News that ISIS has ravaged an ancient Assyrian archaeological site is causing a global outcry: the 3,000-year-old city of Nimrud was reportedly “looted and bulldozed” by militant ISIS fighters, and UNESCO’s director general has condemned ISIS’ destruction of the site as a “war crime.”
The ancient city was known for its towering statues and rich artistic heritage, all centered around a lavish palace constructed for Assyrian king Assurnasirpal II in 865 B.C. The palace and the capital city were the site of epic celebrations and great artistic discoveries, from carved stone panels to troves of priceless jewelry.
But Iraq’s cultural heritage has long been under attack. After the Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq conflict, looting threatened many archaeological sites throughout the country. Concerned by reports of the destruction of historically significant sites and aware that the Iraqi government lacked the funds to adequately protect its heritage, a team of cultural and governmental institutions created the GCI-WMF Iraq Cultural Heritage Conservation Initiative in 2004. But the project wound down in 2011, as the ISIS insurgency began to take hold.
In February, the group released a video of militants smashing priceless sculptures in Mosul with sledgehammers. Now, Iraq’s tourism and antiquities ministry has confirmed that ISIS used bulldozers to destroy Nimrud. “Their plan is to destroy Iraqi heritage, one site at a time,” an archaeologist told Yahoo News. And a member of the European Syriac Union told the Guardian that the militants have caused “tremendous damage to the social fabric of the Middle East.”
UNESCO Director Irina Bokova concurs. In a statement, she called on the international community to put a stop to the destruction:
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.