Looting

ISIS Starts to Dismantle Iraqi Archaeological Site of Hatra: Officials

“ISIS Starts to Dismantle Iraqi Archaeological Site of Hatra: Officials”

by Elisha Fieldstadt via “NBC NEWS”

ISIS militants have begun dismantling the ancient archaeological site of Hatra in northern Iraq in their ongoing effort to eliminate the region of what they consider idolatrous imagery, Iraqi authorities said Saturday.

The militants have destroyed parts of Hatra, about 70 miles south of Mosul, and started to pilfer antiques from the city, Qais Hussein Rashid, deputy minister of tourism and antiquities, told NBC News. He called the attack “a new crime against the Iraqi civilization and humanity in general.”

The ancient city was classified as a World Heritage Site by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1985. Hatra, largely built in the 2nd century B.C., was the capital of the first Arab Kingdom and survived invasions by the Romans in 116 and 198 A.D. because of its thick walls surrounded by towers, according to UNESCO.

ISIS has embarked on a campaign to destroy relics and historical sites that they apparently view as heretical. Last week, the group released a video that showed militants purportedly using sledgehammers to smash ancient artifacts in northern Iraq. On Thursday, the Iraqi government said the group had “bulldozed” the city of Nimrud, a 13th century B.C. Assyrian archaeological site just south of Mosul. UNESCO called the destruction of the city a war crime.

“The world and international organizations should stand against such a brutal assault on the human heritage,” Iraq’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said in a statement. “Otherwise,” the ministry added, “these gangs will commit more crimes and violations against the civilization.”

Image: Iraqi children run in front of a temple in the historic city of Hatra in 2002

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“Why Preserving Pakistan’s Cultural Heritage Should Matter to the United States”

“Why Preserving Pakistan’s Cultural Heritage Should Matter to the United States”

by Rick Olson via “Huffington Post

We walked beside the now dusty wash that once contained the mighty but ever shifting Indus River, puzzling out the names of long-deceased members of royal dynasties now barely remembered. I was visiting the necropolis of Makli Hills with Yasmeen Lari, a conservation architect and herself a national treasure of Pakistan. The monuments at Makli chart the history of Islam in Sindh province, one of the cradles of civilization, dominated by the alluvial plain of the Indus, from which Sindh gets its name. I was there to announce that the U.S. Government is helping to conserve two of its most magnificent monuments.

ambassador rick olson

As the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, I live in a country facing political, military, and humanitarian challenges on many fronts. One front that has not received sufficient attention in Western media is the war on cultural heritage and how this matters to the people of Pakistan.

One of the ways in which ISIL has consolidated a reign of terror in Iraq and Syria is by erasing any heritage of religious diversity. Their atrocities are not confined to military battlefields. Groups like ISIS have another important ideological objective: they are threatened by the existence of a rich cultural heritage and a history of pluralism and tolerance. They seek to destroy it.

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Islam came to Sindh in 711 c.e. via the invasion led by Muhammad bin Qasim. And its dominance on the culture was fixed by the Sufi scholars who accompanied the central Asian invaders of the 16th century. The history of this long conversion is etched in the stone of tombs at Makli Hills. The oldest ones, at the north, show a robust Hindu influence, including elaborate rosettes, with the inscriptions written in the austere Kufic script of early Islam. The later tombs, to the south, become more Persianate, with the slanting script replacing the more linear Arabic and more delicate floral and venial depictions. These ancient monuments enrich and inform today’s Pakistan and connect us to our cultural origins.

Wind and sun have taken a severe toll on the monuments, as has vandalism and looting, all perhaps part of the toll that more than a decade of fighting terrorism has inflicted on Pakistan. Treasures of Moghul artistry lie scattered and broken on the ground. Some of the elaborate sepulchers have lost their foundations and are visibly splitting apart. Even the large tombs that are structurally intact have lost their turquoise tiled roofs and cladding and now reveal their baked brick skeletons. . . . .

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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.”

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Looting Is the Greatest Threat to Our Cultural Heritage in Syria

“Looting Is the Greatest Threat to Our Cultural Heritage in Syria”

By Franklin Lamb via “Foreign Policy Journal

Can the worst patrimonial disaster since World War II be stopped?

No matter how badly this observer periodically assesses the threat to our cultural heritage as he travels across Syria, the reality always turns out to be worse.

Outside the Samoual Synagogue in the Western District of Aleppo, December 13, 2014. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

As we enter 2015, much of Syria has been reduced to apocalyptic landscapes. During the 45 months of the Syrian crisis, war destruction inflicted from all sides has created massive damage to our shared global cultural heritage that has been in the custody of the Syrian people for more than ten millennia.

Few would dispute the fact that the level of destruction of Syria’s archaeological sites has become catastrophic. Unauthorized excavations, plunder, and trafficking in stolen cultural artifacts in Syria is a serious and escalating problem and threatens the cultural heritage of us all. Due to illicit excavations, many objects have already been lost to science and society.

Today, the single greatest threat to our cultural heritage in Syria is looting. It is rampant and being done from many sources. One virulent source is Da’ish (IS) and like-minded jihadists who desecrate and destroy irreplaceable artifacts and lay siege to and loot more than 2000 archeological sites under its control in Syria and double that number in Iraq.

Jihadists in Syria are estimated to have reaped more than $20 million from looted artifacts during 2014, and they rationalize their frenzy of wonton obliteration by sighting religious obligations. Also increasingly active in looting Syria’s cultural heritage are local residents who, with no jobs, income, or tangible economic prospects, are increasingly turning to age-old plunder taking advantage of a growing cash market to feed their families.

The trade in looted Syrian cultural artifacts has become the third largest market in illegal goods worldwide. Current laws at the national and international level are woefully inadequate to prevent the illicit traffic in looted antiquities and even less, to effectuate the return of stolen antiquities to their countries of origin. In the 1960s, according to experts, it was a buyers’ market as there were few national collectors interested in Islamic art or other antiquities in Syria. But that that has now dramatically changed since the Gulf countries Qatar and Abu Dhabi started collecting, and it is also now a seller’s market.

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a crossroads for trade and culture for countless centuries, has been particularly hard hit. Its vast labyrinthine souk was gutted by fire in 2012. The Citadel, a castle that dates back to 3000 BC, has also been damaged, while the minaret of the Umayyad Mosque was toppled by fighting in 2013. But hundreds of other sites have also been looted and shops selling Syrian antiquities dot the Turkey side of the border just 40 miles north of Aleppo. . . .

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Two historic statues lost in Libya’s Tripoli

“Two historic statues lost in Libya’s Tripoli”

via “Xinhuanet

TRIPOLI, Nov. 9 (Xinhua) — Unidentified men have hid a historic statue of Omar Al-Mukhtar, a historic figure, in the Libyan capital Tripoli, an official in the Libyan Antiquities Authority announced on Sunday.

Omar Al-Mukhtar is a hero and the leader of the Libyan resistance against the Italian regime for 20 years in the 1920’s and 30’s. The statue was placed in front of the headquarters of the municipal council of Al-Maya region on the coastal road west of Tripoli.

“The archaeological statue disappeared in mysterious circumstances similar to the circumstances in which another archaeological statue, known the gazelle statue, one of the most important historical monuments located in downtown Tripoli, disappeared.” said the official, who requested anonymity.

The statue, known in Tripoli as gazelle statue, it is a small fountain with a statue of nude woman holding a deer. The fountain was designed by the Italian artist Angelo Vanity in early 1930s during the Italian occupation of Libya.

“The statue was uprooted from its place by an unknown group in early hours of Tuesday, most likely because of the nudity features of the statue, which are rejected for religious reasons.” Witnesses told Xinhua.

Several similar threats were issued earlier. In October, the statue was targeted by an RPG missile, causing damage. In 2012, Islamist militants threatened to remove it.

On the other hand, an explosion on last Monday destroyed a historic shrine in the Libyan capital. The shrine, located next to a mosque, is over 700 years old and is officially registered within the Libyan monuments.

Libya is a country rich in cultural and human heritage of Greek and Roman civilizations. However, the country has been unstable since the overthrow of former Muammar Gaddafi regime in 2011.

The capital and several other Libyan cities witnessed similar attacks targeting religious monuments and shrines by Islamist groups described by the Libyan authorities as extremists.

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