Cultural legacy lost as ISIS torches Mosul library

ISIS forces put the Mosul library to the torch Feb. 22—over vociferous pleas and protests from the city's notables. "ISIS militants bombed the Mosul Public Library," said Ghanim al-Ta'an, director of the library. "They used improvised explosive devices." Among the many thousands of books it housed, more than 8,000 rare old books and manuscripts were burned. The library was established in 1921, the same year that saw the birth of the modern Iraq. Among its lost collections were manuscripts from the 18th century, Syriac (Aramaic) language books printed in Iraq's first printing house in the 19th century, Iraqi newspapers from the early 20th century, and some rare antiques such as an astrolabe used by early Arab mariners. The library had hosted the personal libraries of more than 100 notable Mosul families over the past century. Bloggers and activists in Mosul got out the word of the building's destruction over the Internet. (Fiscal Times via Yahoo News, Feb. 23)

Iraq's libraries have repeatedly been damaged and destroyed since the US invasion of 2003, and the country's literary tradition suppressed. A cultural legacy was similarly lost when jihadists destroyed the library of Timbuktu in 2013.

  1. ISIS abducts scores of Syrian Christians

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Feb. 24 that ISIS militants have abducted at least 90 local residents from Assyrian Christian villages in Syria's Hassakeh governorate. Hundreds more have been displaced. An Assyrian church was blown up by the militants in the town of Tel Temir. Fighting between ISIS and Kurdish YPG forces continues in the area. (VOA, Feb. 25; ARA News, Feb. 24)

  2. ISIS destroys ancient Mesopotamian artifacts at Mosul museum

    ISIS released a video Feb. 26 showing militants methodically using sledge-hammers and electric drills to destroy centuries-old artifacts at Mosul's National Museum. Issued by the "media office of Nineveh state," the video depicts fighters roaming through the museum, leaving behind a trail of smashed Assyrian and Akkadian statues, some of which date from as far back as the 7th century BC, according to the museum plaques shown. A bearded man says the artifacts are depictions of "pagan gods" that "were worshiped instead of Allah," adding: "It is easy for us [to destroy these artifacts], and we do not care, even if they cost billions of dollars." An Islamic nasheed, or chant, plays in the background as the camera lingers on the destrouction. (LATDaily Mail, Feb. 26)

    1. Joke on ISIS in museum rampage?

      Newsweek cites claims that most of the relics destroyed in the museum raid were replicas, the originals having been transferred to a Baghdad museum before the attack (we aren't told how). However, one of the statues destroyed is definitely determined to be an original—a stone bull with wings, believed to have been created in the seventh century. The winged bull once stood at the entrance to the ancient city of Nineveh, where Mosul is now located, and was a symbol of regional pride.

  3. ISIS attacks archeological site

    ISIS militants attacked the ancient archaeological site of Nimrud, damaging it with heavy vehicles, Iraq’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said March 5. Nimrud is the sprawling site of a city founded by the Assyrian King Shalamansar I, who died in 1245 BCE. Nimrud houses colossal statues known as lamassu, winged bulls with bearded human heads. At least one lamassu was destroyed by ISIS at the Mosul museum. Others from Nimrud are at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum. 

    Many of the massive Nimrud statues remain buried at the site, which site has many areas that archaeologists have not yet explored. George C. Papagiannis, UNESCO officer for Iraq from 2009 to 2011, said: "These extremists are trying to destroy the entire cultural heritage of the region in an attempt to wipe the slate clean and rewrite history in their own brutal image." (NYT)