Mutilated Mnemotopes

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Mutilated Mnemotopes
Why ISIS Destroys Cultural Heritage Sites in Iraq and Syria

Eckart Frahm

On June 10th, 2014, militants fighting on behalf of the “Islamic State” (ISIS) seized the city of Mosul, consolidating their hold over large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq. Even though ISIS and related Islamist groups had engaged in occasional acts of vandalism against religious and cultural sites before, for example in Raqqa, where a number of Muslim funerary shrines had been dynamited in March 2013, the conquest of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, marked the beginning of something new: a systematic campaign of “cultural cleansing,” unparalleled in the modern history of the Middle East. Initially, this campaign was primarily directed against Islamic (and soon also Christian) sites that were anathema to ISIS’s leading ideologists and their radical Salafi creed. ISIS’s rage was particularly focused on tombs and shrines erected in honor of ‘saints’ venerated by local populations. The most prominent casualty of the destructive energies unleashed in this phase was the mosque and alleged burial place of the prophet Jonah (Arabic Yūnus), located in Nineveh, opposite of Mosul on the other side of the Tigris, on a mound called Nebi Yūnus. Despite the fact that Jonah is mentioned several times in the Quran, ISIS acolytes turned the mosque into rubble in a massive explosion on July 24, 2014.

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Eckart Frahm (PhD Göttingen 1996, Habilitation Heidelberg 2007) is Professor of Assyriology at Yale. His primary scholarly interest is the political and intellectual history of Assyria and Babylonia during the first millennium BCE. Frahm is the author of five books: Einleitung in die Sanherib-Inschriften (Vienna 1997); Historische und historisch-literarische Texte aus Assur (Wiesbaden 2009); Neo-Babylonian Letters and Contracts from the Eanna Archive (New Haven 2011, co-authored with Michael Jursa); Babylonian and Assyrian Text Commentaries: Origins of Interpretation (Münster 2011); and Geschichte des alten Mesopotamien (Stuttgart 2013). In 2001, he served as epigrapher in the German excavations at Assur (Iraq). He is currently working on a Companion to Assyria for Wiley-Blackwell and, together with Enrique Jiménez, on a project to publish a large number of Mesopotamian commentaries both in book form and online.

Additional Information:
Eckart Frahm moderates the panel discussion "Cultural Heritage and Terrorism" at Yale University Nov. 12, 2015
YouTube video of Conference "Culture in Crisis"