Thursday 5 March 2015

ISIL Now Turns Attention to Nimrud

A sprawling 3,000-year-old ancient site lies on the river Tigris near the modern-day Assyrian village of Noomanea in Nineveh Province in northern Iraq. This was the ancient Assyrian city of Kalhu [known as Calah (Kalakh) in the Bible], named Nimrud by archeologists (after the Biblical Nimrod, a legendary hunting hero). Sadly, ISIL have now begun attacking this site using bulldozers, Iraq’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities reports in a statement posted on its website on Thursday.
"The terrorist group has “assaulted the historic city of Nimrud and razed it with heavy vehicles”, the ministry says. According to the AFP, an Iraqi antiquities official speaking on the condition of anonymity said that the attack started after noon prayers and that some of the trucks may also have been used to haul away artefacts, but the extent of the damage could not yet be assessed. An official speaking to Al-Jezeera said that the winged-bull lamassu statues at the gates of the palace of Ashurnasirpal II had been smashed. 
(source: Helen Stoilas, 'Islamic State extremists hit 3,000-year-old city of Nimrud with bulldozers' The Art Newspaper 05 March 2015). This follows the attacks on museum objects and antiquities in Mosul and Nineveh thirty kilometres to the northwest last week, and the demolition of Tal Afar to the west in January (here and here). These sites are all in the NE cusp of ISIL-held territory in Nineveh (Mosul) province where a lot of the recent monument destruction has been going on. “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. “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.    It called on the United Nations Security Council to come to Iraq’s aid. Quite clearly, ISIL is determined to eradicate the cultural ties to the multi-cultural past  of the area, as a UNESCO put it, “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”.

The extent of the damage is not yet known. The main tell of the site is 700m x 400m but the lower city is much more extensive. Perhaps the destroyers are targeting the upstanding monuments such as the palaces of Ashurnasirpal II, Shalmaneser III, and Tiglath-Pileser III and their reliefs and lamassu figures. 
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, [...] the site was partly safeguarded by its remote location, and until now, its major structures were in good condition. [...]  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.” 
Anne Barnard, 'ISIS Attacks a Major Archaeological Site in Iraq'. New York Times March 5, 2015.

UPDATE 6.3.15

On Saturday, residents of Mosul and Nineveh Province offered new details about the destruction of Nimrud by ISIL.
Salim al-Jabouri, who lives just across the Tigris River from Nimrud, a sprawling, ancient mud-brick city, recalled being startled to see bulldozers and other construction vehicles entering the site recently. He fetched binoculars to watch more closely, he said, and saw men he believed to be members of the Islamic State get out of cars and armored vehicles, walk closer to the ruins and “start bulldozing them completely.” Capt. Mohammad al-Lahaibi, a police officer in Mosul, said it had taken the militants three hours to destroy the site. Other residents said that before the bulldozing, the militants had begun removing objects and causing damage. Gov. Atheel al-Nujaifi of Nineveh said in a recent statement that the group was also looting the sites for artifacts to sell, despite its declarations that the objects violate Islamic law. “ISIS tries to disguise the looting of Iraq artifacts,” he said. “What has been destroyed so far is not more than what has been looted.”
Source: Anne Barnard, 'Jihadists May Have Wrecked an Ancient Iraqi Site', New York Times March 7th 2015

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