IS destroying heritage in Syria and Iraq
The Associated Press
Aug. 21, 2015
BEIRUT (AP) — The Islamic State group's demolition of the St. Elian Monastery in the central Syrian province of Homs is the latest in a long campaign that has destroyed or extensively damaged some of the Middle East's most spectacular archaeological and cultural sites.
Some of the world's most precious cultural treasures, including ancient sites in the cradle of civilization, are in areas controlled by the group and at the mercy of extremists bent on wiping out all non-Islamic culture and history. In addition to pre-Islamic sites, the militants have also targeted churches, mosques and museums.
The rampage, targeting priceless cultural artifacts often spanning thousands of years, has sparked global outrage and accusations of war crimes. The militants are also believed to be selling ancient artifacts on the black market in order to finance their bloody campaign across the region.
In May, the extremists captured the central Syrian town of Palmyra raising fears they would demolish the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city at the edge of the town — a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the Mideast's most iconic archaeological sites.
Here's a look at some of the major sites destroyed by IS in Iraq and Syria, and others under their control:
ST. ELIAN: The 1,500-year-old monastery had already been damaged by Syrian government shelling in recent weeks, according to an official with an organization representing Assyrian Christians. On Friday, IS posted photographs on social media sites showing bulldozers destroying the monastery.
PALMYRA: Islamic State fighters fully captured the central Syrian town, home to one of the Middle East's most spectacular archaeological sites, in late May. In June, the head of the Syrian government's Antiquities and Museums Department, Maamoun Abdulkarim, said IS militants had destroyed a lion statue dating back to the 2nd century. The statue, discovered in 1975, had stood at the gate of the town's museum, and had been placed inside a metal box to protect it from damage. In July, IS released a statement saying that six busts from Palmyra had been confiscated from a smuggler. Photographs released by the group showed IS militants destroying the busts with large hammers and the smuggler being whipped.
On Tuesday, IS militants publicly beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, an 81-year-old Palmyra resident and antiquities scholar whose lifelong work had earned him the nickname "Mr. Palmyra in the archaeological community.
This week, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova told The Associated Press that satellite images of Palmyra revealed a network of holes dug in the area for "illicit excavations and then eventually trafficking and looting."
NIMRUD: In the 9th century B.C., Nimrud, also known as Kalhu, became the second capital of Assyria, an ancient kingdom that came to rule much of present-day Iraq and the Levant and became a great regional power. The city, which was destroyed in 612 B.C., is located on the Tigris River just south of Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, which was captured by the IS group in June 2014. The late 1980s discovery of treasures in Nimrud's royal tombs was one of the 20th century's most significant archaeological finds. The government said militants destroyed the site in March using heavy military vehicles.
HATRA: One day after the destruction of Nimrud, IS militants bulldozed the 2,300-year-old ruins of Hatra, a well-preserved complex of temples south of Mosul and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The move was described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon as a "war crime."
MOSUL MUSEUM: On Feb. 26, a video emerged on militant websites showing Islamic State militants with sledgehammers destroying ancient artifacts at the museum in Mosul which they referred to as idols. They also destroyed the Nirgal Gate, one of several gates to Ninevah, the onetime capital of the Assyrian Empire.
MOSUL LIBRARIES: In January, Islamic State militants ransacked the Central Library of Mosul, smashing the locks and taking around 2,000 books — leaving only Islamic texts. Days later, militants broke into the University of Mosul's library. They made a bonfire out of hundreds of books on science and culture, destroying them in front of students.
SHRINES: Last year, militants destroyed the centuries-old Mosque of the Prophet Younis — believed to be the burial place of the Prophet Jonah — and the Mosque of the Prophet Jirjis, two revered ancient shrines in Mosul. They also threatened to destroy Mosul's 850-year old Crooked Minaret, but residents surrounded the structure to protect it..
DURA EUROPOS: The 2,300-year-old city overlooking the Euphrates River is a remarkably well-preserved cultural crossroads, a city first founded by Alexander the Great's successors and later ruled by the Romans and various Persian empires. It boasts pagan temples, churches and one of the earliest known Jewish synagogues. Satellite imagery taken last year show the site pockmarked with holes from pillaging and illegal digs. It also showed hundreds of people conducting illegal excavations.
MARI: An ancient city located on the site of Tell Hariri on the western bank of the Euphrates River in Deir el-Zour province. It is believed to have been inhabited since the 5th millennium B.C. and was discovered in the early 1930s. It has also been severely looted by IS.
TEL AJAJI AND TELL BRAK: Prehistoric settlement mounds in Syria's far eastern Hassakeh province. Experts say both have been looted and destroyed, artifacts have been removed from both sites, and ancient statues — some dating back to the Assyrian period — have been smashed.