World Heritage Special Issue on Iraq • June 2015 7,50€ US$9 £6 ¥850

Special Issue


A treasure

under threat


Quarterly magazine published jointly in English,

French and Spanish, by the United Nations

Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

(UNESCO), Paris, France and Publishing For

Development Ltd., London, United Kingdom.

Editorial Director

Kishore Rao

Director, UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Managing Editor

Vesna Vujicic-Lugassy


Gina Doubleday, Michael Gibson


Richard Forster

Production Editor

Caroline Fort


Special Issue

on Iraq

Map of World Heritage sites in Iraq

Message by Irina Bokova, Director-

General of UNESCO 3


Copy Editors

Caroline Lawrence (English),

Brigitte Strauss (French)

Editorial Board

ICCROM: Joseph King, ICOMOS: Regina Durighello,

IUCN: Tim Badman, UNESCO World Heritage

Centre: Nada Al Hassan, Feng Jing,

Edmond Moukala, Mauro Rosi, Mechtild Rössler,

Petya Totcharova, Isabelle Anatole Gabriel Vinson,

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Photo: Mary Prophit

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The authors are responsible for the choice and the presentation of the facts

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not necessarily those of UNESCO and do not commit the Organization. The

designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this

publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part

of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or

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Published by Publishing for Development Ltd., London, United Kingdom.

© UNESCO – Publishing for Development Ltd. 2015






The importance of cultural heritage in Iraq 4

Iraq is a vast museum that encompasses some

of humanity’s cultural heritage and generously

presents it to the world despite all the prevailing


UNESCO’s action in Iraq since 2003 8

In the aftermath of the 2003 conflict, and as a result

of the destruction and looting of Iraq’s cultural

heritage, UNESCO’s role was crucial in addressing

emergency needs.

UN Security Council

How international frameworks can

help protect Iraq’s heritage 12

UN Security Council resolutions impose a collective

commitment on states, which are required to act in

order to satisfy the mandatory standards prohibiting

trade in cultural property.

Mosul Museum

UNESCO and key museums – an

exemplary cooperation 17

World Heritage and Tentative List sites in Iraq

An assault on diversity 28

Since the diverse intangible heritage of the region

is under severe threat, it is important that UNESCO

continue to monitor the situation and support

displaced communities through heritage education.



#Unite4Heritage campaign

United Nations

Educational, Scientific and

Cultural Organization



World Heritage

Convention Heritage


WHC cover Special Issue_WHC 12/06/15 15:26 Page1

World Heritage Special Issue on Iraq • June 2015 7,50€ US$9 £6 ¥850

Special Issue


A treasure

under threat

Cover: Relief sculpture of Assyrian

King in Nimrud (Iraq).

WORLD HERITAGE Special issue on Iraq

Cultural World Heritage sites are representative of the creativity and genius of

humanity. While World Heritage belongs to everyone, and we share the responsibility

to protect it, each site embodies the history, values, beliefs and skills of the people

who created it. Whenever a cultural site is destroyed, it is a particularly devastating loss for

those who hold the site as a reflection of their history, culture and identity. The deliberate

destruction of cultural heritage, such as we have witnessed in Iraq, is more than that of

buildings or sculptures. It is cultural cleansing – aiming to destroy the dignity of the people

who view this heritage as a reflection of their very identity.

Iraq currently has four sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. This issue attempts to

convey the splendour of these sites, as well as others that are part of the country’s Tentative

List and could be inscribed in the future.

Hatra, inscribed in 1985, is a large, fortified city which withstood invasions by the Romans

in AD 116 and AD 198, thanks to its high, thick wall reinforced by towers. In April 2015,

elements of this 2,000-year-old site were deliberately destroyed. The ancient city of Ashur

(Qal’at Sherqat) was simultaneously inscribed on the World Heritage List and the List of

World Heritage in Danger in 2003. It dates back to the 3rd millennium BC, and from the 14th

to the 9th centuries BC it was the first capital of the Assyrian empire.

In 2007, Samarra Archaeological City was also inscribed on both Lists. Samarra is the site

of a powerful Islamic capital city that for a century ruled over the provinces of the Abbasid

empire extending from Tunisia to Central Asia. The 9th-century Great Mosque and its spiral

minaret are among the numerous remarkable architectural monuments of the site, 80 per

cent of which remain to be excavated.

Erbil Citadel was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2014, and is a former fortified

settlement on top of an imposing ovoid-shaped tell in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. A

continuous wall of house façades still conveys the visual impression of an impregnable

fortress, dominating the city of Erbil. Historical records document the antiquity of settlement

on the site – Erbil corresponds to ancient Arbela, an important Assyrian political and religious


The heritage of Iraq is not limited to those sites with World Heritage status, or with that

potential. It encompasses these and other places that make this country unique. They are all

at risk.

The value of these sites is obvious, and their loss would be irretrievable. Ashur, Hatra and

Samarra are located in highly volatile conflict areas, where destruction, looting and the illicit

traffic of cultural property has become a growing concern, and the situation is evolving every

day. This issue of World Heritage draws attention to the sometimes little-known heritage of

Iraq, highlighting its value and showing what is being done to protect it. The authors, among

them Iraqi officials, international and UNESCO experts, highlight actions that are under way

to protect this heritage, for Iraqi citizens and for the world.


Kishore Rao

Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Special Issue on Iraq


World Heritage sites in Iraq









Syrian Arab




Islamic Republic

of Iran





10 9






Saudi Arabia




World Heritage sites:

1. Hatra (1985)

2. Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat) (2003), inscription on the List of World

Heritage in Danger: 2003–present

3. Samarra Archaeological City (2007), inscription on the List of

World Heritage in Danger: 2007–present

4. Erbil Citadel (2014)


Tentative List sites:

5. Nimrud

6. Ancient City of Nineveh

7. Wadi al-Salam cemetery in Najaf

8. Marshlands of Mesopotamia

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q

9. Sacred Complex of Babylon

10. Fortress of Al-Ukhaidar

11. Historical features of the Tigris River in Baghdad Rusafa

Message by Irina Bokova,




ince the beginning of the

conflict in Iraq, in addition


to the tragic loss of life

and an unprecedented

humanitarian crisis, cultural

heritage has been the target of intentional

destruction on a staggering scale. We

face an appalling situation, which calls for

us to live up to our responsibilities. The

objective is to expunge any trace of history

of the country, along with the identities of

its people. Never before in recent history

have we seen such a violent and deliberate

destruction of heritage, used as a weapon

of war to tear societies apart and to spread

hatred. We must be clear and stand firm on

principles: we are not talking about stones

and monuments, but about the core values

of humanity. It is not only an irreparable

loss for Iraq, it is a loss for all humankind,

and we must respond together.

UNESCO is taking the lead in bringing

together experts, partner agencies, art

dealers and relevant organizations at the

highest level to assess the situation and

formulate concrete actions to stop this

criminal destruction. This also calls for a

stronger coalition that brings together

people well beyond the ‘culture box’ –

comprising the security, humanitarian and

peacekeeping domains. UNESCO launched

a comprehensive Emergency Response

Action Plan in July 2014 to ensure the

cooperation of all stakeholders in providing

assistance and training to Iraqi institutions

in the fight against the destruction, looting

and illicit trafficking of the heritage of


This special edition of World Heritage

is also a contribution to build a counternarrative

against ignorance, hatred and

propaganda. When violent extremists

The Director-General with students at the University of Baghdad for the launch

of the #Unite4Heritage social media campaign on 28 March 2015.


say humanity is not a single community

that shares values, when they say World

Heritage does not exist, and when they

try to misuse the lessons of history or

religion –- we must respond by explaining

the wisdom encapsulated in thousands of

years of history, recalling that exchange

and dialogue between cultures are the

driving forces of all societies. The city

of Nimrud (Kalakh), on Iraq’s Tentative

List for World Heritage since 2000, was

founded more than 3,300 years ago. It

was one of the capitals of the Assyrian

empire, and its frescoes and works are

celebrated around the world and revered

in literature and sacred texts. Dating back

to the 3rd century BC, Hatra started as a

small Assyrian settlement, which went on

to become a fortress and trading centre

on the famous oriental Silk Road and the

capital of possibly the first Arab kingdom in

the chain of Arab cities. Its remains provide

exceptional testimony to an entire facet of

Assyro-Babylonian civilization subjected to

the influence of Greeks, Parthians, Romans

and Arabs. All of this bears witness to a

universal truth: every culture is unique

– but each is woven into the wider story

of humanity and each participates in the

narrative of human aspirations.

We hope that you will appreciate this

publication, and that it will strengthen

the global commitment we share to

protect the cultural heritage of humanity.

This is also an appeal to all of you to join

the movement at #Unite4Heritage, as a

foundation for lasting peace.

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q 3

Special Issue on Iraq

Cultural heritage

The importance

of cultural

heritage in Iraq

Qais Hussein Rasheed

Vice Minister for Tourism and Antiquities of Iraq

Hatra was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1985.

© Éditions Gelbart

4 W

o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q

Special Issue on Iraq

Tabria Gate, Libbi-ali’s outer wall at Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat) World Heritage site.

© Éditions Gelbart

n a country such as Iraq, which


has been constantly undergoing

various crises within a very

unstable region, the importance

of cultural heritage might be

perceived as understated or non-existent.

In reality, however, its significance increases

in such circumstances as it constitutes

a significant factor where the different

cultures and religious groups converge.

This is currently the situation of Iraq. It is

fighting a cultural battle in the real sense of

the word, alongside its military battle. It is a

struggle for existence, for which this nation

has paid a high price and sacrifice.

The history of Iraq tells us about the

emergence of the first agricultural villages

(during the 8th millennium BC). It also tells

us about the patron of the first temple

(5th millennium BC), the first writings (4th

millennium BC), the emergence of the first

law (3rd millennium BC), in addition to the

first epic, democracy and music. It was in

this country, and throughout its consecutive

civilizations, that the Mesopotamians were

active and creative pioneers.

Iraq is fighting a cultural battle in

the real sense of the word.

Today, Iraqi people consider themselves

as the descendants and inheritors of those

forerunners and they cherish them. The

sense that they share a common culture

and a common history is considered as one

of the elements that gives them the feeling

of being part of the society they belong

to. It strengthens the sense of belonging,

which is considered a central element of

national identity. Within the context of

self-discovery in Iraq, cultural heritage has

helped to define who Iraqis are, where they

are now, and who they were in the past.

Since the initial stages of formation of

the country during the 1920s, this sense

of belonging to the past began to take

shape. It comprises the history of formation

of the Iraqi identity that was born in the

aftermath of cultural, political and social

degradation, during a period of successive

foreign occupations.

With the establishment in 1921 of the

modern country of Iraq, which subsequently

joined the League of Nations in October

1932, struggles began to emerge, with

an escalation of controversies between

different political factions about various

issues, such as the shaping of the new

country, general planning, Iraq’s economic

infrastructure, foreign policy and other

issues. Nevertheless, the various political

leaderships did not differ in their view of

cultural heritage. Generally, they all decided

on the importance of Iraq’s sovereignty

over all antiquities and agreed on all

matters pertaining to cultural heritage,

acknowledging that the archaeology of the

Mesopotamian civilization in Iraq is one of

the main features drawing the attention of

the world’s peoples and governments.

Since that period and until today, the

importance of cultural heritage in Iraq has

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q


Special Issue on Iraq

Cultural heritage

Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat).

© Éditions Gelbart

primarily revolved around it being a source

of pride, strengthening the people’s sense

of patriotism and belonging. Thus, enemies

of humanity and culture in the past and

present, who are also the enemies of Iraq,

had realized the importance of this heritage

to the Iraqi people. No wonder then, that

throughout Mesopotamia’s ancient history,

during wars and invasions, there are those

who have deliberately sought to obliterate

the remains of Iraqi cities by demolition,

burning and destroying statues and

objects, or sometimes moving obelisks and

monuments to their capitals.

In modern times, the civilization of ancient

Mesopotamia has also paid a heavy price

for wars and instabilities, whereby it was a

target for theft and illicit trade. Lately, with

the arrival of the extremists, with their radical

ideologies, and after occupying lands, killing

the innocent, destroying religious sites,

waging war and carrying out ethnic, religious

and sectarian cleansing, they have proceeded

with cultural cleansing by targeting cultural

icons and historic monuments in Iraq. They

have also looted archaeological objects in

order to finance acts of terrorism. They have

bombed and demolished archaeological sites,

shrines, churches, monasteries, and have

destroyed statues, archaeological and artistic

objects in museums, demolished cities and

historic capitals which still contained much

knowledge and art.

Large water basin at Samarra.

© Éditions Gelbart


W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q

Special Issue on Iraq

With these methods, they are trying to

destroy this unifying powerful factor that

all Iraqis rely upon, in order to further divide

what is already divided, reduce what is

already sparse, and weaken what is already


Nevertheless, because cultural heritage

is deeply rooted within us, and because this

heritage has much richness, significance,

comprehensiveness and depth, it would

be impossible for the enemies of humanity

to achieve their goals. The scenes of their

sledgehammers destroying the statues of

Hatra, or their drills vandalizing the heads

of the winged bulls, or their bulldozers

attacking important historic sites, have

all shocked Iraqis. Yet such actions have

revived the Iraqi identity, bringing the

people closer towards understanding the

significance of their cultural heritage,

primarily with its historical, nationalistic

and scientific values. To a great extent,

Iraqis have also succeeded in establishing

an institutionalized archaeological practice

that is in conformity with established

standards worldwide. This further

entrenches respect and pride in cultural

heritage among different groups of people.

Iraq is a vast museum that encompasses

some of humanity’s cultural heritage and

generously presents it to the world despite

all the prevailing challenges.

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q


Special Issue on Iraq

UNESCO’s action

UNESCO’s action

in Iraq since 2003

UNESCO Office for Iraq

Erbil Citadel.

© UNESCO and HCECR/ARS Progetti


W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q

NESCO’s role in safeguarding


Iraq’s cultural heritage

is longstanding and has

focused on implementing

activities that range from

urgent safeguarding actions to technical

assistance for ensuring the sustainable

management of its cultural treasures.

In the aftermath of the 2003 conflict, and

as a result of the destruction and looting

of Iraq’s cultural heritage, UNESCO’s role

was crucial in addressing emergency needs.

This role was further consolidated with UN

Security Council Resolution 1483, which

decided that all Member States are to

take appropriate steps to facilitate the safe

return of Iraqi cultural property, establishing

a prohibition on trade in or transfer of such

items, and calling upon UNESCO’s assistance

in the implementation of this decision. The

International Coordination Committee for

the Safeguarding of Iraqi Cultural Heritage

was created, with the mandate of advising

on appropriate measures to improve and

reinforce international cooperation for the

safeguarding of Iraqi cultural heritage.

The UNESCO Office for Iraq was also

established in 2003, and since then it

has implemented a spectrum of activities

and projects that gradually evolved from

addressing urgent needs to take on a longterm


Following the damage that incurred at the

National Museum of Iraq in 2003, UNESCO

strengthened efforts to protect, conserve

and rehabilitate the Iraqi cultural heritage,

including a Japanese-funded project for

the restoration of laboratories of the

National Museum. Training workshops and

awareness-raising initiatives to combat the

illicit traffic of cultural property were carried

out, along with providing legal assistance

on restitution cases, and assessing damage,

through funds from the Czech Republic,

Norway and Poland.

In recognizing the critical role of raising

awareness for the protection of cultural

heritage, television spots were produced

on the dangers of the illicit trafficking of

cultural property, along with an infographic

film aimed at sensitizing Iraqi youth to the

importance of protecting their cultural


In February 2006 and June 2007, cultural

heritage was targeted with the bombing

of the Al-Askari Shrine in Samarra. These

attacks did not only result in the destruction

of parts of the building, but also contributed

to widespread violence and sectarian


In line with UNESCO’s vision that

incorporates culture as a source of identity

and a tool in reinforcing social cohesion, the

project for the restoration of the Al-Askari

Shrine, started in 2008 with funding from

the European Union and the Government

of Iraq, aimed at addressing the shrine’s

restoration while promoting national


UNESCO has also been supporting cultural

heritage conservation and management

at several significant sites in Iraq, with

the overall goal of promoting respect for

cultural diversity and heritage and as a

factor in socio-economic development.

A major project was launched in 2007

for implementing the first phase of the Erbil

Citadel Revitalization Project, with funding

from the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The project has been implemented in

cooperation with the High Commission for

Erbil Citadel Revitalization, with the objective

of ensuring the sustainable revitalization of

Restoration work at Erbil Citadel.

© UNESCO/May Shaer

the citadel, by implementing conservation

and management measures in accordance

with best practices while enhancing

national capacities, thus contributing to the

sustainable development of the city. Phase II

of the project was launched in 2010, along

with a management plan for the buffer area

of Erbil Citadel aimed at establishing clear

guidelines and regulations for managing

the urban historic city centre of Erbil. Erbil

Citadel was listed as World Heritage in 2014.

A major focus of UNESCO’s activities

has been to strengthen capacities in the

conservation and management of sites in

Iraq. These include the Iraqi Marshlands

and Wadi as Salam cemetery in Najaf,

both currently on the Tentative List for

World Heritage nomination. UNESCO’s

assistance was provided through the joint

UNEP-UNESCO project World Heritage

Inscription Process as a Tool to Enhance

Natural and Cultural Management of

the Iraqi Marshlands, funded by the

Italian Government, and the project for

Safeguarding Najaf’s Cultural Heritage and

Promoting its International Visibility, funded

by the Ministry of Culture of Iraq.

The UNESCO Office for Iraq was established in 2003, and

since then it has implemented a spectrum of activities

and projects that gradually evolved from addressing

urgent needs to take on a long-term perspective.

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q 9

Special Issue on Iraq

Special Issue on Iraq

UNESCO’s action

Promoting the visibility of Iraq’s cultural

heritage has in fact been one of UNESCO’s

major actions in recent years. Within

the framework of the Najaf project, a

comprehensive assessment of unique

manuscript collections was conducted

along with the development of a training

Restoration work at Erbil Citadel.



W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q

programme for their conservation. A book,

Najaf: the Gate of Wisdom, has also been

published, and a volume on the history and

development of the city is in preparation.

Furthermore, the implementation of the

project for the Production of an Online and

Print Encyclopedia of Sulaymaniyah has

proceeded through self-benefiting fundsin-trust

from H.E. Hero Ibrahim Ahmad,

while, within the context of the project

for Modernizing Sulaymaniyah Museum,

a master plan was prepared and a prefiguration

exhibition installed, with funding

support from the European Union and the

Kurdistan Regional Government. A project

for Assisting the Government of Iraq to

Develop a National Tourism Strategy was

also implemented with funds from the

European Union.

In addition to addressing built heritage,

in the field of intangible heritage a

needs assessment was conducted in the

Kurdistan Region together with a capacitybuilding

workshop on the implementation

of the Convention for the Safeguarding

of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. Such

activities have paved the way for further

actions aimed at protecting Iraq’s diverse

intangible heritage.

While the rich cultural heritage of Iraq

was already threatened as a result of

conflict and insecurity, with the latest

escalation in violence since June 2014

hundreds of archaeological and religious

sites, as well as museum and manuscript

collections, have become greatly

threatened. Additionally, this situation

has halted UNESCO’s on-site activities in

areas at great risk, such as in Mosul and

Samarra where the implementation of two

related projects has been interrupted. Both

projects have been funded through selfbenefiting


Nevertheless, the role of UNESCO has

never been as crucial as it is today. At the

onset of the present crisis, an Emergency

Expert Meeting for the Safeguarding of

Iraq’s Cultural Heritage took place on

17 July 2014, during which an Emergency

Response Action Plan for the Safeguarding

of Iraq’s Cultural Heritage was adopted.

On 3 December 2014, UNESCO

organized an international conference on

Heritage and Cultural Diversity at Risk in

Iraq and Syria at its Paris headquarters,

with financial support from Kuwait and

Saudi Arabia. The event brought together

stakeholders from a wide variety of sectors

to sensitize them on the need to better

integrate the cultural dimension into

security, conflict resolution, humanitarian

aid and development policies and actions.

Among the specific measures and

Special Issue on Iraq

Restoration process at Erbil Citadel.

© UNESCO/May Shaer

recommendations proposed during the

Conference were:

• A ban on illegal trade in cultural

objects from Syria, based on similar

measures taken for Iraq through UN

Security Council Resolution 1483 (2003),

and in line with the recommendation of

the Sanctions Monitoring Team of the UN

Security Council.

• The creation of ‘protected cultural

zones’ around heritage sites in Syria and


• The ratification and implementation

of the 1954 (Hague) Convention for

the Protection of Cultural Property in the

Event of Armed Conflict and its additional


• The further elaboration of the

notion of ‘cultural cleansing’ as proposed

by the Director-General, in order to

strengthen the legal and technical basis for

this concept.

Since then, UNESCO has been actively

engaged in addressing the illicit trafficking

of cultural property. In its implementation

of Security Council Resolution 2199, for

which it is actively advocating, UNESCO has

been working with Member States, the art

market and cultural institutions worldwide,

while collaborating with Interpol and law

enforcement agencies.

Within this challenging context, and

through the support received from Japan

and Norway, UNESCO has again embarked

on responding to the current crisis through

the respective projects addressing cultural

heritage at risk and awareness-raising.

The launch of the global social media

campaign, #Unite4Heritage, took place at

the University of Baghdad on 28 March

2015 with the aim of building support for

the protection of heritage. On that day,

young Iraqis showed great determination

in standing up for the protection of the

heritage of humanity, providing hope for

a recovery in which the power of culture

can indeed play an instrumental role in

fostering social cohesion and promoting

reconciliation and understanding among

cultures and nations.

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q 11

Special Issue on Iraq

UN Security Council

UN Security


How international

frameworks can help to

protect Iraq’s heritage

Vincent Négri

Researcher, Centre National de la

Recherche Scientifique (France)

Abu Dulaf mosque, Samarra.

© Éditions Gelbart


W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q

ver since the premises of The

Hague Conventions of 1899


and 1907 on ‘the laws and

customs of war’, international

law has continually made

provisions for the protection of cultural

property threatened during wars and crises.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries,

Article 56 developed a rule for the

immunity of cultural heritage during armed

conflicts and at the same time introduced

a prohibition on seizure, destruction or

intentional damage of cultural property and

a principle for pursuing the perpetrators of

such acts. In 1954, the UNESCO Convention

for the Protection of Cultural Property

in the Event of Armed Conflict imposed

an obligation on countries to respect

the cultural heritage of all peoples of the

world. It also introduced criminal liability

for perpetrators of intentional destruction

of cultural property during such conflicts,

enshrined in Article 8 of the Rome Statute

of the International Criminal Court (ICC)

adopted in 1998. Such acts are, as a result,

defined as war crimes. This development

in international law can also be seen in the

jurisprudence of the International Criminal

Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY),

established in 1993, which specifically

sentenced the perpetrators of the

bombardment of the Old City of Dubrovnik,

on the grounds that ‘this crime constitutes

an undermining of items of value specially

protected by the international community’.

Along these lines, the United Nations

Security Council, in Resolution 2085

adopted on 20 December 2012 regarding

the situation in northern Mali, condemned

the destruction of cultural and religious sites

and reaffirmed that these acts constituted

crimes under the ICC Statute, and those

guilty should be held accountable. Since

then, inhumanity and the propagation of

terrorism have shifted and spread; and in

some parts of Iraq and Syria, the ‘Islamic

State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known

as Daesh)’ has increased its acts of violence

against the population and their cultural

identities. It is against this backdrop that

on 12 February 2015, the United Nations

Security Council adopted Resolution 2199

(2015) with a view to reinforcing measures

against Daesh, Al-Nusrah Front (ANF) and

all other individuals, groups, undertakings

and entities associated with Al-Qaida. As


© Mary Prophit

The general interest of humanity in protecting

the cultural heritage of peoples has become

a matrix for international law dedicated

to the preservation of cultures.

well as a commitment to fight against the

threats of terrorism and dry up their sources

of finance, this resolution also condemns

the destruction of Syrian and Iraqi cultural

heritage committed in particular by Daesh

and ANF, and calls on United Nations

Member States to take measures to prevent

trade in cultural property illegally removed

from Iraq and Syria.

Peoples’ cultural heritage is a target for

terrorists and vandalism. In response, the

United Nations Security Council, given its

primary responsibility for the maintenance

of international peace and security, can

adopt preventive and even enforcement

measures on the basis of Chapter VII of the

Charter of the United Nations; the question

of destruction and dispersal of peoples’

cultural heritage thus forms part of a wider

intention to combat and sanction terrorism.

The ethics of international law is thus

based on the damage and the loss suffered

by a group of people, whose culture and

religious identity have been affected, and

beyond that, on a principle of resistance

against the denial of humanity. As the

ICTY recalled in 2001, ‘it is humanity as a

whole that is affected by the destruction of

a specific religious culture and the cultural

items associated with it’.

This same principle also serves to inspire

the international UNESCO standards

and conventions. The preamble to the

1954 Convention recalls that ‘damage to

cultural property belonging to any people

whatsoever means damage to the cultural

heritage of all mankind, since each people

makes its contribution to the culture of the

world’. The general interest of humanity in

protecting the cultural heritage of peoples

has thus become a matrix for international

law dedicated to the preservation of

cultures. However, the effectiveness of

international conventions is still restricted

by the willingness of countries to ratify or

abide by them, and the capacity of these

countries to exercise initiatives to satisfy

their international commitments.

It is this scope for interpretation and this

autonomy of states that Resolution 2199

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q 13

Special Issue on Iraq

Special Issue on Iraq

UN Security Council


© Mary Prophit

UN General Assembly adopts resolution on ‘Saving the cultural

heritage of Iraq’

Resolution GA/11646, adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly

on 28 May 2015, focuses on the fight against the destruction of cultural heritage and

attacks against cultural diversity in Iraq. The resolution was introduced by Ms Maria

Böhmer, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany and Ambassador

Mohamed Ali Alhakim, Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations.

The resolution contains a strong call to fight the impunity of perpetrators of attacks

against cultural heritage and encourages all Member States to ratify the Rome

Statute of the International Criminal Court to ensure that the intentional destruction

of cultural heritage may be prosecuted as a war crime. It also highlights UNESCO’s

#Unite4Heritage social media campaign and calls on UNESCO to assist Member States

in the implementation of Security Council resolution 2199.

‘The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is a war crime – it is used as a tactic of

war, in a strategy of cultural cleansing that calls on us to review and renew the means

by which we wish to respond and to defeat violent extremism,’ declared the UNESCO

Director-General, adding that the adoption of this resolution marks a turning point in

the mobilization of the international community.


W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q

(2015), based on Chapter VII of the Charter

of the United Nations, wishes to overcome

and neutralize. By ordering measures to

prevent trade in Iraqi and Syrian cultural

property illegally removed, from Iraq since

6 August 1990 and from Syria since 15

March 2011, measures that provide for

prohibition of international trade in these

items and for their safe return, the Security

Council places peremptory obligations

on all countries, independently of other

international undertakings that they may

have committed to by ratifying or adhering

to the 1954 UNESCO Convention. As an

international legislator, the Security Council

prescribes an obligatory model of behaviour

connected to a specific issue, namely that

of looting and illicit trafficking of cultural

property in connection with the financing

and development of terrorism.

Resolution 2199, especially its paragraph

17, reiterates the decisions of paragraph

7 of Resolution 1483 of 2003 concerning

Iraqi cultural property, which called on

Member States to, on the one hand, take

appropriate steps to prevent trade in or

transfer of property illegally removed from

the National Museum, the National Library

and other sites in Iraq and, on the other

hand, to facilitate the safe return to Iraqi

institutions of Iraqi cultural property and

other items of archaeological, historical,

cultural, scientific or religious significance.

These resolutions impose a collective

commitment on states, which are required

to act in order to effectively satisfy the

mandatory standards prohibiting trade in

cultural property, put forth by the Security

Council on the basis of Chapter VII of the

Charter of the United Nations. The same

requirement places the onus on an institution

responsible for regional integration (such

as the European Union), provided it is

competent to regulate trade and circulation

of property and merchandise.

This collective discipline reinforces the

‘density’ of the normative instruments

available, and widens the territorial

application of the obligation to respect

peoples’ cultural identity; it also channels

the individual actions of states, lays down

the foundations for their international

responsibilities, and, beyond that, promotes

the different fields of law to serve the general

interest of humanity in the protection and

safeguarding of cultural heritage.

Special Issue on Iraq

Hatra, ornamental carvings.

© Éditions Gelbart

Extract from Resolution 2199 adopted by the Security Council on 12 February 2015 S/RES/2199 (2015):

The Security Council,

Reaffirming its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, in accordance with the Charter of

the United Nations,

Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations,

Cultural Heritage

15. Condemns the destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria particularly by ISIL and ANF, whether such destruction is

incidental or deliberate, including targeted destruction of religious sites and objects;

16. Notes with concern that ISIL, ANF and other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al-Qaida, are

generating income from engaging directly or indirectly in the looting and smuggling of cultural heritage items from archaeological

sites, museums, libraries, archives, and other sites in Iraq and Syria, which is being used to support their recruitment efforts and

strengthen their operational capability to organize and carry out terrorist attacks;

17. Reaffirms its decision in paragraph 7 of resolution 1483 (2003) and decides that all Member States shall take appropriate steps

to prevent the trade in Iraqi and Syrian cultural property and other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific, and

religious importance illegally removed from Iraq since 6 August 1990 and from Syria since 15 March 2011, including by prohibiting

cross-border trade in such items, thereby allowing for their eventual safe return to the Iraqi and Syrian people and calls upon the

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Interpol, and other international organizations, as appropriate, to

assist in the implementation of this paragraph; …

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q 15

Special Issue on Iraq


Mosul Museum

Lamia Gailani, Professor, Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East,

University of London

On 26 March 2015 a video appeared on an website of ‘Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Daesh)’ showing

extremists destroying ancient statues in the galleries of the Mosul Museum as part of their hostile beliefs and policy towards what

they see as being idols. It was not certain when exactly the attack had taken place. The museum had been taken over by the

extremists in the first few days after the fall of Mosul in June 2014. Since then it has been closed and the staff dismissed. The building

adjacent to the galleries, which had been the administrative offices of the museum, has become Daesh’s Islamic Tax (Zakat) office.

Before the Gulf War of 1992, the museum had over 1,000 objects on display in its galleries. In the wake of the unrest that followed

that war, all the provincial museums in Iraq, including the Mosul Museum, were closed to the public due to the troubles that erupted

and the looting of more than a dozen of them. All the portable antiquities from these museums were removed and transferred to the

main storerooms of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad. What was shown on the video of the Mosul Museum were the heavy

immovable statues and wall reliefs that had been built into the walls of the galleries displaying the Assyrian and Hatra antiquities. A

short list of the objects left on display in the museum galleries was compiled by an employee who worked in the Mosul Museum for

some ten years, and a more detailed list is now being prepared for publication.

Assyrian Gallery

In the Assyrian gallery at the Mosul Museum objects still on display dated from the 9th to the 6th centuries BC; the majority being

originals made from stone with the exception of one in bronze, and consisted of fragments from the Belawat Gate. At least three

items were replicas of Assyrian reliefs depicting battle and hunting scenes. The stone objects included a number of large winged

bulls and a lion from the archaeological site of Nimrud, a throne base from Nimrud, altars from Khorsabad, the historically important

stele of King Ashurnasirpal II commemorating the building of the city of Nimrud as his new capital, and a number of Assyrian reliefs.

The same extremists went to the ruins of Nineveh where they attacked the 8th century BC winged bulls of the Nergal Gate

with automatic drills. The gate is the most prominent standing monument in Nineveh; also damaged are two more bulls that were

excavated in the 1990s by the Department of Antiquities of Iraq.

Hatra Gallery

Hatra was a caravan city that flourished in the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD. The stone statues that were on display

represented the citizens and kings of Hatra, along with a unique statue of a priest holding an eagle seen on the video being destroyed.

Among the reliefs, one great loss is the rare painted plaque depicting a mythological scene with Nergal, the Mesopotamian god of

the underworld.

On 4 April, a new video appeared showing the UNESCO World Heritage site under attack, with reliefs outside the main temple

being destroyed with pick hammers and automatic guns. Hatra had a distinctive culture through its Arab inhabitants, who dressed

in Parthian costumes, while their gods who held Arabic names dressed in Roman attire.

Islamic Gallery

The Islamic Gallery did not appear in the video, so the fate – whether destroyed or looted – of the thirty original antiquities,

including three stone mihrabs intricately decorated with carved Koranic inscriptions, a number of wooden doors from mosques and

large pottery containers, is not known.

© Mary Prophit © Mary Prophit © Mary Prophit


W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q

UNESCO and key museums – an exemplary cooperation

Cultural Heritage Protection Treaties Section

Building on the wealth of information

compiled by UNESCO and its partners

such as the Iraq State Board of

antiquities and heritage, the heads of

archaeological missions who worked in

Iraq until the beginning of the cultural

cleansing perpetrated by the ‘Islamic

State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also

known as Daesh)’ and international

governmental organizations and nongovernmental

organizations (ICCROM,

ICOM, ICOMOS, etc.), the Director-

General of UNESCO stressed the

urgent need to mobilize the scientific

community for the salvage of Iraqi

cultural heritage. Furthermore, she

proposed coordinating an international

scientific committee of curators

of the largest collections of Near

Eastern antiquities outside of Iraq

and experts on Iraqi culture to devise

mechanisms, in collaboration with Iraqi

professionals, to ensure the restitution

of artefacts stolen from museums and

cultural objects that had been stolen,

clandestinely excavated and illegally

exported, and to formulate guidelines

for consolidated long- and short-term

emergency actions.

French President François Hollande and Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, reiterated the urgent

need to safeguard cultural heritage in both Iraq and Syria (Louvre Museum, Paris, 18 March 2015).

© UNESCO/P. Chiang-Joo

With its experience in post-conflict interventions in Baghdad since 2003, the Organization is working out the best way to rapidly

support curators and archaeologists in Iraq with technical assistance, in close connection with major museums of the world.

Within the framework of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2199 adopted on 12 February 2015, the 1970 UNESCO

Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and

the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, UNESCO works tirelessly to curb illicit trafficking in

cultural property and facilitate restitutions by collecting and disseminating information on missing cultural objects among concerned

institutions (Interpol, specialized police units, ICOM and networks of archaeologists and art market experts, etc.).

Several initiatives, in particular capacity-building and awareness-raising activities, undertaken by various international institutions

show the exemplary way in which museum professionals work hand in hand with UNESCO. The cooperation and vigilance of key

partners in the fight against the looting of cultural property is required more than ever. By systematically verifying the provenance

and title of Iraqi cultural property entering the art market and their collections, and by reporting suspicious and stolen objects,

museums can counter the alarming destruction of Iraqi cultural heritage.

The Louvre Museum in Paris hosted a meeting between French President François Hollande and UNESCO Director-General Irina

Bokova on 18 March 2015, in which they unequivocally condemned as war crimes the deliberate destruction of several cultural

heritage sites in Iraq by violent extremists. In addition, the US Department of State and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New

York City held a conference entitled ‘Heritage in Peril: Iraq and Syria’ on 22 September 2014 to call for an end to the destruction

of culture in these countries.

Among the latest initiatives, UNESCO and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which unites five institutions based in Berlin

from the museum, archive and library fields (including the Pergamon Museum famous for its archaeological holdings), in May 2015

initiated a joint project to protect cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq. The overall goal of this project is to reduce the illicit trafficking

in Syrian and Iraqi cultural property through three main lines of action: the implementation of sensitization activities for the general

public in art market countries (including the production of advocacy communication materials and a social media campaign), close

collaboration in knowledge-sharing, and capacity-building cooperation.

Special Issue on Iraq

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q 17

Special Issue on Iraq

World Heritage and Tentative List sites

World Heritage

and Tentative

List sites in Iraq


© Éditions Gelbart


W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q 19

Special Issue on Iraq

Special Issue on Iraq

World Heritage and Tentative List sites

ubbed as the cradle of civilization,

Iraq boasts thousands


of sites of historical, archaeological,

cultural and religious

significance, comprising a

mosaic of cultural heritage remains.

Several of the archaeological sites that

have become vulnerable and under threat

in Iraq date back to the Assyrian period.

Centred along the Tigris River, the Assyrian

empire comprised a major part of ancient

Mesopotamia that spanned the period from

the 3rd millennium BC to around the end of

the 7th century BC.

Such sites include Ashur, Nimrud,

Khorsabad and the ancient city of Nineveh.

Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat) dates from the 3rd

millennium BC, and was the first capital

of the Assyrian empire between the 14th

and the 9th centuries BC. Nimrud, which

was founded during the 13th century BC,

was considered as the second capital of the

Assyrian empire. Known also as Kalhu or

Kalakh, Nimrud flourished during the reign

of King Ashurnasirpal II (883–59 BC).

Khorsabad, which is also known as ancient

Dur Sharrukkin, was made the capital of

Assyria by Sargon II during the 8th century BC.

It comprised a large palace, a ziggurat and

several temples. Towards the end of the 8th

century BC, Sargon II’s successor Sennacherib

made Nineveh the capital and built several

temples, a palace, a water canalization system

and a surrounding city wall.


© Mary Prophit

Distinctive Assyrian artistic and

architectural remains include large statues,

panels and reliefs that were carved in stone

or alabaster and adorned the entrances

and walls of major buildings. Of these

is the sculpted figure of the lamassu,

which represents an Assyrian deity and is

depicted with a human head and the body

of a winged bull or lion. Wall reliefs often

portrayed intricately carved hunting or battle

scenes, accompanied by a narration. Such

reliefs stood very prominently at the palace

of Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud, recounting

his military campaigns and achievements,

and providing some further understanding

about ancient Mesopotamia.


© Diane Siebrandt


W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q


Hatra was, by the 3rd century BC, a fortified

Arabic principality which would rapidly

develop into the capital of a kingdom. A

trade centre on the Silk Road, it adopted an

economic model similar to other Arab cities

such as Palmyra, Petra and Baalbek. An ally

of the Parthian empire (247 BC–AD 226), it

defined the region’s political landscape from

the 1st to the 3rd centuries AD. Its vestiges

manifest the influence of Greek, Parthian,

Roman and Arabic civilizations on Assyro-

Babylonian culture.

Located in a buffer between the Roman

and Parthian empires, Hatra’s impregnable

fortifications helped to withstand invasions

by Trajan in AD 116 and Septimius Severus

in AD 198. The circular city, 2 km in

diameter, is protected by two concentric,

3 m thick walls and a moat; the outer wall is

earthen, the inner wall stone. Bolstered by

163 watchtowers, these walls are pierced

by four gates in the cardinal directions.

Constructed in Hatra between the 1st

century BC and the mid-1st century AD,

the circular fortifications had not been used

since Troy, in the 3rd millennium BC. Other

Near Eastern ensembles such as Ctesiphon,

Firouzabad and Zingirli would follow this

typological renewal.

At the heart of the city is a temenos (holy

precinct) covering 1.2 ha and enclosing a

multitude of temples to Hatrene gods – a

syncretization of the Greek, Mesopotamian,

Assyrian and Arabic pantheons. Statues of

Apollo, Poseidon, Eros, Hermes, Tyche and

Fortuna were excavated. Amidst the many

religious structures, the Great Temple once

rose 30 m. A square temple dedicated to

Shamash, Hatra’s main deity, was completed

© Éditions Gelbart

by Sanatruq, King of the Arabs, in the 2nd

century AD. Nearby is the goddess Shahiro’s

temple and one dedicated to the Hatrene

trinity Marn, Marten, Yarn Maren – our lord,

our lady and their son. Burial towers and a

porticoed shopping compound complete

the temenos. This mixture of theological

and commercial functions attracted

travellers, sustaining the city. Orthostatic

construction, vaulted chambers, arches,

piers with engaged columns and typically

Graeco-Roman architectural components

blend with Near Eastern layouts and

ornament. The recurrent use of iwans (halls

with one open façade) as a structuring

element influenced the design of Ashur’s

temple and shaped both Sassanid and

Byzantine architectures.

This site was inscribed on the World

Heritage List in 1985.

(Description adapted from World Heritage

in Arab Countries, Éditions Gelbart, 2011)

Special Issue on Iraq

© Éditions Gelbart

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q 21

Special Issue on Iraq

World Heritage and Tentative List sites

Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat)

Named for the head of the Assyrian

pantheon, the city of Ashur was the

Assyrian empire’s religious centre and first

capital. First occupied as Sumer entered

its Early Dynastic period in 2800 BC, the

65 ha site remained a thriving city well

into the Parthian era of the 2nd century

AD. Enfolding three millennia of Middle

Eastern history, the site, located on the

west bank of the Tigris, offers an unbroken

archaeological and epigraphic record

comprising Assyrian public and domestic

architecture, artistic production and urban,

theological, socio-economic and political


Ashur is divided into two districts: Libbiali

is the old city centre and Alu-ishshu a

smaller southern projection developed

during the mid-2nd millennium BC. Libbiali

was surrounded by a double wall with

gates and a large moat, Alu-ishshu by

a single wall. Ashur was built using sundried

mud bricks on stone foundations.

Dating from the first half of the 3rd

millennium, the Temple of Ishtar – the

Sumerian goddess of love and war – is

the earliest remaining monument. Later

surviving buildings include the Old Palace,

the god Ashur’s ziggurat and temple

and the double temple of Anu and Adad

with its two smaller adjoining ziggurats.

Ashur remained the empire’s political

capital until the reign of the neo-Assyrian

King Ashurnasirpal II. Although political

© Éditions Gelbart

functions moved to Nimrud, Ashur

maintained its role as Assyria’s main cultic

site – where kings were crowned and

buried, and where military leaders offered

pre-battle sacrifices. Accordingly, the neo-

Assyrians restored all main sanctuaries

and palaces – a course of action called

for in their predecessors’ large corpus of

cuneiform inscriptions. They created royal

burials within the Old Palace and erected

Bit Akitu, dedicated to the celebration of

the New Year’s fertility rites. Living quarters

in many parts of the city date to the same

period and provide insight into everyday

life. Elements of the Parthian Palace have

survived where the old city meets the new.

The temple plan, the palaces’ architecture

and the decorative arts and furnishings

within would become the standard

throughout Assyria. It is in Ashur that

early steps towards a unified urban layout

were taken, steps that would be applied to

Assyrian metropolises and provincial towns

for more than seven centuries.

This site was inscribed on the World

Heritage List in 2003.

(Description adapted from World Heritage

in Arab Countries, Éditions Gelbart, 2011)

© Éditions Gelbart


W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q

Samarra Archaeological City

Samarra is the only surviving fully

preserved Islamic capital. It served the

Arab Abbasid empire – whose sovereignty

extended from Tunisia to Central Asia – for a

century. Located 130 km north of Baghdad,

the city is one of the largest archaeological

sites in the world, extending 41.5 km, with

a width of 4–8 km.

Built in AD 836 on the eastern bank of

the Tigris by Caliph al-Mu’tasim, Samarra

was developed by seven successive rulers

until 892 when Baghdad was reinstated as

the capital. Among its forty-two palaces,

Al-Mu’tasim’s Qasr al-Khalifa (caliphal

palace) is the only example of an imperial

palace from later antiquity and also one

of the largest Arab Islamic palaces in the

world. It includes living quarters, halls,

administration rooms, diwans, guards’

barracks and recreation facilities that cover

an area of 125 ha.

During his reign, Al-Mutawakkil (AD

847–61) extended Samarra to the west

bank of the Tigris. The historian Al-Ya’qubi

described the city’s seven parallel avenues,

one of which accommodated quays for river

transport. The caliph, a lover of architecture,

erected twenty palaces.

East of the city, he built three racecourses,

two with spectator pavilions and grounds

measuring 80 m by 10.5 km long. A third

was organized in four circles – each with a

diameter of 5.3 km – forming a cloverleaf

© Éditions Gelbart

circuit. Al-Istablat, a military camp built

in AD 851 on the west bank, contains a

palace connected to blocks of houses, each

surrounded by a massive enclosure wall. The

Great Mosque was constructed between

849 and 852. It measures 264 m by 159 m

in plan and has a seventeen-aisle structure

of fired brick and gypsum mortar, making

it the largest mosque in the Islamic world.

Its 10.5 m high walls have sixteen entrance

gates and are reinforced by regularly

spaced, semicircular towers. Stucco carvings

of floral and geometric designs became

known as the Samarra style. Al-Malwiya,

an unusual spiral minaret, is built on a 32 m

square base, its five circular layers forming a

54 m high tower.

Once called Surra Man Ra’a (‘delighted is

he who sees it’), Samarra influenced many

Islamic cities. Its palaces and mosques,

hemmed in by a further 7,000 buildings,

offer an outstanding example of Abbasid

architecture and urbanism.

This site was inscribed on the World

Heritage List in 2007.

(Description adapted from World Heritage

in Arab Countries, Éditions Gelbart, 2011)

Special Issue on Iraq

© Éditions Gelbart

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q 23

Special Issue on Iraq

World Heritage and Tentative List sites

© Gaetano Palumbo

Erbil Citadel

Located in northern Iraq, Erbil is the

capital of the Autonomous Kurdistan

Region of Iraq. The city is in a fertile plain

lying 420 m above sea level between the

Great and the Lesser Zab Rivers, close to

the Iranian and Turkish borders.

Erbil Citadel, situated today at the centre

of modern Erbil, is a rare surviving example

of an urban settlement that has grown on

top of an archaeological mound, called

a tell, and rises 20–30 m higher than its

surroundings. This urban complex was

formerly a fortified settlement. Today, the

perimeter of the citadel is characterized by

house façades that are next to each other,

so that still gives the impression of a mighty

fortress. Archaeological investigations

indicate that the mound probably contains

vestiges of several earlier settlements.

The citadel is largely composed of

traditional courtyard houses set within

a labyrinth of narrow roads. Major

alleyways, starting in the south from the

main gateway (the Grand Gate) fan out in

all directions from north-west to northeast

and are connected by an organic

network of other pathways that also give

access to more secluded houses through

narrow lanes.

Written, documentary and iconographic

sources document Erbil’s long settlement


history. Archaeological surveys and investigations

provide evidence of occupation as

early as the Ubaid period (5200–4100 BC),

and the Chalcolithic period (4500–3200

BC). The earliest historical records mentioning

Erbil (Urbilum) date from the 23rd

to 21st centuries BC. Ancient Arbail, which

corresponds to Erbil today, functioned as

a religious and political centre during the

Assyrian period (20th–6th centuries BC),

while the city maintained an important

© Adam Mirani

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q

administrative role during the Seleucid,

Parthian and Sassanian periods. During the

Adiabene Kingdom (from the 1st century

AD), the city became an important centre,

and during the Islamic period it eventually

became the capital of an emirate under the

Begteginids, whose most notable leader

was Muzaffar al-Dín Kokburi (1190–1232).

This site was inscribed on the World

Heritage List in 2014.

(Source: Nomination file)

Iraqi Tentative List sites


Located south of Mosul in the Nineveh

plains in northern Mesopotamia, Nimrud

is the later Arab name for a major city of

ancient Assyria known as Calah (Kalhu

or Kalakh) between the 13th and 7th

centuries BC. The city was built by the

Assyrian King Shalmaneser I (1274–1245

BC) during the Middle Assyrian empire.

King Ashurnasirpal II (883–59 BC) made it

his legacy that it became the capital of the

empire at the expense of Assur. The king

turned it into a cosmopolitan flourishing

city which remained the capital of the

empire during 150 years. Archaeological

excavations of the site of Nimrud started as

early as 1845. Excavations were conducted

at intervals, revealing remains of palaces

and fortifications as well as significant

items, including sculptural reliefs, ivories,

administrative tablets and three royal tombs

with marvellous treasures. Most of the

revealed pieces are preserved in museums

of Iraq and foreign countries.

Ancient City of Nineveh

The ancient city of Nineveh, settled as

early as 6000 BC, became the capital of

the Neo-Assyrian empire around 700 BC

during the Senacherib reign (705–681 BC).

Located on the eastern bank of the Tigris

River, the city was the greatest metropolis

where different arts and learnings were

rooted. Although Nineveh’s flourishing

did not last long, it is still considered

one of the most prominent cultural

centres of antiquity that significantly

contributed to the development of human

civilization. After the death of the last

King Ashurbanipal (668–27 BC), a series

of civil wars followed by the attacks of

the empire’s former vassals unravelled

the empire and razed the city. Ruins of

Nineveh have been found across the river

from the modern city of Mosul, in the

Ninawa Governorate of Iraq. The ancient

city’s location is marked by two principle

mounds (tells), Kouyunjik and Nabī Yūnus,

and the city wall, 12 km in circumference.

Wadi al-Salam cemetery in Najaf

Located in the city of Najaf, Wadi al-Salam

is one of the world’s largest cemeteries, in

which the remains of at least 5 million Muslims

are buried. Such significant figures of Islamic

history as Ali ibn Abi Talib – the fourth caliph,

regarded as the first imam by Shia Muslims

– and many prophets, kings, princes and

sultans are entombed in this cemetery. The

site extends from the centre of Najaf to the far

north-west, measuring 917 ha, and occupies

13 per cent of the city. Wadi al-Salam is the

only cemetery in the world where the process

of burial has continued uninterrupted since at

least the Parthian period (247 BC to AD 224).

Attracting millions of pilgrims every year, this

site is considered to be the spirit of the holy


Special Issue on Iraq


© Mary Prophit


© Diane Siebrandt

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q 25

Special Issue on Iraq

World Heritage and Tentative List sites

Marshlands of Mesopotamia.

© UNESCO Office for Iraq

Marshlands of Mesopotamia.

© UNESCO Office for Iraq

Marshlands of Mesopotamia

Until the 1970s, the marshlands (alahwar)

of Mesopotamia, in southern Iraq,

had covered an area of up to 20,000 km 2

around the confluence of the Tigris and

Euphrates Rivers in southern Iraq. The

marshlands were once home to several

hundred thousand inhabitants, the

Ma’dan, a people whose unique way of life

had been preserved for over 5,000 years.

Yet today there may be as few as 20,000

of the original inhabitants remaining, the

rest having fled or migrated to the Islamic

Republic of Iran and elsewhere, while

an estimated minimum of 100,000 have

become internally displaced in Iraq. Until the

1950s, the traditional subsistence lifestyle

of the Ma’dan had hardly been disturbed.

As recently as the 1990s, they were still

using marsh reeds to construct delicately

arched dwellings on artificial islands and

waterways. Their largely self-sufficient

economy, structured around the aquatic

environment, was based on the traditional

occupations of fishing, cultivation, buffalo

breeding and reed gathering.

Sacred Complex of Babylon

This site, comprising Esagila temple

dedicated to the god of Marduck and

the ziggurat Etemenanki (the legendary

tower of Babylon), constituted the spiritual

and political hearth of Babylon, capital

of the Old Kingdom of Babylonia. With


W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q

an extension of approximately 180 m by

125 m of the major temple Esagila (House

of the Headraising), and about 460 m by

410 m of the tower complex Etemenanki

(Foundation of Heaven and Earth), this

site was the most massive walled-in

space within the city. Both of these

Mesopotamian architectural components

formed one unit, so that the low temple

Esagila is neither in its construction nor in its

content to be separated from Etemenanki.

Their cultic connection was established

by the procession street of Aj-ibur-shapu

running between them, which allowed

equal access to both sanctuaries. When

Babylon was excavated between 1899 and

1917, archaeologists uncovered substantial

remains from the Neo-Babylonian period,

including the Esagila temple and the Tower

of Babylon.

Fortress of Al-Ukhaidar

Located roughly 50 km south of Karbala,

Al-Ukhaidar is one of Iraq’s outstanding

defensive constructions. This large,

rectangular fortress was established by

the Abbasid caliph As-Saffah’s nephew

Isa ibn Musa in AD 775 based on a unique

military design that is considered distinctive

not only in Iraq, but also in the Arab and

Islamic world. This site represents Abbasid

architectural innovation in the structures

of the residences, courtyards and mosque.

The complex also includes a primary hall, a

large iwan, a reception hall and servants’

quarters. Geographically, Ukhaidar stands

on a commercial route connecting Iraq

with the outside world, functioning as an

important stop for travellers and caravans

similar to other stations such as Atshan

and Mujdah. Excavations in the early 20th

century by Gertrude Bell affirmed that it is

an Islamic construction dating back to the

second half of Hijri century.

Historical features of the Tigris

River in Baghdad Rusafa

Located on the Rusafa side of Baghdad,

this site occupies an important and vital

role on the eastern side of the Tigris River

and extends over about 7.57 ha. Since the

Abbasid caliph Abu Jafar al-Mansur (AD 754-

775) established the city in the 8th century

AD, Baghdad took advantage of the Tigris

River running across the city and its impact

on the urban and social environment as well

as the natural environment. The banks of

the river were considered the right place for

the growth of urban communities. Yet the

image of the area changed according to the

different requirements and conditions of

each era. The site also includes old urban

blocks carrying historical characteristics that

played a significant role in ancient Iraq’s

political and religious history, particularly in

the Abbasid era (AD 8–13).

(Source: http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentative


Fortress of Al-Ukhaidar.

© Permanent Delegation of Iraq to UNESCO

Fortress of Al-Ukhaidar.

© Permanent Delegation of Iraq to UNESCO

Special Issue on Iraq


© Mary Prophit

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q 27

Special Issue on Iraq

Cultural diversity

An assault on


Géraldine Chatelard

Research associate, Institut Français du Proche-Orient

Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat).

© Éditions Gelbart


W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q

Special Issue on Iraq

The Great Mosque’s soaring walls and regularly spaced semicircular towers at Samarra.

© Éditions Gelbart

ntil the rapid spread of


the ‘Islamic State in Iraq

and the Levant (ISIL,

also known as Daesh)’ in

June 2014, the Ninawa

plain and the fringes of Iraqi Kurdistan

were perhaps the most religiously and

linguistically diverse regions in the Middle


There Arabic and Kurdish, the two main

cultures and languages of Iraq, come into

contact and influence each other. Various

trends of Islam have followers from among

Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. The synagogue

of Al-Qosh in the Ninawa governorate

testifies to the presence of the Jewish

community, which was once an important

element of Iraq’s cultural mosaic. Mosul

used to be the largest Christian city in

Iraq. The countryside was dotted with

small towns and monasteries inhabited

by Aramaic-speaking communities belonging

to Assyrian, Chaldean or Syrian

denominations. Gorani, a rare Iranian

language, has speakers among the Kakai

and Shabak, two heterodox sects distantly

related to Shiite Islam. The Yazidi, another

heterodox sect, speak Kurdish.

Language and religion are the main

vectors of distinct cultural expressions

and practices that represent the diverse

intangible cultural heritage of the region.

Many cultural elements are also shared

by members of different linguistic and

religious groups. Mosul and its region

are known for a variety of musical genres

including songs, maqam, Sufi zikr and

Aramaic liturgical chants. The region is also

famous for fine handicrafts, sophisticated

cuisine, festivals of the various ethnic and

religious communities, and pilgrimages

to the shrines of its many faiths. Jews,

Christians and Muslims alike used to visit

Nebi Yunus, where they believe that Jonah,

mentioned in the Bible and the Koran,

was buried. Members of the Christian and

Muslim communities also used to pray at

Mar Behnam, a Chaldean monastery said

to have been founded by an Assyrian

king 1,600 years ago. Both holy places

were destroyed by Daesh whose members

consider shrines of any faith idolatrous and

abhor the blurring of religious distinctions.

Their hatred of difference has led them to

assassinate scholars of the region’s history

and folklore.

To assert their political control, Daesh

militants are seeking to eradicate any

expression of religious and cultural diversity.

Homogenization is performed through

the expulsion of ‘the other’ as defined in

terms of religion, sect or political affiliation.

The main tactic is terror – conspicuous

massacres and atrocities pushing people to

flee, and the highly publicized destruction

of the tangible markers of cultural diversity.

In truth, cultural diversity in northern

Iraq was already eroded before Daesh

took control. Among several of the small

heterodox communities, culture and

traditions have been passed on from

generation to generation in the form of

religious and secular oral traditions and

music, some elements of which can be traced

to the pre-Islamic era. During the second

half of the last century, many members

of these communities moved to the cities

and became assimilated into mainstream

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q


Special Issue on Iraq

Cultural diversity

Sunnism or Shiism. Kurds, regardless of

religious affiliation, suffered from policies

of ethnic homogenization carried out by the

Ba’athist regime in the 1970s and 1980s.

Several villages, including Muslim shrines

and pilgrimage sites, were destroyed in the

process. The international embargo imposed

on Iraq as of 1990 sent many Christians to

look for better opportunities abroad. After

the 2003 change of regime, the region fell to

a political vacuum that gangs and fanatics,

including the precursors of Daesh, rushed

to fill. Kidnappings became common, as

did execution and extortion. Threats were

voiced against those Muslims, Sunni and

Shia alike, who favoured interpretations

of religion other than the one extremists

promoted. Yazidis cancelled their yearly

religious ceremony at Lalesh temple out of

fear of attack. Christians too became targets

of kidnapping and emigrated in ever larger

numbers. Many people now fear that the

sweeping campaign of cultural cleansing

carried out by Daesh will strike a fatal blow

to the presence of diverse communities and

to the cultural mix Mosul and its region used

to be hailed for.

In carrying out the destruction of the

material manifestations and symbols

of cultural diversity, Daesh clearly set

out its priority: uniformly imposing new

religious norms. It first sought to obliterate

shrines associated by Sunnis or Shias with

prophets, mystics and other holy people.

Then churches, monasteries and cemeteries

were desecrated by vandalizing crosses,

defacing religious artefacts and expelling

religious personnel. In parallel, Daesh has

pursued a campaign of killing, enslaving

and forced conversion of the Yazidi, whom

they define as heretics. The Shia, Shabak

and Kakai have had to convert or flee for

their lives. Sunnis who have refused to

adopt newly imposed behaviours fled or

were killed. Christians who have declined

to convert were deported to Kurdistan. The

situation is particularly tragic for such small

communities as the Shabak, the Kakai or

the Yazidi for whom social ties and religious

practices have been severed by mass

killings, dispersal and the forced conversion

of those who stayed. Because they have

been secretive about their religious beliefs

and practices, few of their traditions

The remains of Hatra, especially the temples where Hellenistic and Roman architecture blend with Eastern decorative features, attest to the greatness of its civilization.

© Éditions Gelbart

30 W

o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q

are recorded for future generations.

Furthermore, these demographically small

groups have no diaspora or foreign patrons

to turn to. Even more than for the Christians,

the Sunnis or the Shias, the destruction of

their places of worship is a way of killing

their cultural identity.

Only after religious homogenization was

well under way did Daesh start its assault

on the remains of pre-Islamic civilizations.

Destruction of religious and historic places

and artefacts, looting of properties,

summary executions, abductions of women

and children, forced conversions, largescale

population displacement, and other

severe human rights violations are all part

of a strategy aiming to erase memory and

identity, and replace religious diversity with

a single intolerant version of Islam. In the

regions under Daesh control in Iraq, as well

as in Syria, all forms of religious rituals and

cultural expressions that are not the ones

promoted by the self-proclaimed Islamic

caliphate are now banned. Social rites and

festivities, such as birth and marriage, have

to be celebrated in conformity with the

newly imposed religious norms. Music, art

and history have been removed from school

and university curricula. Non-conform books

have been burned, and poetry is forbidden.

Places are being renamed. Language is

being colonized by religious invocations that

replace popular expressions. Standardization

extends to the regulation of clothing for

both sexes, and facial hair for men. It is not

only the culture and heritage of religious

minorities that is being eradicated, but also

that of the majority Sunni population.

At present, little can be done to influence

conditions in the areas under Daesh

control other than monitoring, as much as

possible, the situation on the ground. But

UNESCO can support displaced people and

communities in their efforts to resist cultural

cleansing, particularly through heritage

education, by documenting severely

threatened cultural practices, and by raising

awareness of the links between tangible

and intangible heritage. In the face of what

is a most chilling form of cultural absolutism,

UNESCO will serve as the conscience of

humanity and voice its grave concern for the

lives of people and the continuing existence

of their cultures and communities.

Special Issue on Iraq

Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat) served as the religious capital of the Assyrians, associated with the god Ashur.

© Éditions Gelbart

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q 31

Special Issue on Iraq

#Unite4Heritage Campaign

#Unite4Heritage campaign

The UNESCO social media campaign #Unite4Heritage

was conceived in response to the destruction and pillage

of cultural heritage in conflict zones, most recently in

Iraq. It was launched by the UNESCO Director-General

at Baghdad University on 28 March 2015 following the

emergence of videos of destruction and looting at Mosul

Museum, the historic city of Nimrud and the World

Heritage site of Hatra.

The campaign uses the power of social media networks

to create a global movement where each one of you can

raise your voice and take action to safeguard heritage

under threat, in Iraq and elsewhere. #Unite4Heritage

shows that diversity is a source of strength for all

societies. To build peace tomorrow, we need to protect

our common heritage today.

#Unite4Heritage invites everyone, especially young

people from the Arab Region, to send photos and write

short stories about cultural heritage that is important for

them. You can also send selfies holding a sign with the

campaign hashtag – to illustrate the concept of unity and

the importance of cultural heritage in people’s lives.

Partners from civil society and the private sector, such as

Europa Nostra, Time magazine, HISTORY/A&E networks

and Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural

Heritage Foundation), are among the institutions that

have joined the campaign. Countries are also playing an

important role, by holding local events and promoting

the campaign through local tourism organizations,

museums, heritage institutions, schools, universities and

youth networks.

Hatrene trinity temple: a flower-adorned capital at Hatra.

© Éditions Gelbart


W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q

Special Issue on Iraq

W o r l d H e r i t a g e – S p e c i a l I s s u e o n I r a q


“Cultural sites have a universal

value – they belong to all

and must be protected by all.

We are not just talking about

stones and buildings. We are

talking about values, identities

and belonging.”

Irina Bokova

Director-General of UNESCO



(JoAnn Makinano CC BY-SA 2.0)


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