Outrage as ISIS Destroys Ancient Assyrian City

Nimrud Lamassu's at the North West Palace of Ashurnasirpal (Photo from Wikipedia)

Nimrud Lamassu [Assyrian Protective Deity] at the North West Palace of Ashurnasirpal (Photo from Wikipedia)

The news that the radical organisation ISIS is destroying the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud has shocked the world, drawing condemnation from governments, UN agencies and NGOs alike.

At the time of writing, the extent of the damage can not be independently verified by local authorities, but in a statement published online, Iraq's Tourism and Antiquity Ministry accused ISIS of defying “the will of the world and the feelings of humanity”:

Daesh [Arabic word for ISIS] terrorist gangs continue to defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity. 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.

Nimrud, located south of Mosul, was founded around 1250 BC and later became the capital of the Neo-Assyrian empire, the world's dominant empire at the time, which stretched into modern day Egypt, Turkey and Iran.

As National Geographic explained in their coverage of the event:

A city had already taken shape at this location by 1400 B.C., but in the early ninth century B.C. King Ashurnasirpal II made it into his new administrative capital, adding a five-mile-long wall, a monumental stepped tower called a ziggurat, new temples, and a large palace covered in elaborate decorations.

It's those royal decorations that are of greatest concern. They consist of large stone panels of intricately carved reliefs that line the base of the building's mud-brick walls. In boldly delineated detail, the panels show military campaigns, conquered peoples offering tribute to the king, ritual ceremonies undertaken by the king (sometimes alongside an ornamental, sacred tree), and many winged mythical figures known as geniis.

Reuters cites a tribal source claiming that “Islamic State members came to the Nimrud archaeological city and looted the valuables in it and then proceeded to level the site to the ground,” and that “there used to be statues and walls as well as a castle that Islamic State has destroyed completely.”

This comes days after ISIS released a video celebrating the destruction of ancient artifacts at Mosul's Nineveh museum, which was preceded by the burning of countless ancient books and manuscripts when they ransacked the Mosul library. Thankfully, many of the artifacts were previously moved to the Baghdad Museum and to many cities in the West, notably the colossal Winged Bulls (Lamassu) which are now housed in London's British Museum.

It is hard to properly estimate the damage this has done to Iraq's priceless heritage. The Neoassyrian Empire was the most powerful state on Earth for nearly 300 years from 911 BC to 609 BC, which provides the context for these tweets by Lebanese-Iraqi blogger and satirist Karl Sharro:

And this cartoon of his now-famous ‘Abu A and Abu B‘ cartoons mocking Jidahis:

The destruction of Iraq's archeological heritage by ISIS has been compared by archeologists to the infamous 2001 destruction of Afghanistan's Bamiyan Buddha rock sculptures by the Taliban. In an official statement, the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, condemned ISIS’ actions as a War Crime.

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova called on the world to react:

We cannot remain silent. 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. I call on all of those who can, especially youth, in Iraq and elsewhere, to do everything possible to protect this heritage, to claim it as their own, and as the heritage of the whole of humanity.

She also called for a response to ISIS’ “criminal chaos that destroys culture with more culture”:

I appeal also to all cultural institutions, museums, journalists, professors, and scientists to share and explain the importance of this heritage and the Mesopotamian civilization. We must respond to this criminal chaos that destroys culture with more culture.

On Twitter, Bahram Salih, the former Prime Minister of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government, accused ISIS of “slaughtering the present and erasing humanity's heritage”:

Amr Wadea tweeted to his more than 3,000 followers, accusing ISIS of trying to erase Iraq's history:

Daesh [ISIS] destroys the Iraqi city of Nimrud which hosted the oldest and most prestigious traces of the Assyrian presence older than 3,000 years. Daesh is erasing history.

Historian and host of History Needs You, Matthew Ward, called ISIS iconoclasts:

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