The Destruction of Antiquities in Iraq

As ISIS uses bulldozers and sledgehammers to destroy priceless antiquities in Iraq, we talk with McGuire Gibson, a professor at The University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations who is one of the world’s leading authorities on ancient Mesopotamia, about what is being lost. 

Late last month, PBS NewsHour reported Islamic State militants destroyed centuries-old artifacts in a museum in Mosul by knocking them to the floor and using sledgehammers and jackhammers to reduce them to rubble.

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In a video released by the Islamic State, a man is said to have stated the following through a translator:

“To all Muslims, these statues are idols of the people in previous centuries which were worshipped other than God. God almighty says: ‘And we sent a messenger to you just to reveal that no God but I, so worship me.’

The prophet ordered us to get rid of statues and relics, and his companions did the same when they conquered countries after him.”

Watch PBS NewsHour's Feb. 27 report on the Islamic State’s violent rampage through a museum in Mosul destroying antiquities.

The destruction of artifacts at the Mosul Museum is just the latest in a string of such acts by the Islamic State since its invasion of northern Iraq last summer.

In July 2014, a video was reportedly released showing the explosion of Jonah’s Tomb, which was located inside the Sunni mosque called the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus, according to CNN.

Watch a video allegedly showing the explosion of Jonah’s Tomb in Mosul.

The Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said the Islamic State razed the site of the ancient Assyrian capital, Nimrud (which is about 19 miles south of Mosul) last week

In response to the reports of destruction to historical artifacts and archaeological sites, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova issued a statement about the damage.

“We cannot remain silent. The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime. I call on all political and religious leaders in the region to stand up and remind everyone that there is absolutely no political or religious justification for the destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage,” said Bokova. “I call on all of those who can, especially youth, in Iraq and elsewhere, to do everything possible to protect this heritage, to claim it as their own, and as the heritage of the whole of humanity.”

It’s also been reported that Islamic State militants have destroyed the Assyrian city of Khorsabad and Hatra, which was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 by UNESCO and was the capital of the first Arab kingdom. 

“The destruction of Hatra marks a turning point in the appalling strategy of cultural cleansing underway in Iraq,” said Bokova and Dr Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, Director General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), in a joint statement. "This is a direct attack against the history of Islamic Arab cities, and it confirms the role of destruction of heritage in the propaganda of extremists groups. 

“With this latest act of barbarism against Hatra, Daesh [Islamic State] shows the contempt in which it holds the history and heritage of Arab people, which had been rightly recognized as a World Heritage site.

"UNESCO and ISESCO are fully mobilized to respond to this emergency and stand ready to assist the Iraqi authorities in any possible way.”

View a slideshow of artifacts at The Oriental Institute that are similar to those being destroyed by the Islamic State.

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