In this New York Times article dated March 8, 2015, the author describes the destruction and looting of antiquities that is taking place in many areas of Iraq and Syria now controlled by ISIS. It seems that there is nothing that stands in the way of ISIS to destroy the cultural and historical treasures of these two countries. The writer reports that ISIS has “destroyed parts of two of northern Iraq’s most prized ancient cities, Nimrud and Hatra. On Sunday, residents said militants destroyed parts of Dur Sharrukin, a 2,800-year-old Assyrian site near the village of Khorsabad.”
Residents have been recording this destruction on their cellphones and curators are doing what they can to protect artifacts and art with sealants and sandbags and iron bars on museum windows to try to safeguard the treasures of Iraq and Syria.
ISIS justifies their actions saying the ancient art is idolatry and that it must be destroyed. But, according to officials and experts who track the thefts through local informants and satellite imagery, state that ISIS is looting on a large scale to raise money for their cause.
“Everything is dealt with for its value,” said Amr al-Azm, a former antiquities official in Syria who now works with the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq Project, an international consortium. “If it has propaganda value they exploit it for propaganda. If they can sell it, they sell it.”
The writer continues, “archaeologists and preservationists, used to battling mundane enemies like weather and development, lament that in areas held by the Islamic State there is little they can do but document the destruction.”
The latest measure undertaken was on Sunday, when officials sought designation of the “ruins of ancient Babylon as a Unesco world heritage site, hoping for a measure of protection by the United Nations.”
This type of activity is nothing new in times of war both in the ancient and modern eras, but, nonetheless, is it ever justified? The destruction of art in Europe during WWI and WWI by the Nazis is well documented. A recent major motion picture, The Monuments Men, follows an Allied group, comprising seven museum directors, curators, and art historians to both guide Allied units and search for stolen art and other culturally important items and return them to their rightful owners before their destruction by Hitler. Sadly, such an effort is very unlikely in Iraq and Syria, two countries that share much of the world’s earliest civilizations.