Intro: Islamic State fighters have looted and bulldozed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, which is said to be one of the greatest archaeological and cultural treasures of world.
Located on the Tigris River south of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, Nirmud was pulled down by the Islamic State ( henceforth IS) in March 2015, using heavy military vehicles. The discovery of treasures in Nimrud’s royal tombs in late 80s was one of the 20th century’s most significant archaeological finds.
The United Nations condemned the destruction of the archaeological site of Nimrud. A statement was released by Irina Bokova, Director-General at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). She urged all cultural institutions, museums, journalists, archaeologists and historians to share and explain the importance of the Mesopotamian civilisation. In Iraq, black market dealers are coming into areas controlled by the IS to snap up items, according to Qais Hussein Rashid, head of the state-run Museums Department. According to Rashid, heavy damage has been inflicted at Kalhu (Ancient Nimrud that was built by Assyrian monarch Ashurnasirpal II). The palace walls lined with reliefs were sliced by IS militants into small parts and marketed.
In January, IS militants ransacked the Central Library of Mosul, taking around 2,000 books—leaving only Islamic texts. Later they made a bonfire out of hundreds of books on science and culture, destroying them in the presence of students. In February, the IS launched photos, showing them with sledgehammers, chisels and videos destroying ancient artifacts at the museum in Mosul which they referred to as idols. Militants used sledgehammers and drills to smash and destroy several large statues, which were then shown chipped and in pieces. At an archaeological site in Mosul, there was ruthless destruction of a colossal winged-bull—an Assyrian protective deity—that dates to the 7th century B.C. They also destroyed Nirgal Gate, one of several gates to Ninevah, the onetime capital of the Assyrian Empire. The intolerance of IS towards Jahili (Pre –Islamic) antiquities has been pointed out by Dr. Hafed Walda, deputy ambassador to Permanent Libyan Delegation to UNESCO. Sufi shrines of Libya in the city of Zlitan, and the Karamanli mosque in Tripoli have been attacked in 2012. Earlier in 2006, militants bombed a thousand year old Shia mosque in the Iraqi city of Samarra and another ancient Shia mosque in Baghdad was blasted by suicide attackers.
The region currently under IS control in Iraq has nearly 1,800 of Iraq’s 12,000 registered archaeological sites. Among the most important sites under the militants’ control are four ancient cities – Ninevah, Kalhu, Dur Sharrukin and Ashur – which were at different times the capital of the Assyrian Empire. It was not an isolated event. According to an estimate in 2005 by Sami Angawi, an expert on Islamic architecture, at least 300 historic buildings were demolished over the previous 50 years. In early March 2001, Taliban destroyed unique Buddha statues carved on the face of Hindukush Mountains at Bamiyan in Afghanistan using dynamites, rocket launchers and tanks. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and International Council of Museums (ICOM) which appealed against the wanton destruction of Bamiyan, alerted the world on illicit trade of antiquities from Afghanistan. The Kabul museum was under constant attacks under shelling and rocket fire. In September 2008, the Taliban twice tried to blow up 7th century Buddhist relics in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. Even in Taxila museum, situated at the classical site of Takshasila, the local administration has warned about a possible attack on the museum according to Abdul Nasir Khan, curator of the museum.
In February 2013, officials confirmed that up to 2,000 manuscripts at Mali’s Ahmed Baba Institute had been destroyed or looted during a 10-month occupation of Timbuktu in Africa by Islamist fighters. In Syria, looting of archaeological sites has increased tenfold according to Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria's director-general of antiquities and museums. The IS has demolished relics, destroying several Assyrian-Period statues looted from the site Tell Ajaja. The 2,300-year-old city of Dura Europos overlooking the Euphrates is being pillaged. The village of Sheran in Syria was taken as a military base for their operations by Islamic State. The region has extensive archaeological sites, such as ruins of the Assyrian city of Hedato. The Kurdish researcher and historian Mohsin Seida appealed to international organisations to protect the cultural heritage of Syria destroyed by the Islamic State. Sheran was explored by British archeologist Francis Chesney, in 1835, and the Ottoman artist and director of Istanbul Museum, Hamdi Bey, as well as the German archaeologists Max Oppenheim.
Numerous Coptic churches have been destroyed in Egypt and Nigeria. Hundreds of manuscripts burnt. In 2011, St. George Coptic Church in Edfu in Egypt was torched by militants. The IS blasted up the Assyrian Green Church, in the Iraqi city of Tikrit in 2014. It is one of the oldest Christian churches in the Middle East, belonging to 700AD. The IS has destroyed churches, in the provinces of Kirkuk and Nineveh, including the tombs of the prophets Jonah, George, Daniel as well as a number of ancient churches in the provinces of Salahuddin and Nineveh.
In March 2015, Islamic State militants destroyed ancient remains of the 2,000-year-old city of Hatra, UNESCO world heritage site in northern Iraq. Hatra dates back 2,000 years to the Seleucid Empire which controlled a large part of the ancient world conquered by Alexander. Director general of the United Nations cultural body UNESCO, Irina Bokova, condemned the reported wanton destruction of the ancient city. Mari, an ancient city located on the west bank of the Euphrates River in Deir el-Zour province has been ruthlessly looted by IS. The militants also ravaged monumental statues of human-headed winged bulls that once guarded the entrance to Nineveh, the capital of the neo-Assyrian empire from about 700 B.C.
India has a history of losing its prestigious monuments to the forefathers of the contemporary IS. These archaeological monuments to name a few, range from Taxila and Somnath in the west to Nalanda, Vikramasila and Odantapuri in the east. In January 2011, Communist fellow traveler Professor Amartya Sen wrote in The Hindu that “Nalanda was violently destroyed in an Afghan attack led by the ruthless conqueror, Bhakthiyar Khilji in 1193”. The Indian left historians who respond against cultural onslaughts that suit their political framework are virtually silent on the destruction of Nirmud city. Rather than the event ignored, it is an orchestrated silence .Who will forget Communist China’s destruction of hundreds of Buddhist monastries and temples and looting of their priceless antiquities in Tibet?
Dr BS Harishankar (The writer a senior Archaeological Researcher)