Barbarians Inside the Gates

IS Destruction Sweeps Ancient Sites

Byline_JMetzlerby John J. Metzler
Weirs Times Contributing Writer

UNITED NATIONS–The barbarians are inside the gates of Nimrud, the ancient Assyrian city in northern Iraq now being plundered, pillaged, and bulldozed by the forces of Islamic State (IS). The destruction of Nimrud, a city dating from 900 BC follows the planned and systematic smashing of priceless Mesopotamian statues and artifacts in the Mosul Museum weeks earlier.
The bulldozing and blasting of some of civilization’s most ancient places continues.
I glance at the calendar to remind myself this is 2015. These archaeological sites are being deliberately destroyed by the Islamic State fanatics who assert ancient art is idolatry. In parallel to our prideful and seemingly tolerant modern world, we are now witnessing the vengeful universe of white heat hatred and intolerance which fanaticism breeds.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the ISIL attacks Iraq’s cultural heritage a “war crime.”
Islamic State bulldozers began a systematic assault on the ancient city of Nimrud, not far from Mosul which has been under IS occupation since last summer.
The fabled city of Nimrud was founded 3,300 years ago and became one of the capitals of the Assyrian Empire. Its majestic stone winged bulls and frescos are renown throughout the world.
Then IS attacked another ancient site, the city of Hatra, a key center in the Parthian empire dating from 250 BC.
“The destruction of Hatra marks a turning point in the appalling strategy of cultural cleansing underway in Iraq,” warned Irina Bokova the Director of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). She added, “With this latest act of barbarism against Hatra, Daesh (ISIL) shows the contempt in which it holds the history and heritage of Arab people, which had been rightfully recognized as a World Heritage site.”
Besides using the sledgehammer of wanton destruction, a larger part of the IS political propaganda plan is to instill fear and intimidation throughout the Middle East.
Almost forgotten was a similar spectacle back in 2001 when the Taliban thugs then running Afghanistan, blasted and desecrated historic Buddhist statues in Bamiyan. The desecration of “false religions” was carried out while the world watched in horror, wringed its hands, and did nothing. Later in September that year the USA and the world was jolted from the complacency that terrorism was always “somewhere else far away.”
A few years ago in the West African state of Mali, a rebellion by Islamic jihadi militants captured the northern city of Timbuktu, a town of lore, legend and extraordinary architecture. Long a crossroads of culture and commerce at the edge of the Sahara, Timbuktu was soon pillaged by the terrorists who even destroyed historic mosques.
Along with the IS wanton destruction in places like the Mosul Museum and Nimrud, I wonder if these terrorists are hiding away some of the treasures for illicit sale on the international art markets? The logic would be simple: while the ancient artifacts are presumably destroyed, some rare pieces then emerge in a black market which pays high premiums, which in turn finances IS operations.
Aware of the possible connection between IS plunder and some pieces being siphoned off for sale, the UN Security Council has passed a resolution banning the trade of looted antiquities from sites in Iraq and Syria.
Fortunately serious collections of Assyria’s ancient art are preserved in New York’s Metropolitan Museum as well as the British Museum. Only a philistine or a fool can gaze upon the magnificent Mesopotamian collections at the Metropolitan and not be in awe and respect of the heritage of this great civilization from 3,000 years ago.
UNESCO’s Bokova advised, “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.”
Islamic State has brought a modern form of barbarism to the ancient Cradle of Civilization, an area which has witnessed the ebb and flow of history. Iraq’s cultural patrimony is being destroyed, its people are under assault, and the winds of war continue to blow across the fertile crescent.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).Contact

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