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destruction of the Mosul library

July 5, 2017 Comments (0) Views: 233 Nostalgia

Culturcide – what happened to Mosul, its libraries and museum

There have been few instances throughout the history of our civilization when great libraries have been wiped away either by hazardous events of nature or the human factor. Perhaps, the most devastating example is the loss of the Great Library of Alexandria, a center for scholarship and research unlike any other of the ancient world.

However, we have not been spared of such hazards even in more recent days. The most recent example probably, being the Mosul’s central library that was ransacked by Isis in February 2015. Reportedly, some 100,000 books and manuscripts were burned in this savage action, as a new wave of destruction was conducted in the northern Iraqi city at that point.

Destruction of the Mosul library

The relentless unrests in the Middle East have left us without comments in the last decade, and even less is discussed about hazardous events such as the destruction of the Mosul library. Apart from libraries, also museums and university buildings were demolished across Mosul. According to Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO, such destruction equaled to the systematic destruction of heritage and “the persecution of minorities that seeks to wipe out the cultural diversity that is the soul of the Iraqi people“.

Mosul, Iraq in 1923. General view with tall minaret in the center of the picture

The library at the University of Mosul contained thousands of valuable books, ancient manuscripts, as well as worthy historic maps. In the least, it was among the finest in the Middle East. Some books dated back centuries, if not millennia. Among its treasured acquisitions was a Quran from the ninth century. There were also thousands of 21st-century volumes on science, philosophy, world history, literature, and the arts.

The Islamic state had ruled the city for a period of 32 months, and gradually it has progressed to torch the University campus buildings among other edifices. The library was hit the hardest, and by a majority, the acts are deemed to be done intentionally.

It perhaps has to do with local Iraqi culture. Although the Middle East country had its borders reconfigured and endured three long wars throughout a period of four decades, Iraqis have never ceased to cultivate their intellectual curiosity and literacy.

Mosul library before destruction, photo credit

There is a famous saying in the Middle East that goes: “Books are written in Egypt, printed in Lebanon, and read in Iraq“. So, for centuries, private home libraries have been regarded as a sign of class in Iraqi culture. Once the Mosul library was opened in 1967, many families have donated books from their own home collections to the new scholarship center, but now, everything is gone.

The Islamic State, in this case, has attempted to kill ideas, while destroying Mosul’s central Library and other major research centers in what represents Iraq’s second largest city. Not so long time ago though, these centers of the free thought boosted Mosul in being a cosmopolitan melting pot of different cultures, religions, and ethnicities.

Mosul Museum

Then, there is also the Mosul Museum, that is also the second largest museum in the country after the National Museum of Iraq in the capital city of Baghdad. The site was heavily plundered throughout the 2003 Iraq War. It was funded in 1952 and notably, some of its exhibits featured ancient Assyrian artifacts.

A photo depicting destruction at a street in Mosul as of 2016, photo credit

Regarding the museum, there has been a bit of confusion whether some artifacts shown destroyed in videos posted by extremists, were original or just copies. According to authorities, the most important works, except for some larger ones, were transferred to the Baghdad Museum immediately after the 2003 Iraq War. The most valuable ones have been transferred to Baghdad even a decade earlier, after the closure of the 1991 Gulf War. In commenting the videos, the authorities have further added that almost none of those artifacts shown destroyed in videos were originals.

We also thought to remind you of the Al ‘Askarī Shrine, in the city of  Sāmarrā


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