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Islamic State and Destruction of ancient heritage cities in Iraq, Syria.

Detail of an Assyrian relief from Nimrud showing horses and horsemen of the royal chariot. Image Courtesy: Google

Islamic State militants have destroyed artifacts from several millennia of human coexistence and steadily eroded one of the richest and most diverse cultural landscapes in the world.

In 10 months, various UNESCO archaeological heritage sites in Iraq and Syria, in Western and central Iraq controlled by ISIS  have been destructed to rubble.

Following are the cities and ancient sites  fell to the destruction by ISIS.

Nimrud:

ISIS destroying artefacts at Nimrud, Iraq. Source: Google
ISIS destroying artefacts at Nimrud, Iraq.
Source: Google
  • The artefacts at the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in northern Iraq were destructed by the ISIS in March 2015.
  • 30 km of south of Mosul in Nineveh Province, this Assyrian city is situated.
  • It was founded in 1250 BC.
  • The city is Identified as Calah in Bible and was a capital that peaked between 900 BC and 612 BC.
  • The ancient city was first described in detail by archaeologists in 1820 and was plundered by western explorers and officials over subsequent decades. It was also looted and damaged during the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

Hatra:

Ancient City of Hatra, Iraq. Source: Google
Ancient City of Hatra, Iraq.
Source: Google
  • Hatra dates back 2,000 years to the Seleucid empire, which controlled a large part of the ancient world conquered by Alexander the Great.
  • The city is located to 100km Southwest of Mosul, founded in 300BC.
  • It is UNESCO world heritage site since 1985.
  • It was a silk route centre with Greek and Roman architecture.
  • The ancient fortress city of Hatra, an important Parthian city, preserved behind double-wall fortification occupied by IS in Mid-2014 and began demolishing the ruins in March 2015.
  • The city withstood attacks by the Roman Empire before falling in the third century to the Persian Sassanid Empire.

Mosul Museum:

  • Mosul located at 400 km north of Baghdad, is Iraq’s second-biggest city.
  • This museum has 173 antiquities and is Iraq’s second-largest museum.
  • It contained large statues from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hatra as well as artifacts from the archaeological sites of the governorate of Ninevah.

Mosul Library:

Mosul Library: Source: Google
Mosul Library:
Source: Google
  • Located in the Northern Iraq had collection reportedly included 18th-century manuscripts and Ottoman-era books.
  • Thousands of books and rare manuscripts were burnt.

Jonah’s tomb:

Jonah's tomb in Mosul, Iraq blown up by ISIS. Image Courtesy: Google
Jonah’s tomb in Mosul, Iraq blown up by ISIS.
Image Courtesy: Google

The tomb of the prophet Jonah in Mosul was also destroyed.

The tomb was inside a Sunni mosque called the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus, which is Arabic for Jonah, in Mosul.

The holy site is said to be the burial-place of the prophet Jonah, who was swallowed by a whale or great fish in the Islamic and Judeo-Christian traditions. Biblical scholars are divided on whether the tomb in Mosul actually belonged to Jonah. In the Jewish tradition, he returns to his hometown of Gath-Hepher after his mission to Nineveh.

Palmyra:

Historic remains of Greek-roman architecture at Palmyra city, Syria. Image Courtesy: Google
Historic remains of Greek-roman architecture at Palmyra city, Syria.
Image Courtesy: Google
  • Recently, ISIS has got Ancient City of Palmyra in Syria under its control.
  • Located at the Oasis in the Syrian desert 215 km northeast of Damascus.
  • First mentioned in archives of Mari in 2nd Millennium BC.
  • It is home to monumental ruins of a great Roman city and one of the most important cultural centres of ancient world.
  • The important UNESCO monuments the ancient city of Bosra, the eighth-century Great Mosque of Aleppo and the 11th-century Crac des Chevaliers  a Crusader castle are located in the city and nearby area.

Why ISIS is destroying this historical  sites?

  • IS militants have justified their act of destruction by saying, “We were ordered by our prophet to take down idols and destroy them, and the companions of the prophet did this after this time when they conquered countries.” Whenever we take control of a piece of land, we remove the symbols of polytheism and spread monotheism in it.”
  • Worship places of Shias, Yazidis, Kurds, Christians have also fall pray to destruction by ISIS.
  • However, other than this religious angle, ISIS have also been making money to support its control by selling of ancient artefacts in international black market.
  • In many cases, IS simply allows looting to take place in the areas it controls and then takes a cut of the profits, particularly when the items are smuggled into Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon.
  • IS seeks to use the angry international reaction to tell the local population that the West does not really care about them, it cares only for the idols.
  • It could also be intended as combat strategy: as the Iraqi forces work with their international collaborators, the IS may be trying to provoke them into coming in a certain direction. Or, the militants, by their scorched earth policy, may be trying to deflect attention from the losses they have suffered in Tikrit. 

Regions under ISIS control:

Regions under ISIS control. Source: Institute for the Study of War.
Regions under ISIS control.
Source: Institute for the Study of War.

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