Shattered by ISIS, Iraq’s Mosul Museum Is Rising From the Ashes

When Islamic State gunmen stormed the Mosul Cultural Museum and filmed by themselves having sledgehammers to 3,000-calendar year-outdated Assyrian statues in 2015, museum director Zaid Ghazi viewed the photos on the internet aghast.

Mr. Ghazi was at his residence in Mosul, not able to go to operate given that the militants had seized the metropolis, just one of Iraq’s greatest, and created it the crown jewel of their self-proclaimed caliphate. He later learned that Islamic State militants had set fireplace to the museum’s library of twenty five,000 textbooks.

“It was unbelievable,” he reported. “It confirmed the deep hatred in their hearts.”

A nevertheless graphic from a video clip reportedly released by Islamic State in February 2015 in which militants have been shown knocking in excess of statues in the Mosul Cultural Museum.


Agence France-Presse/Getty Photographs

The museum is a image of a multicultural version of Iraqi society that Islamic State tried using to obliterate for the duration of the 3 several years it dominated Mosul before being driven from the metropolis in 2017. Founded in 1952, the secular, community establishment showcases countless numbers of several years of Iraq’s historical past, which include intensive displays on pre-Islamic occasions.

Nowadays, Iraqi authorities, together with Mr. Ghazi and worldwide supporters which include the Smithsonian Establishment, have started a painstaking process of rebuilding the museum and restoring its location as a very important heart of culture in Iraq. The museum has reopened for specific artwork events given that 2019, but is now shut as directors plan the upcoming phase of its rehabilitation, which is predicted to take several years. Its reconstruction offers an opportunity to redress the traumas of Islamic State’s occupation.

A see of the museum in April 2017 immediately after the Iraqi army recaptured it from Islamic State.


Yunus Keles/Anadolu Agency/Getty Photographs

“Rehabilitating the museum is the greatest way of declaring the finish of Daesh and commencing a new interval in the present historical past of Mosul,” reported Omar Mohammed, a historian from Mosul and the founder of the information blog Mosul Eye, using the Arabic title for the team. “It’s an opportunity to reclaim the identification of Mosul.”

Latest historical past exhibits that rebuilding landmarks can aid societies ravaged by war change a webpage on trauma. They contain reconstruction of the Mostar Bridge in Bosnia in 2004 immediately after the Balkan wars and a lot of structures in Europe that have been destroyed in World War II, this sort of as Britain’s medieval Coventry Cathedral and Dresden’s 18th-century Lutheran church.

Iraqi forces inspecting the destruction inside the recaptured museum in March 2017.


AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Photographs

Islamic State seized Mosul in June 2014 at the top of a navy marketing campaign in which the extremist team captured swaths of Iraq and Syria and unleashed a wave of violent attacks across the Middle East, Europe and further than.

Once a thriving metropolis of additional than a million individuals, Mosul turned the coronary heart of Islamic State’s harsh experiment in jihadist governance in Iraq and Syria. It was in Mosul that the group’s leader,

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,

very first proclaimed the institution of a caliphate, declaring the mantle of Islamic empires from historical past.

The militants imposed an serious version of Islamic law that forbade music, liquor and cigarettes. The team drove out Christians and dedicated what the United Nations has labeled genocide against the Yazidis, a spiritual minority in northern Iraq and Syria. It also attacked cultural internet sites, destroying Roman temples at the ruins of Palmyra in Syria and blowing up the iconic leaning minaret of Mosul’s al-Nouri mosque, which had stood for additional than 800 several years, in the very last times of its rule.

Museum director Zaid Ghazi, ideal, analyzing a wood cenotaph in the museum’s Islamic Hall in February 2019.


Sebastian Meyer/Smithsonian

After capturing the metropolis from the crumbling Iraqi army, Islamic State militants turned to the museum, Iraq’s next greatest and residence to artifacts from the Assyrian empire, a pre-Christian civilization in northern Mesopotamia, and from the Islamic era. In February 2015, the team released a video clip of its customers using hammers and drills to ruin non-Islamic artifacts that they reported have been blasphemous “idols.”

Mr. Ghazi fled Mosul shortly immediately after the assault on the museum, the place he had worked given that 2001. He smuggled his spouse and children out to Turkey and later moved to Baghdad.

He returned to Mosul in 2017 immediately after a 9-thirty day period fight in which Iraqi forces backed by U.S. air energy liberated the metropolis from Islamic State. He identified significantly of the metropolis in ruins, destroyed by the combating, and learned the extent of the destruction at the museum.

Museum director Zaid Ghazi, still left, and Brian Michael Lione, the Smithsonian’s Iraq application manager, surveyed a destroyed mihrab screen in February 2019.


Sebastian Meyer/Smithsonian

With fragments of glass and rock crunching underfoot as he stepped into the making, Mr. Ghazi identified that Islamic State militants had set off explosives upcoming to a substantial stone dais from the ancient Assyrian metropolis of Nimrud. They had blown up a statue of a lamassu, an Assyrian deity with the overall body of a bull and the head of a human. They employed a knife to carve out the eyes of another.

In 2019 a workforce from the Smithsonian Establishment in Washington visited the museum to take stock of the destruction and start producing a plan for the reconstruction, portion of a undertaking in cooperation with the Louvre museum in Paris, the World Monuments Fund and the Switzerland-dependent Aliph Basis.

Richard Kurin, a Smithsonian Establishment distinguished scholar and ambassador-at-substantial who is involved in the Mosul museum undertaking, reported the restoration could aid Iraqis triumph over the destruction wrought by Islamic State.

Museum director Zaid Ghazi, still left, and conservator Kent Severson deciding upon regions for stabilization and restoration initiatives in the ancient metropolis of Nimrud.


Brian Michael Lione/Smithsonian

He drew parallels to his earlier operate on cultural preservation assignments introduced adhering to disasters like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the way individuals normally change to faith and culture in the aftermath of a catastrophe.

“Culture is so central to the resilience of a individuals. That’s why ISIS was destroying this things,” he reported. “It goes to the main of who individuals are.”

In addition to possessing to repair service the terribly destroyed making, the workforce also faced the problem of figuring out and sorting countless numbers of fragments of different artifacts destroyed by Islamic State militants. The rescue workforce place a grid on the flooring and is tagging every single item before having them carefully to a storage facility, earmarked for future restoration and feasible reassembly.

“We treated it like a chilly-scenario crime scene,” reported Cori Wegener, the director of the Smithsonian’s cultural-rescue initiative and a previous officer in the U.S. Military Reserve who worked on restoring the Iraqi Countrywide Museum immediately after it was looted adhering to the U.S. invasion in 2003.

Fragments gathered by Mosul Cultural Museum workers have been documented and put into non permanent storage.


Brian Michael Lione/Smithsonian

After possessing secured the Mosul Museum, repaired the roof—which was struck by mortar fire—and sifted by way of piles of particles, Mr. Ghazi and his collaborators are now beginning the careful process of preparing the upcoming era of the museum, which signifies wrestling with a set of inquiries about historical past, memory and the museum’s location in Mosul.

Directors ought to come to a decision no matter whether to acknowledge Islamic State’s occupation of Mosul and assault on the museum in a future show as a way of commemorating its new trauma.

Mr. Ghazi is against the plan. He argues that it would be superior to highlight the countless numbers of several years of abundant historical past that are the museum’s primary focus, not dwell on the violent and in the end brief chapter of Islamic State’s takeover.

“We’re striving not to remind individuals of the dark side of historical past,” he reported. “We never want to plant in people’s minds what ISIS did.”

Publish to Jared Malsin at [email protected]

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