Double, triple, quadruple-checking: is this evidence that the Shrine of Sayeda Zeinab has been destroyed?

Previously, I debunked fabricated evidence of the destruction of the Shrine of Sayeda Zeinab in Sinjar, but I immediately updated it with confirmation of that destruction that had been published while I had been debunking the propaganda. And the confirmation may be correct. But some of the evidence is still niggling away at the back of my mind.

[Temporary update (11th August 2014): Now, I’m not entirely sure why I said that the shrine was Yezidi. Perhaps because a member of the Council of Ministers of the KRG, Shivan Fazil, and a Guardian correspondent, Nicky Woolf, who had visited the Yezidi community before and since the most recent violence, said that it was a Yezidi shrine. Regardless, as András Riedlmayer commented (and as I’d clearly forgotten that Matthew Barber had said), it was Shia.]

I performed as many checks as I could and could not secure any information that undermined the video frame from a local TV news report, which had been translated and published by an international scholar of Yezidism who is in the region. Still, four things bother me.

Pitched roofs?

The ruins appear to have (had) some structures with pitched roofs, whereas I cannot see any such roofs in photos of the shrine. In fact, judging by the pale blocks in the photo of the ruins, there are several large pitched roofs and they more or less survived any bombing.

Shallow slopes?

The shrine appears to be built on a high plateau, on slopes of about 45 degrees. The ruins appear to be near suburban buildings, on (at least front) slopes of about 30 degrees (though that could be due to debris from destruction and dislodgement of earth).

Views of the landscape?

The ruins appear to be set amongst a range of hills, yet land is not visible in front of the shrine (as photographed from behind) or behind the shrine (as photographed from in front), though that could be due to the angle of the views (as the uphill shot is notably steep).

Google Fu?

When I reverse image searched the captured frame of the Iraqi TV clip, it returned several hits from Malmö Kurd, including ones from as long ago as the 20th of September 2013, the 9th of August 2013, the 8th of August 2013, the 5th of August 2013 and the 22nd of July 2013. Obviously, I visited those pages but there was nothing there, and I checked the caches but there was nothing in them. I tried to machine-translate the search results themselves, but I couldn’t even spot a mangled place name amongst the half-transliterated text. I assumed that the search results were false positives from images in sidebars of recent stories or links to related articles. But was a buried post in Malmö Kurd the source of the photo after all?

Photos of the ruins and the shrine and an image of the search results

(c) Iraqi TV, 3rd August 2014; Matthew Barber, Syria Comment, 3rd August 2014

(c) Iraqi TV, 3rd August 2014; Matthew Barber, Syria Comment, 3rd August 2014

Here is the holy shrine attributed to Hazrat Zainab before destruction (1) (c) AhlulBayt News Agency, 4th August 2014

Here is the holy shrine attributed to Hazrat Zainab before destruction (1)
(c) AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA), 4th August 2014

Here is the holy shrine attributed to Hazrat Zainab before destruction (2) (c) AhlulBayt News Agency, 4th August 2014

Here is the holy shrine attributed to Hazrat Zainab before destruction (2)
(c) AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA), 4th August 2014

Google Image search results for an alleged image of the Shrine of Sayeda Zeinab 'after being blown up' from Iraqi TV, 3rd August 2014; Matthew Barber, Syria Comment, 3rd August 2014

Google Image search results for an alleged image of the Shrine of Sayeda Zeinab ‘after being blown up’ from Iraqi TV, 3rd August 2014; Matthew Barber, Syria Comment, 3rd August 2014

Notes

The Islamic State is also known as the Caliphate, Da’ash, Da’esh, Da’ish, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Sayeda Zeinab is also written Sayeda Zainab, Sayyda Zainab, Sayyda Zaynab, Sayyeda Zainab, Sayyida Zainab, Sayyidah Zainab, Sittna Zainab… Sayyeda Zaynab bint Ali was one of the granddaughters of Muhammed, one of the daughters of Imam Ali (who became the forefather of Shia Islam).

Arabic-language Sinjar is Kurdish-language Şengal (Shengal) or Şingal (Shingal) and Syriac-language Siggar.

4 Responses to “Double, triple, quadruple-checking: is this evidence that the Shrine of Sayeda Zeinab has been destroyed?”

  1. Sam, you’re prlyobab right about the post-destruction photos. The trouble is, of course, that the town of Sinjar, where this (Shiite, not Yazidi) shrine is/was located, was under the control of the ‘Islamic State’ militants at the time of the alleged destruction and it remains under IS control. Accordingly, IS is the only party in any position to have and make public any post-destruction photos or videos of the site. The fact that IS apparenty haven’t done so up to now is not conclusive as to the fate of the shrine, one way or another. But it does strongly suggest that any “post-destruction” images of this site that have appeared on Kurdish websites, Iranian media, or Baghdad govt websites in recent days are likely to be generic “destruction shots” from other incidents, posted “for illustration”. Sadly, there’s every reason to believe the worst. Given the past record and the ideology of IS militants, it may well be that they’ve already done the dirty deed and have destroyed the Sayyida Zaynab shrine, as well as other Shiite, Sufi and Yezidi shrines in the Sinjar area. But all one can say with confidence is that there are reports from various sources alleging that the shrines have been destroyed, but conclusive photographic evidence about the destruction has not come to light thus far.

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