterly). Excerpt:
Stating that “ISIS holds an intolerance towards items that are deemed jahili (pre-Islamic) and antiquities that depict humans,” Dr. Hafed Walda, the pending deputy ambassador to the permanent Libyan delegation at UNESCO, has said “Their eyes are on big museums which have fine collections of Greek and Roman sculptures…. This, coupled with the fact that ISIS’s power has grown substantially in Libya, particularly along the Mediterranean coastline, has brought the group closer to sites of historical significance.”

Among the sites cultural and government leaders believe are most vulnerable in Libya are the ancient Roman theatre, Leptis Magna, just outside of Tripoli; the coastal town of Sabratha, a former Phoenician trading post with the remains of an amphitheater, temples and a basilica; and the archaeological site of Cyrene, considered one of the most impressive Greco-Roman sites in the world. ISIS militants have also proclaimed the city of Misrata, which houses a museum, a Roman forum, and a great basilica, as one of their primary targets.
Background here and here and links.

UPDATE: Judith Weingarten has more on Hatra: ELEGY FOR HATRA: The City of the Sun God.