Showing posts with label ISIS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ISIS. Show all posts

December 19, 2016

Who saves the culture of Mesopotamia and the Levant - Part I

In the first of a series, ARCA will be highlighting some of the people on a mission to protect and/or seize back the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria, from those who seek to profit from or destroy it.

Since the start of the conflict, ARCA has received frequent queries from people concerned about the theft and destruction of sites throughout the Levant.  Often we are asked if anything is doing about the situation. While the form of the question often is posed in the singular format of what is anyone doing specifically about ISIS, ARCA would like to underscore that the problem of looting and destruction is not restricted to one identifiable nemesis operating in conflict zones, although Da'esh has been particularly adept at making a public display of its iconoclasm. 

Today's blog post highlights one forward-thinker in Iraq, who has show what can be done, if people think about a problem in advance of when they are actually faced with one. 

On July 20, 2014 jihadist troops of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took control of the Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah, a monastery located near the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh, 30 km southwest of Mosul, in the Nineveh Plain of Iraq.  The site dates back to the 4th century CE.   

Occupying the site, the militants ejected the Syriac Orthodox monks with nothing more than the clothing on their backs, refusing to allow them to take any of the church's sacred objects.  In fear for their lives, the monastery's guardians were forcefully ejected and walked some ten kilometers before intersecting with Kurdish Peshmerga forces.  

On Thursday, March 19, 2015 ISIS fighters released footage which showed that they had rigged the tombs of Mar Behnam and Mart Sarah with explosives, dramatically detonating the monastery's revered historic shrines.    

Image Credit: Alsumaria News 
While the church at the Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah itself was not earmarked for detonation along with its shrines, the historic site would did suffer extensive vandalism.  During its occupation, religious wall decorations were drilled out, and/or defaced. Inscriptions written in Syriac were scraped off the walls, crosses were taken down, and statues knocked to the ground and smashed. Throughout the monastery extensive graffiti was scrawled on practically every available surface.

The statue of Mar Behnam on horseback, dating from the 16th century,
has been completely destroyed
Sadly, as the desecration took place after the dramatic footage of the damages to the Mosul Museum and just before the demolition of Nimrud, the world's press gave the monastery's fate little in the way of press coverage.  Those that research iconoclasm tried to take limited comfort in the knowledge that some of the monastery's important manuscripts, dating back centuries, had been digitized. 

Dr. Lamia al-Gailanim, an associate fellow at the London-based Institute of Archaeology, reminded list-serv members of the Iraqi crisis group that Mosul had twelve Medieval shines with muqarnas domes.  In total, the exquisite remains accounted for half of what the country of Iraq had in terms of this specific style of monumental vaulted architecture.  By 2015, as Da'esh gained more and more territory, all the Mosul-area domed shrines suffered attacks.

On Sunday, November 20, 2016 the Baghdad-backed Babylon Brigades in cooperation with the Iraqi army liberated the Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah and the world got its first look at the damages inflicted. It is believed that the militants may have occupied the site as a base of operations and some news reports have said the site was utilized by Da'esh's morality police. Whatever the case, the group's trademark shows throughout the trashed the interior.

As the mixed military force secured the site and the zones surrounding the monastery, the first photos of the extent of the rampage were released on social media.  Little had been spared.  Even the grave marker for Monsignor Francis Djahola, who was a well known part of the monastery religious community until his recent death, had been desecrated.

Father Yousif Sakat
Then, on December 9, 2016, those affiliated with the monastery announced something joyfully unexpected. 

Thanks to the forward thinking of Father Yousif Sakat, over 400 books and manuscripts, some illustrated by hand and dating back 800 years, had been kept safe.  Miraculously, they had been hidden directly under the noses of the militants. 

As a custodian for the monastery’s Medieval collection, Father Sakat knew that if he abandoned the monastery and left the library collection behind, it would be vulnerable to destruction or potential looting.  Sakat watched as the situation grew increasingly tense and as the nearby cities succumbed to the rule of ISIS.  As the militants grew bolder, he noted that individuals had defaced the monastery’s exterior and on occasion, hurled stones at the building to intimidate its occupants. 

Anticipating that the jihadist would eventually take control of the monastery and knowing that they might set fire to the collection, Sakat started to think about what he could do to protect the collection himself.

The fast-thinking priest moved the monastery's most important books and manuscripts into metal drums. He then placed these containers in a discreet area where he hoped they would avoid suspicion.  He then sealed the hiding place shut with a wall of concealing cement.

In December 2016, once the father felt sure the site was no longer at risk of possible recapture, he and a team of workers returned to recover the books from their hidden storage chamber.

Publishing the extraction on Facebook Amjad Hinawi uploaded 49 images of the remarkable books as the room was breached and reopened and the collection retrieved. ARCA has posted a selection of these photos here with the group's permission.


Just as the 72-year-old librarian from Mali successfully saved his own country's collection by stuffing them into millet bags and smuggling them out of harm's way, Father Sakat's ingenuity shows that a lot can be done, even when practically everything else has been lost. 

Having said that, there is a palpable urgency to better preserve these rich and varied historic collections, especially those at smaller religious sites, with little means and funding.  It is no longer cost prohibitive to digitize and catalog literary historic records and vulnerable sites such as these need to consider what potential risks their might be, now or in the future to their original collections.

Consideration before a threat occurs.

Just asking the simple question what are we doing about this (now), followed by what can be done better (before a threat or crisis occurs) in a first step in emergency preparedness.   Even in times of economic hardship or political unrest cultural heritage institutions with limited staff can make a world of difference to an otherwise grim outcome.

Luckily, the collection from the Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah was not stored inside the shrines that Da'esh detonated.

Luckily, many of its manuscripts were already digitized.

Luckily, Father Yousif Sakat had the foresight, time and the means to purchase and use the supplies needed to hide his monastery's collection.

But what if any one of those things hadn't happened?

For now, the library of the Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah are being stored elsewhere for safekeeping.


October 23, 2016

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Another case for the ICC? Iconoclast who detonated the Maqam of Prophet Yunus (Jonah) confesses on tape after capture

In Mosul's frightening and uncertain future, perhaps one bit of hopeful news may be developing.  It appears that the Iraqi Shi'ite paramilitary group Al Nujaba has released a video with a captured combatant who claims to have been one of the iconoclasts responsible for the destruction of the Shrine of Jonah/Mosque of Yunus (Nineveh, Mosul, Iraq). 



The newly released video also appears to circle out a specific male individual who, from the footage, also seems to be implicated in the destruction of statues and artifacts within the Mosul Museum.

During the video, the captured militant admits that he was part of Daesh's Hisbah [the religious police] and admits to bombing three different bridges as well as taking part in the attacks on the Hatra ruins and the destruction at Prophet Yona's tomb. 

The Mosul Museum is the second largest museum in Iraq after the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.  A video showing the destruction of historic artifacts was widely circulated by Daesh on February 26, 2015.

As the image in the recent video is quite blurry, ARCA has uploaded a screenshot from the original Mosul Museum destruction video which shows the individual, dressed in a long sleeved robe called a dishdasha, in higher definition. 


Military offensives to recapture cities from a dug-in military force are always fraught with peril.  If fighting forces manage to recapture the city of Mosul, it will be the fifth time in thirteen years of conflict that the city has changed hands since 2003. As the history of previous offensives in Iraq has painfully demonstrated, in liberating Mosul, one group’s victory does not necessarily bode equally well for others divided along different ethnic and sectarian lines.

By: Lynda Albertson

July 7, 2016

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ISIS Releases Video showing its destruction of the Palmyra Museum's Artifacts.

ISIS has released a new "heritage snuff" video that shows its destruction of the Palmyra Museum's Palmyrene funerary portraiture as well as desecration of the museum's mummies which DGAM personnel had stored in a protective bricked-sealed enclosure at the museum prior to ISIS overtaking the city in May 2015.


The 57 second video shows militants lifting funerary reliefs from shelving and dropping them forcefully onto the floor.  Other historic artifacts are subjected to repeated blows with sledgehammers, filmed for cinematic effect. 


More disturbing however is the footage of the desecration of human remains that had once been stored on exhibit within the museum.  Lined up on a sandy street in Tadmur, the mummies were crushed with what appears to be a heavy military vehicle. 


On display at the Palmyra museum since August 4, 2005 thanks to a Japanese grant and the efforts of archaeologists from Italy and France who helped extract them, the mummies of two men and two women were originally found wrapped in many layers of cloth in the Palmyra valley.  Well preserved, they provided a fascinating glimpse of the area's funerary practices during the first and second century C.E.  Given their age, they were considered to be a cultural and biological patrimony of inestimable value for the Syrian city.      

Italian archaeologist Professor Paulo Matthiae once compared the find of the mummies to those found in Egypt. In a book on the ancient Syrian city of Ebla, Matthiae states

"The valley of the tombs of Palmyra is one of the most wonderful places of the region of antiquities in the Graeco-Roman world like the most famous tomb valleys in Egypt." 

ISIS considers worshipping or mourning at grave sites to be equal to idolatry and have often destroyed burial sites throughout areas under their control.

March 11, 2016

Friday, March 11, 2016 - ,,,, 1 comment

Palmyra - An example of when traffic whoring and page view metrics are more important than accuracy

In the last 72 hours I have spent a frustratingly amount of time playing Whac-A-Mole to bad reporting from a number of professional journalistic sites and individuals who rightly want to draw the world's attention to the ongoing battle of Palmyra, but who wrongly choose to do so using less than thorough reporting techniques. 

On March 9th, Twitter user @rt0ur (Russian Tour) posted an image that didn't explicitly list itself as new, but which showed comparison images to some of the destruction wrought on the ancient site of Palmyra.   A snapshot of both the text and image used in this tweet can be seen to the right.  

As concerned individuals search for recent news via social media on the state of Palmyra's heritage and Tadmor this seemingly "new" imagery cascaded into a series of rapid retweets from users following the conflict who assumed the imagery was new.  Unbeknownst to many who saw the tweet and reposted, the image was originally published last summer on August 9, 2015 in Issue 11 of Dabiq (Arabic: دابق ), the online magazine used by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant for propaganda and recruitment.  

Sometimes reposting an image, assuming that it is "new", is an honest mistake.  

It is unrealistic to expect the passive consumer or the generalist journalist mining information on social media to ghoulishly scroll through, screen-catch, store and then recognise every image ever published by ISIS via the deep web or video sites.   But the dishing-up of old news repackaged as "new" news serves to highlight how the world's news is spread with rapid velocity over social media. It also underlines how easy it is for news to become distorted unintentionally or in some cases intentionally by individuals or organisations with Twitter and Facebook accounts. 

It also draws attention to how audiences that assume a more active role in providing analysed content; those who participate actively in developing "breaking news" or expert analysis reports on the state of heritage through social media, need to exercise due diligence in their researching.

“The fact that a tweet by a journalist is restricted to 140 characters does not mean that journalistic ethics can be ditched.” London Journalist, David Brewer 

Across the world people are trying to make sense of the horrendous situation in Syria, focusing on Palmyra in particular and wondering what, if anything, anyone can do to help.  Sometimes the only thing individuals feel they can do is spread the word on what's happening.  Unfortunately some web-based journalists and social media users think that having an engaged audience is also something worth manipulating, using journalistic shock and awe tactics to encourage more viewer traffic or increase followers. 

Using web platforms and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, that feed upon audience interaction via retweets and repostings, followers and retweeters sometime end up serving as echo chambers, for those that choose to manipulate content.  Without integrity, social media journalism becomes easy to manipulate and users reposting inaccurate or tainted information can unknowingly support a specific opinion or agenda, driving web traffic towards unethically behaving news sources.

Propagating one's own viewpoint or opinion isn't inherently bad. Opinions do matter, and voicing them is a good thing, but encouraging followers to read published content by distorting factual accuracy is akin to "traffic whoring". 

In the biz, some of the less taste-worthy news agencies actually assign staff to “traffic-whoring duty.”  But the lure of offering up posts that content providers know will garner more page clicks and attract more followers can lead web journalists to intentionally distort reality.

Content providers often subscribe to a carrot and stick formula of SEO-rich headlines plus key words sprinkled with enticing visual imagery known to appeal to their intended market audience.  But these ingredients are only part of the recipe of good web-based journalism.  The formula can be harnessed, and used ethically or manipulated and used dishonestly.

Sometimes reposting an image is abject manipulation.

An example of unethical reporting is when a news agency or social media account holder intentionally creates a false illusion of reality, complete with dramatic photo or video, packaging their creation as "breaking news".  Such was the case yesterday when a video was posted on Twitter by @ruptly (Ruptly), a video news subsidiary of RT (originally Russia Today), the Russian government-funded television network.  


At first glance, viewers were led to believe that they were looking at new video footage, likely obtained through boots-on-the-ground soldiers advancing to retake Palmyra.   In reality and ironically, it is a video from May 20, 2015, the day that insurgents swept into Palmyra's military air base, prison, intelligence headquarters and the city's ancient sites.

The original video was posted by Ruptly to Liveleak on May 20, 2015.  The "breaking news" version on March 10, 2016 showed a different opening image and spliced out the government backed soldiers engaging with Daesh militants as they fought near the ancient ruins.

When I pointed this out to Ruptly, they silently withdrew the video late yesterday without further explanation or acknowledgment of their fast switch.   But not before the extracted video had been retweeted several times. 

The same type of sensationalist, false reporting was propagated by Breaking News, @BRnewsKING though their report yesterday centered on multiple airplane strikes at Fakhr-al-Din al-Ma'ani Castle (Palmyra Castle).


Again branded by heritage activists as "new" news, the report was picked up and then analysed by geopolitical analyst and microblogger @markito0171 who spent time pinpointing aircraft. 




It is one thing to accidentally misrepresent current affairs, propagating someone else's error in assumption.  It is another thing to intentionally amplify incidents, turning the imagery into page view chasing gutter journalism thereby manipulating the chain of historical events.  When the latter happens content providers create a reverberation, often in a partisan manner, that only serves to further polarise parties to a already complicated asymmetrical conflict. 

I encourage news organisations, journalists, analysts and citizen activists reporting on the Syrian conflict to slow down on retweeting, to be more transparent about, and more attentive to, the way in which reporting has an impact across the conflict heritage ecosystem. Viral journalism is great, but only if we police ourselves and demand factual accuracy from our sources.

Ethical journalists should strive for honesty and be courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.  Good journalism seeks the truth and reports it, even when the truth isn't necessarily something we are happy about. 

Good journalists also take responsibility for the accuracy of what they report and verify information as best as is possible before releasing it to the public. When errors are made or situations misinterpreted, journalists should be accountable and transparent to their errors, acknowledging mistakes and correcting them prominently. 

Lastly I believe that journalists should live by the creed:

Being the first to report should never compromise the truth.  

Op Ed by:  Lynda Albertson, CEO ARCA
@sauterne (Ergo Sum)

ARCA
@arca_artcrime
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February 22, 2016


SAT 27 FEB, 2016

Symposium on Art and Terrorism
The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London

Saturday 27 February 2016 - 10:00 am - 6:30 pm
Registration from 09.30
Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre,
The Courtauld Institute of Art,
Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 0RN

Organised by

Professor Julian Stallabrass: The Courtauld Institute of Art
Dr Anna Marazuela Kim: The Courtauld Institute of Art
Dr Noah Charney: ARCA, Association for Research into Crimes against Art
Lynda Albertson: ARCA, Association for Research into Crimes against Art



Bringing together scholars of the image, art and violence with experts on counter-terrorism and conflict antiquities, the Courtauld Institute of Art and the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) present a day-long symposium on the subject of Art and Terrorism. The collaborative event aims to provide a forum for engaging issues of urgent and wider public concern.

Two strands of inquiry inform our discussion. One concerns histories and theories of war and images, including terrorist use of visual images and media, such as YouTube videos and the documented destruction of cultural monuments. The other takes a criminological approach, examining the use and abuse of art and antiquities by terrorist groups, including ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the IRA.

The event inaugurates a new initiative, Courtauld Debates, that brings the significance of art history to a wider audience through public facing dialogue. It also highlights a new collection of essays, Art Crime: Terrorists, Tomb Raiders, Forgers and Thieves (Palgrave), which features numerous expert speakers on this important and timely subject.

The day's talks will include the UK's first screening of الزلزلة (The Quake), a musical and video collaboration between Oscar-winning composer Ennio Morricone and filmmaker Matteo Barzini and produced by Feel Film Production in collaboration with UNESCO. 

The film narrates the tragedies of the Syrian war creating an analogy between the destruction of human life and cultural heritage. Images of prewar Syria alternate with the devastation of minarets, mosques, temples, towns and human life in a modern day war opera through the syncopated notes of Morricone's musical themes.

Programmme

09.30 – 10.00 Registration

10.00 – 10.15 Welcome – Alixe Bovey (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

Session I
Chair: Julian Stallabrass (The Courtauld institute of Art)

10.15 – 10.30 Noah Charney (Founder, ARCA): A Very Brief History of Art and Terrorism.

10.30 – 11.00 Jennifer Good (Senior Lecturer in History and Theory of Documentary Photography, London College of Communication): Totalising Narratives of 9/11.

11.00 – 11.30 Anna Marazuela Kim (Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow, The Courtauld Institute of Art): The New Image Wars.

11:30 – 12.00 Francesco Rutelli (Former Italian Minister of Culture and Mayor of Rome, Chairman Associazione Incontro di Civiltà, President Cultural Heritage Rescue Prize): The Return of Iconoclasm: Ideology and Destruction by ISIS as a Challenge for Modern Culture

12.00 – 13.00 Lunch (provided for the speakers/chairs only)

Session II
Chair: Noah Charney (ARCA)

13.00 – 13.30 Mike Giglio (Investigative Journalist and War Correspondent):
Antiquities Looting and Terrorism: a View from the Field.

13.30 – 14.00 Michael Will (Manager, Europol’s Organized Crime Networks Group):
Europol and European Involvement in the Fight Against Cultural Goods Trafficking.

14.00 – 14.30 Sam Hardy (Adjunct Faculty, Graduate School, American University of Rome):
‘Blood clings to these things’: Uncovering the trade in conflict antiquities.

14.30 – 14.45 Film screening: “The Quake” الزلزلة Directed by Matteo Barzini
Musical score by Ennio Morricone, Produced by Feel Film Production

15.00 – 15.30 Discussion

15.30 – 16.00 Tea/coffee break (provided)

Session III
Chair: Anna Marazuela Kim (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

16.00 – 16.30 Julian Stallabrass (Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art): Representing the Iraqi Resistance.

16.30 – 17.00 Edmund Clark (Award-winning photographer) Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition

17.00 – 17.30 Neville Bolt (Senior Teaching Fellow, Department of War Studies, King’s College, London): The Violent Image in Non-linear Conflict.

17.30 – 17.45 Giovanni Boccardi (Chief of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit of UNESCO’s Culture Sector): UNESCO’s Global Action to Protect Cultural heritage Under Threat.

17.45 – 18.30 Plenary Discussion

18.30 Reception

January 20, 2016

Confirmation Saint Elijah's Monastery (دير مار إيليا), Iraq, Destroyed


Following a request by the Associated Press earlier this month, Digital Globe, a global provider of high-resolution Earth-imagery products and services, provided the news service with imagery which appears to confirm that the monastery known in English as the Saint Elijah Monastery or the Dair Mar Elia, ((دير مار إيليا) has been obliterated by ISIS/ISIL sometime prior to September 28, 2014.  It was the oldest known Christian monastery in Iraq.  

The oldest monastery in Iraq dated back 1400 ago.
 أقدم دير في العراق يعود تاريحه الى ١٤٠٠ سنة
Nearby cities: Mosul, Erbil / Hewler, Kirkûk
Coordinates:   36°17'33"N   43°7'51"E
Image Credit AP/Digital Globe/Google

Located on a hill south of Mosul, local Chaldean leaders place the monastery's age back to the fourth century after Christ.  Other evidence indicates that the original monastery on this site was built around 571 CE during the reign of the Persian King Hurmizd IV.  Assuming that this date is accurate, the monastery predates the founding of Islam by about one hundred years.  

Imagery obtained for comparison by AP before and after compared with earlier amateur videos shot by US military personnel during cultural awareness site visits seem to suggest that the monastery has either been bulldozed completely or detonated to the ground level.

Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO, said “such deliberate destruction is a war crime and it must not stay unpunished. It also reminds us how terrified by history the extremists are, because understanding the past undermines the pretexts they use to justify these crimes and exposes them as expressions of pure hatred and ignorance.”

But this ultimate final insult by ISIL/ISIS is not the only hardship Saint Elijah Monastery has faced. 

During the 2003 Iraqi conflict, Iraqi tank units damaged rooms and reportedly filled the ancient cistern with trash while using it as a latrine. 

In this first video, apparently made during a US forces visit after taking control of the site, viewers can hear a military guide giving touring soldiers from Forward Operating Base Marez a lecture on the significance of the religious site and why it was later fenced off to protect the site against looters and further degradation.  After that, soldiers were only allowed to visit the site when accompanied by military chaplains or designated military guides.


In this first video the speaker talks about not only the Christian iconography but also the damage the site sustained as a result of a US-Iraqi skirmish with the Iraqi Republican Guard during the initial invasion in 2003.  The officer mentions a U.S. Army anti-tank missile fired by the 101st Airborne at an Iraqi tank unit that was stationed in and around the religious site during the military engagement.  

The tow missile, fired by the US modular light infantry division towards a military target, damaged the ancient chapel's wall when the missile blasted the turret off a T-72 Russian tank.  The impact catapulted the turret into the side of the monastery, buckling the historic site's wall and creating many large cracks and fissures.



Other damages however were not directly related to this armed engagement, but instead were opportunistic offences and carelessness when the 101st were themselves garrisoned at the site.

Soldiers attached to the 101st painted their division's 'Screaming Eagle' logo above the chapel's doorway and also white-washed the stone alter and chapel walls, covering what is believed to have been the remnants of 600-year-old murals.  To add insult to injury, 'Chad wuz here' and 'I love Debbie,' were also found scribbled onto other monastery surfaces along with older graffiti in Arabic and bullet holes. 

Some 250 years earlier, the monastery was nearly flattened by a Persian ruler who also ordered the monks living there to be slain.

Prior to its destruction by ISIS/ISIL the site consisted of 27 rooms and included a mihrab, a temple and a cistern.  Experts from the University of Mosul were scheduled to survey the grounds in 2008 but because of the volatility of the political situation at the time, a team of soldiers from current and former U.S. Army Europe engineer units (the 156th) were tasked to carry out the work as part of a mission in July 2008. The data collected was to be used in Army and civilian maps detailing the area of the monastery, as well as archeological excavations and geographic expeditions.

The 156th also created a three-dimensional model of the site based on their survey data to aid scientists studying the possible purpose of crumbling rooms in the monastery.

Perhaps this model will be of use to scholars going forward. 


November 4, 2015

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Recap: Erasing the Past: Da’esh and the Crisis of Antiquities Destruction

By: 
Mairead McAuliffe
Wellesley College
Class of 2016

On September 24, 2015, Wellesley College hosted a conference entitled, Erasing the Past: Da’esh and the Crisis of Antiquities Destruction. Jointly sponsored by the College’s History and Religious Studies departments, the conference hosted a group of international scholars, cultural heritage specialists and journalists who reflected on the scope of the continuing crisis in Iraq and Syria. The conference participants provided grounded and informative commentary on the Islamic State’s use of social media to circulate messages of violence, power and ruthlessness. The topics of the conference sessions provided attendees with a sense of the regions’ cultural devastation and ideas as to how the identities of these peoples can be protected and restored. 

I had the opportunity to attend two of the conference’s sessions. Professor Morag Kersel of DePaul University’s Anthropology Department presented on the topic of antiquity looting. She ultimately argued that preventing antiquity looting in the future would require behavioral change, as opposed to continued law enforcement. Kersel contended that advocacy campaigns have been successful in the past, such as the campaign to shame individuals who fashion animal skins and furs or collectors of ivory objects. She believes that society at large should render looting as antisocial behavior. According to Kersel, encouraging the general public to actively engage in this type of moral marketing would corrode the attractiveness of and participation in this trade. 

I also attended the presentation of Professor Patty Gerstenblith of DePaul University’s College of Law regarding the abilities and limitations of international law in the context of cultural heritage preservation  first multilateral treaties that addressed the conducts of warfare 

.  Professor Gerstenblith discussed the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907,  the first multilateral treaties that addressed the conducts of warfare negotiated at two international peace conferences at The Hague in the Netherlands.  The 1863 Lieber Code, signed by President Abraham Lincoln during the United States’ Civil War, guided these conventions and ultimately yielded regulations for wartime conduct that prohibited both the pillage, seizure and damage of cultural heritage and the requirement that sites be marked with a distinctive sign. 

Professor Gerstenblith highlighted, however, that the ratification of these treatises is voluntary, therefore many of these regulations are useless when not enforced, and war crime tribunals are only applied to the defeated – not to the victors. Professor Gerstenblith argued, therefore, that the most successful approaches to cultural heritage preservation involve the training of local people in the logistics of protection and the training of the military. 

I also had the opportunity to speak with some of the panelists during the conference lunch break. I asked the presenters what they believe to be missing from the mainline news outlets regarding the topic of cultural heritage protection in the Middle East. Professor Patty Gerstenblith and Charles Jones of Penn State University both agreed that accuracy and precision were missing from the discussion.  Jones lamented the fact that much of the looted material is undocumented, therefore the world will never know, nor will it see, objects that have been stolen or destroyed. He highlighted that such devastation negatively affects education and scholarship. 

Prof. Gerstenblith observed that the media is only interested if such devastation is linked to ISIS and its ruthless behavior. She stated that little emphasis is placed on art in times of war and oftentimes its destruction is excused for military purposes. She argued that the actions of ISIS in the Middle East constitute cultural genocide. The group’s leaders seek to “tear down reminders of the Assad Regime,” that is, their tangible national symbols. Dr. Salam al-Kuntar of the University of Pennsylvania’s Anthropology Department, offered similar sentiments saying that the media’s largest focus is on ISIS and its brutish behavior, as opposed to the state of Aleppo because its stories are “more of the same, there is nothing new to report.” 

I also asked what they would say if they had the ability to relay one thing about the Erasing the Past conference to the greater public. Professor Gerstenblith said that, if anything, this conference, with its abundance of panelists and sessions, highlights that this topic is “more complicated than we realize.” Charles Jones also commented on the variety of speakers saying that these events and discussions attract “new people each time” indicating a “raised consciousness” and the positive power of PR in escalating issues of cultural heritage protection. Finally, Dr. al-Kuntar said that this conference, among others, demonstrates the “efforts of academics and scholars in understanding the complexities of cultural heritage preservation.” 

Ultimately, the conference yielded productive conversation regarding all aspects of the intricacy of cultural heritage protection during times of crisis. The conference also exhibited the lack of clear protocol regarding actions that can be taken to achieve successful preservation. However, the passion, interest and intellect of the conference participants provide hope in the creation of such a protocol that would coordinate the protection not only of the material objects and symbols of a people, but also of the physical markers of culture, nation and identity. 

February 26, 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015 - ,,,, No comments

A Museum in Mosul That Needs a Break, Not Breaking

Today we have discouraging information on the fate of the collection of the Mosul Museum.  The museum which opened in 1951 specializes in antiquities from the Assyrian empire which flourished within the provincial borders of present-day Province of Nineveh.  It also houses a significant collection of sculptures and other stone relics from Hatra – the capital of the first Arab Kingdom.  By most estimates it is the most important museum in Iraq outside of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad.

In June 2014 it was rumored that militants had destroyed parts of the museum collection.  This rumor was then briefly dispelled by journalists speaking with Iraqi's museum authorities saying that miltants had entered to the museum but left its contents untouched, but not before adding that it had been marked for destruction.  Afterwards they set about attacking and destroying one Shia mosque and shrine after another but verifiable news on the fate of museum's collection was not forthcoming despite whispers in late 2014 and early 2015.

February 27, 2015 the Islamic State group released a video showing militants using sledge hammers, pneumatic equipment and their bare hands to topple or smash antiquities and plaster casts of objects housed within the museum as well as outside at the Nirgal Gate of the Assyrian city of Nineveh on the Tigris River opposite the modern city. 

Eleanor Robson, Professor of Ancient Near Eastern History at University College London and the British Institute for the Study of Iraq's voluntary Chair of Council was the first to confirm that the video is authentic. ARCA has elected to remove its original link to the video in an effort not to franchise the caliphate's corporatized terror.

A speaker on the video is seen standing in front a partial relief of a lamassu (a winged bull) saying that "These ruins that are behind me, they are idols and statues that people in the past used to worship instead of Allah." Citing that the Prophet Mohammed took down idols with his bare hands when he conquered Mecca, apparently in reference to the Muslim prophet's destruction of 360 idols in the the Ka'b, the team of insurgents is then filmed destroying numerous objects from within the collection in what looks to be its four ground-floor galleries.

The Mosul Museum sits on the west side of the city not far from the Provincial Governor's Office. Located on grounds that once were the gardens of the former palace of King Faisal, the museum has been shuttered since April 2003 plagued by both looting in 2003 and ongoing security concerns.   

At that time of the museums closing staff removed approximately 1,500 of the more portable objects in the collection transferring them to the Baghdad Museum for safekeeping.   Unfortunately shortly thereafter both the Mosul Museum and the Baghdad Museum were hit with looting and vandalism.  

During the April 2003 looting 30 bronze panels that once decorated the gate leading into the Assyrian city of Balawat were taken.  Other pieces that were left behind were heavily damaged, including a life-size stone lion from the Hellenistic site of Hatra.  It is unclear at this time which part of the Mosul collection inventory was lost from the 2003 looting incidents and which part survived.  It is also not clear if the transferred pieces of the Mosul collection were returned from Baghdad in advance of the museum's anticipated reopening,  which was anticipated to occur in 2014 before insurgents took over the city. An UNESCO report from 2009 seems to show that the museum was in  a state of preparatory transition, but ARCA has identified no imagery from the interim period of 2009 to 2015 which would demonstrate if an opening was in fact in the works.

What is known is that when the museum was shuttered in 2003 heavier objects, including several pieces of cuneiform-inscribed brick; stone reliefs from Hatra kings; and the Mihrab (prayer niche) of the Mosque of Banal al Hasan in Mosul were left behind as they were either too heavy or too delicate to be relocated, as were several of the heavier statues one can see in the propaganda video. Analysis of the video also shows that museum authorities had made preparatory attempts to protect objects from potential damage and dust by wrapping statuary and reliefs in plastic sheeting.

The galleries in the museum are organized into four sections.  One gallery is dedicated to Assyrian antiquities (Nimrud), one to artifacts from the ruins at Hatra, one to Islamic artifacts, and a fourth to prehistoric artifacts excavated by archaeologists at Hassuna and other sites around Mosul. The images to the right of this blog post, taken from a 2009 UNESCO report on the Preliminary Assessment of Mosul Cultural Museum Mosul, match video footage seen at 2.54 and 3.35 minutes into the destruction propaganda video.

For further image stills of the video, please see the excellent report by Dr. Sam Hardy here. 

Not being a stone mason, it looks like the objects at minute marks 1.21, 1.28. 1.51, 2.47, 2.49, 2.54 2,56 and 3.55 are casts or partially consolidated cast and stone artifacts.  Objects at 2.44, 2.53, 3.24, 3.50, 4.26, 4.33, and 4.45 appear to be original. 

Mosul sits in the middle of 1,791 registered archeological sites, including four capitals of the Assyrian empire.

     By Lynda Albertson