Destruction of Heritage: ISIS and Art

The Islamist terror group known by many acronyms, whether it be ISIS, ISIL, or just IS; has
been wreaking a course of devastation across what might soon be the entirety of the “Cradle of
Civilization”. With ISIS’s victim count reaching well over the thousands; we see that among the
executed are both British and American relief workers. While we see little to no action on the
part of the West to save countless Christians and other minority groups from the wrath of this
jihadist group, we see another large dilemma: What is the international community doing to stop
the destruction of invaluable Heritage sites?

To give a quick overview of how much land ISIS actually owns, militants have captured
about two thirds of Syria, with the remaining third divided up amongst Assad’s government and
two other “rebel” groups; as well as nearly half of Iraq conquered, leaving Iraqi troops quibbling
over how to deal with the issue. Within these conquered territories, ISIS has found itself a large
bounty, that of over a thousand years worth of artwork and heritage sites. Though ISIS is
planning something much more sinister for these sites than simple patriation like that conquering
groups of the past, the total destruction of, or illegal trade of some of the most crucial heritage
sites and beautiful artwork of human history.

In Iraq, we have detailed reports from groups such as the Iraqi State Museum Department that
members of ISIS has been funding their campaign by destroying reliefs of King Ashurnasirpal II
in the ruins of the city of Kahlu, severing body parts of entire pieces to sell on the black market.
It is no doubt in the mind of analysts, that ISIS has seized relics ranging from Rashidun and
Abbasid era gold coins, to millenia sold Babylonian Artwork. In the recently invaded city of
Mosul, we’ve photographic proof of the destruction of the Church of the Tomb of Jonah, a site
which has existed for over 1,800 years. This is not the only destruction in Mosul, as the famous
statue of Iraqi poet Abu Tammam has also been confirmed to have destroyed. ISIS themselves
even post countless videos and photos of the detonation of Yazidi sites, Shi’ite Mosques, and
Christian Orthodox Churches in the Nineveh Province, taking pride in their unbridled
annihilation of culture and artwork.

Jointly in Syria, we observe some of the greatest destruction of heritage sites and artwork
seen since the Axis destruction of European heritage in World War II. With the claiming of the
city of Der Zor in Syria, mortar strikes rained down upon the Armenian Memorial Church of Der
Zor, considered to be the “Auschwitz of the Armenian Genocide”, rendering the beautiful white
marble and stained glass site a ruin. Surrounding the buildings were exposes of some of the most
astonishing Armenian art, “Khatchkars” or “Crucifix Stones”, where were large hand carved
stones, now left a pile rubble. The greatest loss though, was that within this beautiful freeform
sculpture and church, was the remains of victims of the Armenian Genocide, now rendered
unpreservable, and unattainable due to ISIS control.

When noting this very small portion of the destruction outlined in this article, there seems an
incredible cause for alarm, yet we hear nothing. From politicians we receive halfhearted
apologies for destroyed artwork, and empty promises of intervention via inefficient means. How
many more deaths, and how much more destruction of some of the oldest cultural heritage that
exists, will it have to take in order for these individuals with the power to make change, do so?
This is a question to which I am both eager, and terrified to find the answer to.

Works Cited:

“Experts: ISIS Destroying Ancient Archaeological Sites to Sell Artifacts on Black Market.”
Breitbart News Network. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
<http://www.breitbart.com/BigPeace/
2014/09/20/ExpertsISISDestroyingAncientArchaeolo
gicalSitestoSellArtifactsonBlackMarket>.
“ISIS Selling Iraq’s Artifacts in Black Market: UNESCO.” Al Arabiya. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
<http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middleeast/
2014/09/30/ISISsellingIraqsartifactsinbl
ackmarket.
html>.
“ISIS’s Looting Campaign The
New Yorker.” The New Yorker. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
<http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/isislootingcampaigniraqsyria>.
“ISIS Destroys Memorial & Church of Armenian Genocide in Der Zor, Syria.” ISIS Destroys
Memorial & Church of Armenian Genocide in Der Zor, Syria. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
<http://www.atour.com/~aahgn/news/20140929a.html>.
http://hyperallergic.com/136800/isisdestroyshistoricsitesiniraqandsyria/