The Islamic State has released a horrifying video today showing militants taking a sledgehammer to priceless works of art from the ancient Iraqi civilization.
Extremists entered the Mosul Museum, which resides along the bank of the Tigris River, and tossed artifacts from the 7th century BC, which were described by the militants as “idols” that needed to be destroyed. The bearded men accosted the heavy statues with sledgehammers and drills, and pushed the works off their pedestals, leaving the artifacts in pieces on the floor.
Among the artifacts ruined and captured on video were an Assyrian winged bull from Nineveh (a similar one can be found in the Met, complete), a statue of an Assyrian king, and other large historic works of art. The extremists showed no remorse for destroying their own cultural heritage. In the video, one of the participants spoke his mind to the camera stating,
“Oh Muslims, these artifacts that are behind me were idols and gods worshipped by people who lived centuries ago instead of Allah.”
According to Fox News, “The destructions are part of a campaign by the IS extremists who have destroyed a number of shrines — including Muslim holy sites — in order to eliminate what they view as heresy. They are also believed to have sold ancient artifacts on the black market in order to finance their bloody campaign across the region.”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s director Thomas Campbell made a statement this morning against the attacks:
Speaking with great sadness on behalf of the Metropolitan, a museum whose collection proudly protects and displays the arts of ancient and Islamic Mesopotamia, we strongly condemn this act of catastrophic destruction to one of the most important museums in the Middle East. The Mosul Museum’s collection covers the entire range of civilization in the region, with outstanding sculptures from royal cities such as Nimrud, Nineveh, and Hatra in northern Iraq. This mindless attack on great art, on history, and on human understanding constitutes a tragic assault not only on the Mosul Museum, but on our universal commitment to use art to unite people and promote human understanding. Such wanton brutality must stop, before all vestiges of the ancient world are obliterated.
Mosul is one of the largest cities in northern Iraq and has been overtaken with militants for almost a year now. Many of the archaeological and artistic sites throughout Iraq have been ransacked and rid of anything the militants believe to be in opposition to their beliefs. Just last month, the central library in Mosul and the university’s library were broken into, books destroyed and burned, with nothing but Islamic texts left behind.
UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, is reviewing the footage of today’s video and will be convening talks to explore how to save Iraq’s cultural heritage. She says,
“I condemn this as a deliberate attack against Iraq’s millennial history and culture, and as an inflammatory incitement to violence and hatred.”
She continued to say, “This attack is far more than a cultural tragedy – this is also a security issue as it fuels sectarianism, violent extremism and conflict in Iraq.” UNESCO and the Security Council of the United Nations will convene an emergency meeting to determine how to put a stop to the “intolerable” actions taken by militants against sites like Hatra and Nineveh.
Although this is not the first time that such hatred has been focused on art and antiquity (extremists ransacked the Cairo Museum in Egypt during fighting there a few years ago, and the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad was looted in 2003), it doesn’t fail to make headlines and cause a collective gasp from around the world. With cultures around us that so value our heritage (New York especially has hundreds of museums and galleries inhabited by thousand-year-old items), it is difficult to grasp the actions that other human beings are taking half a world away. We can only hope that these items can eventually be saved and that an end to fighting comes soon.