ISIS Attacks Nimrud, a Major Archaeological Site in Iraq

March 21, 2015

Filed under: World News, Writings

BAGHDAD — The Islamic State militant group attacked the ancient archaeological site of Nimrud in northern Iraq and damaged it with heavy vehicles, Iraq’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said Thursday.

It was the latest in a series of attacks on ancient structures and artifacts in Syria and Iraq that the group has destroyed in the name of its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Last week, Islamic State militants videotaped themselves destroying statues and artifacts in the Mosul Museum and at the Nergal Gate entryway to ancient Nineveh. The militants captured the city during its offensive blitz through much of Iraq last June. “The terrorist gangs of ISIS are continuing to defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity after they committed a new crime that belongs to its idiotic series,” the ministry said in a statement on its Facebook page, referring to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh.

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Nimrud is the sprawling site of a city founded by the Assyrian King Shalamansar I, who died in 1245 B.C. Among the most impressive objects at Nimrud are the colossal statues known as “lamassu,” mythological creatures that depict either lions or winged bulls with bearded human heads. Pairs of the 17-ton statues are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum.
Many of the massive Nimrud statues remain buried at the site. But the ISIS video from the Mosul Museum clearly shows at least one statue from Nimrud being defaced. And the site has many areas that archaeologists have not yet explored.

George C. Papagiannis, the Unesco world heritage officer in charge in Iraq from 2009 to 2011, said the loss of any artifacts from Nimrud was a dark blow to historical preservation. “These extremists are trying to destroy the entire cultural heritage of the region in an attempt to wipe the slate clean and rewrite history in their own brutal image,” he said.

He added that Nimrud was recently nominated by the Iraqi government to be placed on Unesco’s list of world heritage sites, locations chosen for their “universal value.”

Ihsan Fethi, a member of the Iraqi Architects Society, said, “I cannot even describe the immensity of this loss.” He added, “This is one of the most famous and probably one of the most important sites in the world.”

Nimrud is also famous for its bas-reliefs and steles that depict scenes of war and hunting as well as fantastical figures like bird-headed genies. Many of those are in museums. As well, Nimrud was the site of extensive excavations that yielded carved ivory, jewelry, crowns and other artifacts that are stored in the archaeological museum in Baghdad, which in recent days reopened to the public.

But the Nimrud site itself has suffered since the United States-led invasion in 2003, when it was virtually abandoned as Iraqi state structures collapsed. Looters stole and damaged many sculptures. However, Mr. Fethi said, the site was partly safeguarded by its remote location, and until now, its major structures were in good condition.

“Leaving these gangs without punishment will encourage them to eliminate human civilization entirely, especially the Mesopotamian civilization, which cannot be compensated,” the ministry added in its statement.

ISIS Attacks Nimrud, a Major Archaeological Site in Iraq

It called on the United Nations Security Council to come to Iraq’s aid.

The destruction also comes on the heels of several years of wholesale ransacking of Syria’s ancient sites by many parties in the country’s chaotic conflict.

Mohammad Rabia Chaar, a Syrian writer and journalist now living in Belgium, said he had returned to Syria to support the uprising against Bashar al-Assad but became disillusioned in part because of the looting and destruction, and was eventually driven out by threats from Islamic State militants, before they in turn were largely driven from that province last year.

”Go and see Idlib, how all the ancient hills have been destroyed and looted, how bulldozers are digging.” he said. “The feeling of sickness is growing more and more, day after day, against these imperialist Muslims. Daesh wants people with no memory, with no history, with no culture, no past, no future.”

He said that while human lives were worth more than statues, erasing history and civilization was “killing them not physically but because of their thoughts.”

Omar Al-Jawoshy contributed reporting from Baghdad, Tom Mashberg from New York, and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon.