UNESCO chief condemns destruction of Nimrud heritage site in northern Iraq

The United Nations agency mandated with protecting cultural heritage around the world today strongly condemned the destruction of the archaeological site of Nimrud in Iraq, deploring such “criminal chaos” as yet another attack against the Iraqi people. 

“Nothing is safe from the cultural cleansing under way in the country: it targets human lives, minorities, and is marked by the systematic destruction of humanity’s ancient heritage,” Irina Bokova, Director-General at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said in a statement released today. 

“We cannot remain silent. The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime,” she said, calling on all political and religious leaders in the region to stand up and remind everyone that “there is absolutely no political or religious justification for the destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage.” 

All of those who can, especially youth, in Iraq and the wider region, must do everything possible to protect this heritage, to claim it as their own, and as the heritage of the whole of humanity, Ms. Bokova said. She also urged all cultural institutions, museums, journalists, professors, and scientists to share and explain the importance of the Mesopotamian civilization. 

“We must respond to this criminal chaos that destroys culture with more culture,” Ms. Bokova said, adding that she had alerted president of the Security Council as well as the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. “The entire international community must join its efforts, in solidarity with the government and people of Iraq, to put an end to this catastrophe.” 

UNESCO is determined to do whatever is needed to document and protect the heritage of Iraq and lead the fight against the illicit traffic of cultural artefacts, which directly contributes to the financing of terrorism. At stake is the survival of the Iraqi culture and society, she also said. 

The city of Nimrud was founded more than 3,300 years ago. It was one of the capitals of the Assyrian empire. Its frescos and works are celebrated around the world and revered in literature and sacred texts. The Iraqi government has confirmed that the site was attacked by armed extremists using bulldozers on 5 of March. 

Just three weeks ago, the UN Security Council adopted a measure which urged global cooperation in targeting sources of funding for ISIL and Al-Nusrah Front (ANF), and condemned those buying oil from the groups, banned all trade in looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria, and called on States to end ransom payments. 

The resolution, which called on UNESCO, Interpol, and other international organizations to assist in such efforts, was at the time welcomed by Ms. Bokova as a “milestone for enhanced protection of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria.”

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