Are More Monuments Under Threat From ISIS?

Cultural and archaeological sites are at risk of destruction.

The main gate to the Erbil citadel in Iraq. Photo: Mohamed Sinjari, via Flickr.
The main gate to the Erbil citadel in Iraq. Photo: Mohamed Sinjari, via Flickr.

As fighting in Iraq intensifies and militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continues its relentless assault, rumors are swirling that American forces have begun bombing the region, and important cultural and archaeological sites continue to be at risk for destruction (see artnet News article).

ISIS previously took the city of Mosul, where they destroyed the tomb of the Old Testament prophet Jonah, as reported by artnet News. From there, ISIS overtook the nearby Nineveh plains, where a reported 200,000 Assyrian Christians were forced to flee their homes. The region is home to many ancient churches and monasteries, which now stand defenseless. There has been no word on the fate of the sixth century Mar Gewargis monastery, or the Dair Rabban Hurmiz, which the Assyrian Monasteries in Present Day Iraq website calls “the most famous and most visited monastery in Iraq.”

In the town of Sinjar, which also fell under attack, a number of shrines sacred to the Yazidis, a monotheistic religion related to Zoroastrianism, have been destroyed. Although the Conflict Antiquities blog has reported that the Sherfedin Shrine, the most sacred Yazidi site, and the Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir are still safe, others, such as the Shrine of Sayeda Zeinab, are no more. The human casualties have been far greater, with an estimated 10,000–40,000 Yazidis who escaped the ISIS massacre in town now stranded without food or water on a nearby mountain, according to the Daily Beast.

The Kurdish capital of Erbil, which has so far been an enclave for persecuted religious and ethnic groups, is expected to be the target for ISIS’s next onslaught, according to Breitbart. The Erbil Citadel, first settled some 8,000 years ago, is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited sites. The city’s ancient walls have survived sieges over thousands of years, and have housed cultural figures such as Muslim poets, historians, and scholars. The citadel is under the protection of the Word Monuments Fund and has been on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s tentative World Heritage List for Iraq since 2010, but as ISIS marches on, the historic citadel stands in peril.


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