Many places of worship destroyed, say Iraqi residents

Updated - November 16, 2021 06:50 pm IST

Published - June 29, 2014 03:11 am IST - Erbil:

Even as fighting rages on in Iraq between the ISIS insurgents and Iraqi troops, local residents who fled to Erbil, say several Shi’a places of worship have been destroyed — among them, the mausoleum of the saint Fathi al-Ka’en, and shrines in the villages of Sharikhan and al-Qubbah. The statue of the Virgin in the Church of the Immacuate in the al-Shifa area, Christian refugees told The Hindu , is also gone.

“No one protested,” a Mosul school teacher told The Hindu over the telephone, “even though these things are very dear to all communities in the city. Perhaps it is because everyone here is too busy trying to stay alive”.

The doors of the Mosul museum — looted in 2003, after the United States invasion of Iraq, but still home to one of the world’s great collections of sculpture — have been padlocked, local residents said. The centuries-old manuscripts stored in Mosul’s central library, many of them gold-leaf religious texts, have been removed.

The Iraq-affairs magazine Niqash records the Mosul calligrapher Abdallah Ismail noting that “the worst thing about wars is that they do not distinguish between the present and the past.”

Future bleak

“I'm sure that if they continue to control this city, the ISIS will destroy all of those things,” Qais Hussein, head of Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, told the news agency AINA. “They've already aggressively attacked our employees working in those sites and in the museums, telling them that this is haram [forbidden] to work in a place with those statues and objects.”

There are some 1,800 sites in Mosul and 250 buildings in the surrounding Nineveh province that the government classifies as historical, he said. Parts of Nineveh province have come under the control of Kurdish forces, but Islamist insurgents still control large swathes.

Hatra and the Ashour Temples — both UNESCO World Heritage Sites — are causes of particular concern to archaeologists. The well-preserved 2CE complex at Hatra — familiar to millions as the set for the opening scenes for the iconic 1973 horror film ‘The Exorcist’ — is thought to be a potential target, because of its statues of pre-Islamic gods. ISIS also controls the temple complex at Nimrud, home to 3,000-year-old statues of Assyrian deities and gods.

Islamist insurgents have frequently destroyed pre-Islamic art: Afghanistan’s Taliban blew up the Buddha statues at Bamiyan in 2001, while Mali’s Ansar Dine destroyed Sufi shrines when it captured Timbuktu in 2012. ISIS itself looted the museum at the Syrian city of Raqqa, after capturing the city, selling the art on the international black market to raise funds.

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