A photoshopped frame of the destruction of a lamassu at Nergal Gate…

In the month since the destruction at Mosul Museum and the Nergal Gate Museum, at least in the West, there has been an increase in the profile of reporting and an explosion in the volume of commentary on political violence against cultural property in the conflict (specifically, political violence against archaeological heritage in Iraq, compared to the coverage of previous and ongoing destruction of religious sites in Iraq and Syria and beyond).

There have also been increasing calls for military intervention – albeit, remarkably, only to protect archaeological, cultural, historic sites, not the civilian communities who are the target of the genocide (and based on unevidenced, though not necessarily entirely false claims). I’ll post more on that soon. Still, cultural heritage workers and Western politicians are not the only people who are exploiting events. Amongst the confusion and advancement of political narratives, I spotted a peculiar image and wanted to query it and learn more about it.

A lazily photoshopped frame from the destruction video has been circulating. A “badge”, with a “banner” or “scroll” of text over a circled “4”, has been put over the sleeve of one of the perpetrators. In an inset photo of someone who closely resembles the perpetrator (and wears a similar jacket), the same badge has been put over that person’s jacket.

Photoshopped symbol

Photoshopped symbol

Although it’s at the same angle in both places, I don’t think it’s a watermark. If nothing else, it wouldn’t make sense to watermark a frame from an Islamic State video. In addition, at least one Arabic-speaker close to one of its sources told them that the image had been doctored, and none of the respondents explained that it was simply a personal or organisational brand, so they didn’t think that the “badge” was a watermark either. Furthermore, in the bottom left corner, the image is branded with a modified version of the coat of arms of Iraq, which appears to have a motto in a circle around it.

Coat of arms of Iraq on left; modified coat of arms on right

At the source locations, the producer-promoters of the image claim to identify the perpetrator not only by name, but also by military authority; they claim that he is a Kurdish Peshmerga fighter. Did they get that information from the same source as the inset photo? If they know who he is, how do they know who he is, and why do they only know one of his names?

It would mean nothing if he had served among the Peshmerga before he joined the Islamic State. These images seem to imply that he was a Peshmerga and acted as a Peshmerga when he destroyed the lamassu. They seem to imply that the destruction was a false flag attack to make the Islamic State look even worse than it did already. More importantly, they seem to insinuate that the Peshmerga are equivalent to the Islamic State and likewise need to be defeated. But it could be something completely different. Does anyone recognise the symbols? Does anyone have any idea?

Photoshopped frame of destruction of lamassu at Nergal Gate (7th March 2015)

Photoshopped frame of destruction of lamassu at Nergal Gate (7th March 2015)

Captioned, photoshopped frame of destruction of lamassu at Nergal Gate (22nd March 2015)

Captioned, photoshopped frame of destruction of lamassu at Nergal Gate (22nd March 2015)

Destruction of lamassu at Nergal Gate Museum by Islamic State (MediaFire, 00h04m29s, 26th February 2015)

Destruction of lamassu at Nergal Gate Museum by Islamic State (MediaFire, 00h04m29s, 26th February 2015)

Advertisements

4 Comments to “A photoshopped frame of the destruction of a lamassu at Nergal Gate…”

  1. “There have also been increasing calls for military intervention – albeit, remarkably, only to protect archaeological, cultural, historic sites, not the civilian communities who are the target of the genocide (and based on unevidenced, though not necessarily entirely false claims).” The snark is unwarranted. Four comments. First, civilian communities are the targets of genocide, but the sites are targets of iconoclasm and looting; there is not just “the genocide”. Second, the death of human beings is undoubtedly of much greater concern than the destruction of archaeological sites, but that does not mean one should not be concerned about both, and it is the job of cultural heritage professionals to do what they can to make sure attention is also paid to the sites. The notion that one cannot do both is baloney. Third, I am certain that quite a few of those who have been calling for military intervention to protect sites also called for military intervention, for instance to protect the Yazidis. But the reason there aren’t more strident calls for military intervention to protect civilian populations is that a) military action is already underway (just not to protect archaeological sites); b) military intervention done wrong will do more harm than good (for civilian populations as for archaeological sites). Fourth, the question of unevidenced claims certainly needs to be answered satisfactorily, but would it not be preferable for the military to be intervening militarily proactively (i.e., by monitoring truck or bulldozer movement on roads leading only to remote sites and taking out a few of them or seeding the road with tacks if need be) rather than waiting for disaster?

    • I used the term “the genocide” partly to minimise the ugliness and distraction of an already ugly and distracting sentence, but partly to acknowledge that at least some among the Assyrian community consider the iconoclasm to be a comparable destruction of their identity. I didn’t want to tell them that it isn’t.

      Any snark is not directed at concern in general or the idea of either ending or preventing harm. I didn’t link to your or Mark Altaweel’s comments, for example, because they are of a different order – they are reasonable. You didn’t say that you found the destruction of statues especially horrible even in contrast to crimes such as throwing suspected homosexuals from the tops of buildings, as Boris Johnson did. As far as I know, Johnson did not volunteer to fight for Kobani or Shingal as he did for the Nergal Gate. I will explain my objections more fully in a more detailed post, but I think you will agree with them.

  2. I hadn’t seen Johnson’s piece (it has gotten no play over here), you didn’t specify him, and so I was taking your comments as referring to me and others. Having read it, you are right: I do find the gung ho rhetoric disturbing, though to be fair he does say at least that he finds the killings horrible too. And while he does not volunteer to fight for Kobani or Shingal I take it that he wants the UK to take more military action on those fronts — something you seem to want too (though that I cannot be sure of). I myself would be leery of suggesting more intensive humanitarian military action absent a clear plan for both getting the job done without killing a lot of civilians and a clear plan for what happens after, neither of which may exist for specific locales unlike for the Yazidis trapped on the mountain.

    • I think Johnson will say he wants whatever plays well with Conservative voters and stirring leader-followers, at least while he’s angling to become first a member of parliament and then prime minister. He wanted not to arm the rebels in 2013; to provide air strikes and special forces in mid-2014 (and to reverse the burden of proof on anyone who visited Syria or Iraq); then not to put soldiers on the ground except to train the rebels in late 2014; then to arm the rebels – though seemingly only the Kurds – in 2015…

      I believe that we have a responsibility to help, but I share your concerns about how we could intervene effectively and I have no military expertise. We can’t have a doubled-up repeat of last time. Peacekeeper-held safe areas don’t exactly have the best track record. I just don’t think that we could or should offer for monuments what (no fly zones, military guards, whatever) we don’t also offer for civilians. And I fear that their kind of rhetoric may make matters worse, because it provides material that can be exploited to present the Islamic State’s enemies as more concerned about statues than people.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: