ISIS and the Decimation of a Culture

“ISIS and the Decimation of a Culture”

by Eileen Toplansky via “American Thinker

In the foreword to Catastrophe: The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past, Gil J. Stein, director of the Oriental Institute, writes that “when we think of the awful consequences of war, the deaths of the soldiers and civilians always remind us that futures have been destroyed[.]  But war in the third millennium AD has brought us an entirely new and different horror – the destruction of an entire past.”

In 2003, the world’s attention was focused on the looting of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad.  The 15,000 stolen artifacts had, for the most part, been “scientifically excavated and carefully recorded and identified by trained professional archaeologists and museum staff.”  Thus, there existed the scientific knowledge of their archaeological context, or a means to reconstruct “how an ancient civilization developed and functioned.”

Archaeological context refers to the “immediate material surrounding an artifact such as gravel, clay, or sand; its provenience or horizontal and vertical position within the material; and its association with other artifacts.”  But once an artifact is ripped from the ground by looters and/or terrorists, context and association with other artifacts is irretrievably lost.  In essence, the wholesale destruction of the artifacts being stolen or totally demolished results in a “creeping annihilation of an entire culture.”

As a result of the looting of the Iraqi National Museum, a web-accessible database was established to document the destruction and theft of the artifacts.  The database is accessible here.  Though “as many as 5,000 objects were reported to have been recovered[,]” other pieces will “remain difficult if not impossible to recover.”

Fast-forward to ISIS, that “JV” organization that Obama so nonchalantly dismissed.  How is it being financed?  What does an Islamic caliphate have to do with the wholesale destruction of historical and cultural artifacts?  And are we seeing an instant replay of Nazi looting of museums less than a hundred years later vis-à-vis Islamic jihadists?

According to the Guardian, in June 2014, the seizure of 160 computer flash sticks that “included names and noms de guerre of all foreign fighters, senior leaders and their code words, initials of sources inside ministries and full accounts of the group’s finances” was a key discovery into the workings of ISIS.”  Amazingly, in a mere three days, “ISIS [had] seized control of Mosul and Tikrit.”  Before Mosul, ISIS cash and assets were $875M.  After ISIS robbed banks and looted military supplies, total cash and assets rose to $1.5B.

ISIS’s massive cash flow comes from the “oilfields of eastern Syria which it had captured in 2012, the smuggling of raw materials pillaged from the crumbling state, as well as priceless antiquities from archaeological digs.”


Islamic State Raids Biblical City of Ninevah, Sells Ancient Treasures For Millions

Islamic State Raids Biblical City of Ninevah, Sells Ancient Treasures For Millions

by Thomas D. Williams via “Breitbart

The sale of archaeological treasures from the Biblical city of Nineveh and the surrounding territory is becoming one of the main sources of funding of the Islamic State in Kurdistan as well as in Syria, according to reports by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

A USB stick recovered from an Islamic State militant by Iraqi intelligence in August documents the value of revenues on the black market at $32 million. Among the items for sale: hundreds of headstones, inscriptions, mosaics, and adornments.

According to Qais Hussein Rasheed, head of the state-run Museums Department in Iraq, black market dealers are entering areas under Islamic State control to buy these items.

In their zeal to destroy what they consider to be heresy, Islamic State militants have demolished many artifacts but they are cashing in at the same time, extracting valuable relics to sell on the international black market.

Profiting from religious artifacts represents a curious double game. On the one hand, the precepts of Wahhabism, a fundamentalist Islamic sect, require the destruction of every object of worship not directed to Allah. This has justified the demolition of churches, mosques, and tombs, and has been carried out with maximum media exposure.

On the other hand—this time without advertising it—the same IS leaders are now either selling artifacts directly or granting access to occupied archeological zones to teams of professional looters. They then split the revenues from the plunder according to the Islamic law of Khums: a fifth of the spoils must be paid to God, ie, the Islamic state.

The Turkish border is only a few hours away with Western brokers waiting to transfer the artifacts to the major black art markets: London, New York, and Tokyo. . . . .


The Islamic State and the Cultural Destruction of Iraq

The Islamic State and the Cultural Destruction of Iraq

by Hadani Ditmars via “Middle East Eye

Iraq’s monuments have borne witness to and shared the hardships of the country’s long-suffering people

The latest in the surrealist horror show that the nightly news on Iraq has become offers a rich narrative – at least for a writer working on a political travelogue of ancient sites. Once again, the Mongol hordes are at the gates.

After destroying statues of a poet and a musician in Mosul, Islamic State (IS) now threatens to destroy the 2nd-century BC city of Hatra, and UNESCO has sounded the alarm about one of their world heritage sites at risk.

The Director-General of Unesco, Irina Bokova, said earlier this week, “I call on all actors to refrain from any form of destruction of cultural heritage, including religious sites. Their intentional destruction are war crimes and a blow against the Iraqi people’s identity and history.”

In one of many ironies, this well preserved example of a Parthian city that has survived centuries of imperial intrigue and invasions may fall victim to a group of angry- yet well organized and funded- young men, drunk on brutality, wired on ideology run amok, galvanized by decades of war and injustice

Hatra has more recently served as a film set for the 1973 production of the Exorcist, in which a priest discovers a talisman belonging to an ancient demon and brings it back to the US, where it possesses a young American girl.

While it’s not difficult to ascertain that the disastrous invasion of 2003 has unleashed more than it’s fair share of vindictive spirits of which IS is only one- Iraq’s ancient sites- as its people- have been long-suffering.

Iraq’s monuments bear witness to and share in the hardships of her people. After years of war and occupation, historic sites have been badly damaged and neglected. While the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan was universally condemned, outrage about the destruction of Iraqi and indeed world heritage (not to mention the fate of Iraq’s people) has been somewhat restrained.

As Muwafaq al Taei  – who was an architect under Saddam but an unrepentant communist who was simultaneously lionized and spied upon by the ancien regime and then almost killed by US troops after the invasion – (and my erstwhile travel companion on my journey to Iraq’s ancient sites) always says, ‘you have to understand the past to make sense of the present.’

I was inspired to write my next book Ancient Heart when Muafaq took me on a tour of sacred sites in Baghdad, in the midst of sectarian war zones, garbage dumps and displaced people’s camps. It reminded me of the last scene in Planet of the Apes, when Charlton Heston sees the Statue of Liberty half-submerged on the beach.

As I write this I am looking at a map of ancient sites in Iraq. Most maps of Iraq in the popular imagination are divided into three neat sectarian sections, or filled with bullet point punctuations on the evening news.

I am convinced of the power of this map. If applied correctly, it may just transform people’s consciousness. I want people to see Iraq for what it is- whether American generals or IS commanders – to recognize the depth and soul of the land they invaded, not just as another terrorized place to be abandoned but as part of our world heritage.

My map shows Ur, the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham and the home of the Sumerian ziggurat.  Saddam stationed a military base nearby, as did the invading Americans who added a strategically placed Burger King. It was once a temple to the moon god Nanna, and many moons later, its adjoining town of Nasiriyah site of the Shiah uprising, encouraged by George Bush Senior and then brutally repressed by the regime, while the US stood by.


Tug-of-War Erupts Over Planned Return of Jewish Archives to Iraq

“Tug-of-War Erupts Over Planned Return of Jewish Archives to Iraq”

by Sylvia Westall and Jonathan Saul via “Reuters

“Jewish books and documents found by U.S. soldiers in the flooded headquarters of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and sent to the United States for restoration have touched off a dispute between Baghdad and Iraqi Jews who fled the country.

After a $3 million restoration, the collection has been put on display at the Washington-based National Archives. But bowing to demands from Iraq’s  . . . “