Scholar calls ISIS destruction of antiquities an example of ethnic cleansing

Historians in the News
tags: ISIS, ancient Iraq artifacts

ZAINAB BAHRANI: Well, it seems to be that there is a great deal of selling of antiquities by ISIL. And this has been confirmed by certain people who are watching the trade in antiquities. So they are selling antiquities. One of the arguments is that the objects they destroyed yesterday were the larger pieces that could not be moved out and sold, so they were more likely to be able to destroy them.

I think that a great deal of the discussion here in the West, and perhaps throughout the world, has focused on the looting rather than the issue of cultural cleansing. The destruction of monuments on site is also something to be concerned about. I mean, the looting for the antiquities market, which is an illicit international market, is very important to consider, because this is very destructive. But the blowing up of shrines and monuments on site is really horrendous, and this is a form of cultural cleansing, certainly, but also ethnic cleansing.


ZAINAB BAHRANI: Well, it’s a form of ethnic cleansing because this is a region of the world—Mesopotamia has always been a multicultural, mutli-ethnic, multilinguistic and multireligious community, the entirety of the country. And what’s happening now is that diversity is being wiped out. So when you wipe out people’s monuments and heritage, you erase any record of their ever having been there. And it’s a way of creating a terra nulla, if you will, a kind of an empty land that you can conquer and then claim that there was nothing there before. So it’s a general erasure and rewriting of history of Mesopotamia.

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