Iraqi forces recaptured Nimrud, the capital of ancient Assyria, in northern Iraq. Last year, Islamic State (ISIS / ISIL) fighters filmed themselves destroying much of Iraq’s cultural heritage, including some of the oldest and best preserved buildings and statues in the world, dating from the dawn of civilization.
Kurdish forces have also reportedly damaged another Assyrian capital, Dur-Sharrukin.
Satellite footage revealed that the site has suffered tremendous cultural destruction. The great Ziggurat of Nimrud, constructed 2,900 years ago was destroyed using earth-moving equipment at some point between August and October, according to satellite footage obtained by National Geographic. The magazine obtained the information from the American School of Oriental Research Cultural Heritage Initiatives.
Although no one has claimed responsibility, the razing is thought to have been carried out by Islamic State
Much of the structure had been destroyed or eroded with the passage of the centuries. Yet the mudbrick core still stood at 140 feet until its destruction by Islamic State.
The ziggurat originally stood 200 feet tall and measured 200 feet by 200 feet at the base. It was enclosed as part of a temple precinct to the Assyrian war-god Ninurta.
Nimrud was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. In 2015, Islamic State destroyed the Northwest Palace of the Assyrian King Ashurnasipal II, the city of Hatra, Palmyra and many other irreplaceable buildings.
ISIS is following precedent set by other Islamist groups, including the Taliban who infamously blew up the two stone Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in 2001, which stood at over 150 feet tall.
This October, the International Criminal Court set a precedent by prosecuting a member of al-Qaeda for his part in the destruction of Muslim holy sites in the city of Timbuktu, Mali.
The recognition that such cultural destruction counts as a war crime is important. When groups like ISIS destroy ancient ruins they are attacking the collective heritage of humanity, for which we all become the poorer.