A still image from the IS video depicting the destruction at Mosul Museum

Heritage bodies condemn destruction of Mosul antiquities

Geraldine Kendall, 27.02.2015
Experts say artefacts in IS video appear to be genuine
The international heritage community has united in condemnation of Islamic State’s destruction of antiquities in the ancient city of Mosul in northern Iraq.

The terrorist organisation, which has controlled Mosul since last summer, released a video this week that appears to show IS fighters using sledgehammers to smash ancient artefacts at Mosul Museum.

The clip also shows militants using a masonry drill to destroy a sculpture of an Assyrian bull, thought to date back to the 7th century BC, at the nearby Nergal Gate. The gate stands at the entrance of the royal city of Ninevah, one of the most important archaeological sites of the ancient Assyrian civilisation.

Although the video cannot be independently verified, local archaeologists have confirmed that both the museum and the Nergal Gate are depicted on camera.

In the video, an IS spokesman describes the statues as idols and says “the prophet, peace be upon him, ordered us to remove and obliterate [them]”.

The release of the video comes days after reports that IS has bombed Mosul’s central library, burning thousands of books and manuscripts, including several registered on Unesco's rarities list.

Peter Stone, the chairman of the UK National Committee of the Blue Shield, which advocates for the protection of cultural heritage in conflict zones, described the attacks as “utterly appalling and senseless”.

Stone said that while it was “extraordinarily difficult” to verify any information coming out of Mosul, the antiquities in the video appeared to be genuine.

But he warned that the terrorist group has been known to destroy replicas on camera while selling the original artefacts on the global black market in antiquities, which has grown significantly in recent years. "We underestimate their sophistication and utter ruthlessness at our peril,” he said.

In a statement, the British Museum said: "We naturally deplore all such acts of vandalism and destruction of cultural heritage, and continue to monitor the situation to the best of our ability.

"In the absence of further information it is difficult to verify the details of those objects featured in the footage. We can confirm that none of the objects featured in this video are copies of originals at the British Museum."

The International Council of Museums (Icom) described the video as "devastating". In a statement today, the organisation said: "Icom is deeply concerned for the safety of museum professionals in Iraq and mourns the loss of invaluable cultural heritage due to this reprehensible attack."

Icom called on the international community to take "immediate measures" to prevent further assaults, and said it wished to contribute to "future capacity-building efforts for museum professionals of the region who could be confronted with such exceptional and tragic situations".

Thomas Campbell, the director of the Metroplitan Museum of Art in New York, also spoke out against the assualt. “Such wanton brutality must stop, before all vestiges of the ancient world are obliterated," he said.
 
According to reports, Unesco has asked the UN security council to convene an emergency meeting on the protection of Iraq’s cultural heritage.

But Stone said that, realistically, “there was almost nothing that could be done” to protect cultural heritage in IS-controlled areas without military intervention on the ground.

Baghdad Museum reopens

In response the IS attack in Mosul, the Iraqi authorities brought forward the reopening of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.

The museum, which has been closed for the past 12 years, was hit by extensive looting during the 2003 invasion but has since recovered and restored around a third of the items that were stolen.

The museum was officially reopened by the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the weekend.

Update
04.03.2015


Updated to report the reopening of the National Museum of Iraq.

Comments

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Dan Hull
Research Officer, NI Assembly
05.03.2015, 16:30
The IS interpretation of the Qu'ran is arguably incorrect here anyway - Chapter 5:90 states that worshipping idols should be avoided (fa-ij'tanibūhu), not destroyed.