fear, concern and propaganda are spreading false information about destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq

Whether due to panic, concern or strategy, false information is spreading about political violence against cultural property in the Iraq-Syria conflict. The true news is tragic enough, and any false news may make the real situation even worse.


As I’ve shown in Cyprus and Ukraine, victims of violence sometimes try to minimise their danger by denying that violence, so we cannot automatically accept reassurances (although we should respect their decisions as to how to manage their risk). And many citizens share reports of violence out of concern. I tweeted (then deleted) one locally-“confirmed” report. But states and other actors with vested interests in Iraq and Syria are deliberately subverting public understanding with propaganda.

Certainly, any photographically-evidenced false report must have its origins in deliberate propaganda (though it may have been shared sincerely afterwards), because its first release (which may not be traceable on social media) requires the manipulation of a photograph of a known event in a known place at a known date. Regardless, any misinformation, deliberate or not, fuels fear and hatred, and misleads policy.

False information

Just this morning, on Twitter, I’ve identified five false reports of violence by Islamist paramilitary Da’ash(1) against churches in Mosul.

Two (tinted) photos of unidentified ‘churches burnt down‘ by ISIS have been shared. One of the photos had also been shared with the news that ‘ISIS in Mosul [was] calling for all Churches to be burnt down‘. It was a photo of the Chaldean Bishop’s Palace in Mosul, which was bombed on the 7th of December 2004.

The other of those two was allegedly of a ‘Church burning in al-Wehda neighborhood in #Mosul north of #Iraq’ on the 10th of June 2014. According to Rev. Fr. Masis Shahinyan in Dohuk, ISIS did attack the Armenian Church of St. Etchmiadzin in Mosul on 10th June 2014, but the fire was outside. (There are also reports that an unnamed ‘incomplete church building was burned after been taken over by army/police’, and that it ‘was not destroyed on purpose but during fighting between Iraqi police and ISIS’.) [Update (19th June 2014): These are reports of the same incident. The church was not attacked, destroyed or burned (though it may have been damaged in other ways).]

Did ISIS bomb ‘a church in the east side of #Mosul’ on the 11th of June 2014? The Chaldean Church of Mar Afrem was bombed on the 26th of November 2009.

Was ‘[y]et another #Assyrian church… blown to shreds by ISIS in eastern #Mosul’ on the 11th of June 2014? It may have been the Armenian/Nestorian Church of at-Tamara; whichever church it was, it was bombed in 2004. Was still another ‘#Church destroyed by #ISIS in #Mosul’ on the 17th of June 2014? No. A church was bombed in Kirkuk on the 2nd of August 2011.

Please, check reports before sharing them.


1: Da’ash/Da’esh is the Arabic-language name for ISIL/ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant/Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

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