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1 12th March 2015 Heritage sites attacked ISIL ransack ancient Iraqi city in latest attack on heritage sites The extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have ransacked the ancient city of Dur-Sharrukin, known today as Khorsabad, a 2,700-yearold village in northern Iraq. The attack has caused a lot of damage across the ancient city of Dur-Sharrukin and is the latest in a series of attacks on the country s heritage sites. The group have recently attacked other ancient cities including Nineveh, Nimrud and Hatra. The latest attack on Dur-Sharrukin was confirmed in an official statement by the head of Iraq s antiquities board and the country s antiquities minister on Wednesday (11 March). They said that the city walls had been razed. The militants attack also involved looting, burning historical manuscripts, ransacking temples and destroying shrines. The full extent of the damage is not yet known. Dur-Sharrukin is a city well known for its archeological treasures and ancient history. It is famous for its giant human-faced, winged-bull statues, in particular. Tourism and Antiquities Minister Adel Shirshab has called upon world leaders for help to stop the damage from getting any worse. ISIL is a group of people who believe that their idea of Islam should exist across the Middle East. The group have a specific idea of how people should live. Their fighters have come from all over the world, including Britain, and have taken over a large part of northern Iraq and Syria. ISIL have a very strict interpretation of Islamic law and believe that all Muslims should live in a particular way. ISIL is also known as the so-called Islamic State (IS) as the terrorist group believe they have started to create a caliphate. Dur-Sharrukin is well known for its famous winged-bull sculptures with human faces. These can be seen at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad. News Story Original Version schoolsonline.britishcouncil.org

2 WHY ARE ISIL FIGHTERS DESTROYING HISTORICAL TREASURES? ISIL rejects any form of worship involving images and icons. It considers shrines and statues to be false idols which should be destroyed. The religion of Islam does not allow its God or any of its religious figures to be depicted. There are no pictures or statues in mosques. Instead, they are decorated with beautiful geometric patterns and calligraphy (written script). However, ISIL have taken this belief to an extreme. They are using it as a reason to destroy any icon or statue, and to attack ancient sites containing these items. Some of the sites existed before the Islamic religion began. However, these acts of violence are not just committed for religious reasons. Destroying irreplaceable artefacts causes shock worldwide and advertises the group s hardline views. It is also a fund-raising activity: some of the antiquities are destroyed, but others are being sold by ISIL on the black market for profit. Nimrud Hatra Ninevah Dur-Sharrukin OTHER HISTORICAL SITES ATTACKED BY ISIL NIMRUD, IRAQ ISIL bulldozed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in early March It was founded 3,300 years ago. Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO (the part of the UN responsible for cultural heritage), has described this as a war crime HATRA, IRAQ This is an ancient city from the days of the Parthian Empire, which became the capital of the first Arab Kingdom. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The head of UNESCO has said: This is a direct attack against the history of Islamic Arab cities, and it confirms the role of destruction of heritage in the propaganda of extremists groups. The fortified city of Hatra withstood invasions by the Romans.

3 CULTURAL HERITAGE DURING TIMES OF WAR SPOILS OF WAR Attitudes towards how artefacts should be treated during conflict have changed a great deal over time. Historically, plundering and looting were part and parcel of war. The treasures and antiquities of an area were considered the spoils of war booty, rightfully won by the victors. SHARED HISTORY This attitude changed in more modern times as historical artefacts were considered to have value as part of a shared human history. Understanding their cultural value led many western empires (including the British) to take artefacts from the countries they had conquered and place them in their own museums. By the Twentieth Century it was widely recognised that artefacts are best understood in the context of the society in which they were created. THE SECOND WORLD WAR The widespread bombing of WWII destroyed countless historic buildings and heritage sites all over the world. Most, but not all, of the damage to cultural sites was accidental. However, under Hitler, the Nazis systematically went about looting foreign treasures from the countries they had invaded. Recovering these works of art and returning them to their rightful owners is still ongoing. THE HAGUE CONVENTION After the Second World War, the scale of the cultural destruction resulted in the 1954 Hague Convention (for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict). This international treaty, updated in 1999, seeks to protect culturally significant items and stop such destruction ever occurring again. 126 states have signed the agreement. IRAQ AND SYRIA Unfortunately militant groups like ISIL only abide by their own interpretation of Islamic Law and have no respect for such international agreements. Whatever your culture, laws or beliefs, one thing is certain: once these historical treasures are destroyed, they are gone forever. Ancient Assyrian relief BC from Nimrud showing King Ashurnasirpal accompanied by his courtiers pouring a libation over a dead lion

4 KEY TOPIC VOCABULARY CAN you match the correct definition to the key words in this news story? Completely destroyed ISIL heritage Islam artefact Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. A group of fighters with a very strict interpretation of Islam, which has taken over large parts of northern Iraq and Syria. A place listed by UNESCO as being of outstanding universal value and part of the common heritage of humankind. Sites include the Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Objects, buildings or works of art from the ancient past. antiquities shrine black market caliphate UNESCO World Heritage Site The Hague Convention Razed An object made by humans which has cultural or historical interest. An agreement between countries to protect cultural heritage from the consequences of armed conflict. A place considered holy to a religion for a particular reason, which people from that religion will visit in order to worship. An illegal trade in items which are supposed to be banned from sale or controlled in some way. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Valued objects and traditions from the past. A form of Islamic government led by a caliph (a spiritual leader claiming succession from the prophet Mohammed). The second biggest religion in the world. Followers of Islam are called Muslims and worship the god Allah.

5 KNOW THE FACTS FIND the answers to these questions to make sure you know the facts behind the news story: 1) Who is ISIL? 2) Which ancient sites in Iraq have been attacked by ISIL? 3) Describe the kinds of damage ISIL have been causing to the region s antiquities. 4) What public statements and comments has Iraq s antiquities minister made about the attacks? 5) What is a World Heritage Site? Give an example of a World Heritage Site in Iraq. 6) Why is ISIL attacking historical sites like Dur-Sharrukin?

6 POINTS OF VIEW WHAT DO YOU THINK? Discuss these questions with other people to develop your ideas. 1) Why do you think people are so shocked by these attacks? 3) The fighters from ISIL are described as extremists. How does their attitude toward the region s heritage demonstrate their extreme behaviour? 2) Why are cultural treasures often a casualty of war? 5) Should we care about old buildings and objects when many people are dying in the fighting which is occurring in Iraq and Syria? 4) Religious beliefs are open to interpretation. ISIL have a very strict interpretation of Islam, which nearly all Muslims disagree with. Why do you think the voice of the moderate majority of Muslims is so important at the moment? SHARE your thoughts on these questions with your partner school.

7 VOTE, COMMENT, ACT CAN you explore this news story even further? 1) OUR COMMON HERITAGE Find out more about the early civilisations of the country in which you live. Choose three sites and three objects which have cultural and historical significance to your area. Ask your partner school to do the same and compare your heritage. 2) IRAQ AND SYRIA In ancient history, the countries now called Iraq and Syria were part of a region known as Mesopotamia. This is widely thought to be the oldest civilisation in the world and for this reason the area is often referred to as the cradle of civilisation. Writing was invented here around 3,000 BC. Since then, many different religions and civilisations have influenced the area, each leaving their mark. Can you find out more about this fascinating part of the world? Read the children s poet John Agard s, brilliant book Book to find out more about how writing first developed in this region thousands of years ago. 3) THE MODERATE MUSLIM MAJORITY The atrocities committed by ISIL in Iraq and Syria are making headline news at the moment. It s important to remember that the views and actions of ISIL fighters are extreme and do not represent the millions of Muslims living around the world in peace. Explore the opinions of the moderate Muslim majority. Ask your teacher to find an adult in your community, who is a Muslim, who would be willing to come in and share their thoughts and opinions with you on this difficult, controversial subject. Ancient Assyrian stone relief fragment covered by cuneiform writing. Come up with three questions to ask them on any aspect of this news story to help you understand what moderate Muslims think and believe on these issues.

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