Iraqi Spring has uploaded a video that shows a fire-damaged mosque in Baiji, which – according to Al Arabiya – Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s forces ‘aerially bombarded‘ in an attempt to strike ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS); Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Da’ash, Da’esh or Da’ish).
As I learned from Allison Cuneo (@AECuneo, who has worked extensively on and in Iraq), Human Rights Watch have secured multiple, independent, consistent testimonies of displacement of Shia Turkmen communities and destruction of their cultural property. Within this campaign of ethnic cleansing, ISIS (1) have also destroyed a site that was commonly venerated by Shia Muslims, Christians and (Kurdish) Yezidis (who practice a syncretic religion that reconciles Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam and other faiths).
There is no evidence that the Assyrian winged bull or Mosul/Nineveh Museum’s other artefacts have been destroyed
[This post was accurate at the time, but is sadly out of date. Islamic State has toppled, sledgehammered and jackhammered (drilled out) artefacts in Mosul Museum and at Nineveh.]
24 News (@24news__) reported in Arabic, ‘Iraq: “Daash” gunmen seize Nineveh Museum, and they destroyed ancient masterpieces, including the rare Assyrian winged bull [العراق : مسلحو “داعش” يستولون على متحف نينوى ويقومون بتكسير التحف منها تحفة الثور الاشوري المجنح النادرة]’. Coptic Nationalism (@DioscorusBoles) repeated the news in English, ‘ISIS destroys archaeological monuments at Mosul (Nineveh) Museum, including the famous winged Assyrian bull’ (and others copied-and-pasted or modified it).
ISIS pays its 10,000 fighters to $500-a-month (and funds a lot of other activities, too, obviously). Using a high wage of $600-a-month to ensure a low estimate, open-source arms monitor Eliot Higgins (@Brown_Moses) pointed out how many fighters could be employed by ISIS with the money from bank robberies. Performing the same calculations with the $36m from antiquities trafficking, that money could fund a permanent force of 5,000 fighters.
Over the past week, I’ve noted that fear, concern and propaganda are spreading false information about destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq; ISIS are using fear to drive communities to exile themselves, so that ISIS don’t have to confront, control or (directly) cleanse them. Confusion is making the problem worse. And while mainstream media are reporting the (para)military battles and territorial struggles, much other information is disappearing in the fog of war.
On the 18th of June, the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities stated that it was ‘following the news of smuggling unique and rare manuscripts from Mosul to Turkey’, including ‘a rare Quran that dates back to the Abbasside Period’, since ISIS’s conquest of the city.(1) It sounded as if the manuscripts had already been smuggled into Turkey (and it still sounds as if they have).
ISIS has not destroyed Mosul’s statue of Arab poet Abu Tammam (at least, on the available evidence, it has not)
It has been reported that ‘ISIS destroyed statue of Arab poet Abu Tammam in Mosul’. Amongst others, people are sharing a pair of photos of the process of the demolition of a ‘Symbol of Shirk [polytheism]’ (somewhat ironically, since the Christian-Muslim convert was a foundational figure in jihad poetry), and a pair of photos that show the ‘statue of the famous [Abbasid] Arab poet Abu Tamam in #Mosul #Iraq before and after the reign of #ISIS’ (or, to be precise, after and before).
According to antiquities collector and paid antiquities collecting lobbyist Peter Tompa (@Aurelius161180), ‘the archaeological lobby is cynically exploiting the rise of the ISIS terrorist group in Iraq to try to justify a further clamp down on collectors’.
Apparently, I am that lobby. And apparently a wish for antiquities traders only to trade in demonstrably legal antiquities is a call for a clamp down. Is there any evidence for my allegedly ‘dubious’, ‘wild claims’?
Derek Fincham (@derekfincham) has queried the looting-terrorism connection in cultural heritage advocacy. I want to say, first of all, that I share his wariness of the use of the terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” (which is why I tend to use the terms “paramilitary” and “political violence”), his wariness of presuming connections between antiquities looting and political violence (which is why I was cautioning to wait for evidence specifically on ISIS on the day that it was published), and his desire for cultural heritage to be protected because of its own value as a community resource.
However (in a collegiate pub chat way), I’m not sure that the connections between antiquities looting and political violence in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere are ‘cheap’. I’ll discuss the evidence concerning those situations in the next post, in my response to an antiquities collecting lobbyist’s comment on my work.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper (@andersoncooper) interviewed Martin Chulov (@martinchulov) regarding the inner workings of ISIS(1). In his original presentation of the $875m of assets that ISIS had accumulated before its conquest of Mosul, Chulov quoted an intelligence official who said that ISIS ‘had taken $36m from al-Nabuk alone‘ (by implication, through local/regional antiquities looting); but, in the CNN interview, Chulov said that ’36 million of it, according to these accounts, had come from looting and pillaging antiquities and archaeological digs around the country’ (at 2 minutes, 6 seconds).