Activists, officials and historians have condemned Islamic State (IS) for the destruction of the ancient Assyrian archaeological site of Nimrud in Iraq, saying the group’s actions were part of a systematic campaign reminiscent of the Mongol invasion of Arabia that aims to erase millennia of culture and civilisation.
“They are not destroying our present life, or only taking the villages, churches, and homes, or erasing our future — they want to erase our culture, past and civilisation,” said Habib Afram, the president of the Syriac League of Lebanon.
Iraq’s tourism and antiquities ministry said on Thursday night that IS had bulldozed the ancient city of Nimrud, south of Mosul, which was conquered by the militants in a lightning advance last summer.
“Daesh terrorist gangs continue to defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity,” the ministry said, using the group’s Arabic acronym. “In a new crime in their series of reckless offences, they assaulted the ancient city of Nimrud and bulldozed it with heavy machinery, appropriating the archaeological attractions dating back 13 centuries BC,” it said.
The destruction of the site, which became the capital of the neo-Assyrian empire, was confirmed by a local tribal source speaking to Reuters.
The head of Unesco condemned the destruction, saying it amounted to a war crime. “I condemn with the strongest force the destruction of the site at Nimrud,” Irina Bokova said in a statement. AFP reported that she had spoken with the heads of the UN cecurity council and international criminal court on the issue.
“We cannot remain silent,” AFP reported Bokova as saying. “The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime. I call on all political and religious leaders in the region to stand up and remind everyone that there is absolutely no political or religious justification for the destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage.”
Historian Tom Holland told the Guardian: “It’s a crime against Assyria, against Iraq, and against humanity. Destroy the past, and you control the future. The Nazis knew this, and the Khmer Rouge — and the Islamic State clearly understand it too.” The site’s destruction is the latest assault by IS against the ancient heritage of minorites that have coexisted in the Middle East for millennia. Last week, the group destroyed ancient Assyrian artefacts in Mosul museum in a video that triggered widespread condemnation and horror. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2015