Campaign to restore Iraq’s rich and diverse heritage gathers momentum

Special Traditional boat building has made a comeback in Iraq through the ‘Ark ReImagined’ project. (AN Photo/Rashad Salim/Supplied)
Traditional boat building has made a comeback in Iraq through the ‘Ark ReImagined’ project. (AN Photo/Rashad Salim/Supplied)
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Updated 22 July 2022

Campaign to restore Iraq’s rich and diverse heritage gathers momentum

Campaign to restore Iraq’s rich and diverse heritage gathers momentum
  • “The cradle of civilization” is home to more than 10,000 archaeological sites dating back 5,500 years
  • The desire to protect Iraq’s archaeological sites has intensified over the last few years

BAGHDAD: In the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, surrounded by buildings that were reduced to rubble years ago, the ruins of the Al-Nouri Mosque are starting to come to life again. The iconic structure — and many like it in Mosul’s famed Old City — was damaged by Daesh during the battle that raged here in December 2017.

The “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” project, a UNESCO-led campaign to rebuild the city’s damaged heritage sites, is bringing hope to Iraqis and foreigners alike that the city’s rich past will once again have the chance to shine.

Famous for its leaning minaret which gave it its nickname of “the hunchback” or “Al-Hadba” in Arabic, Al-Nouri was constructed in the 12th century. In July 2014, Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi stood at the mosque’s pulpit and declared Iraq and Syria as the terrorist group’s “caliphate.”

Three years later, Daesh destroyed the mosque’s beloved minaret, an act that Iraq’s prime minister at the time called “an official acknowledgement of defeat.”

Daesh used the explosion of the structure as propaganda, blaming its destruction on a US-led global coalition airstrike. “Jihadist supporters are using it to blame the West and Americans," Alberto Fernandez, then-vice president of the Middle East Media Research Institute, told the USA Today newspaper in 2017.




The “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” project, a UNESCO-led project to rebuild the city’s damaged heritage sites, is bringing hope to Iraqis and foreigners alike. (Supplied)

In 2018, a year after the expulsion of Daesh from the city, the UAE vowed to contribute $50.4 million to fund Mosul’s restoration, a sum that UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay deemed “the largest and (most) unprecedented cooperation to rebuild cultural heritage in Iraq ever.”

The restoration project is one of many efforts launched in recent years spearheaded by local, regional and international entities seeking to restore the many great yet damaged historical sites in Iraq. 

“Revive the Spirit of Mosul” will focus on documenting and clearing the site, drawing up plans for its reconstruction, and finally, four years of restoration and faithful reconstruction of the Al-Nouri Mosque minaret and adjacent buildings. There are also plans to restore the city’s historic gardens and build a memorial and site museum.

Long known as the cradle of civilization, Iraq is home to over 10,000 cultural heritage sites, ranging from the 5,500-year-old cities of Sumer (where evidence of the earliest writings in the world are preserved) to archaeological remains of the Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Parthian and Abbasid cultures.

“These periods, especially the Abbasid, which placed great efforts into safeguarding and developing old knowledge from preceding cultures and empires, have shaped our world today,” Lanah Haddad, regional director for Tarii, the Academic Research Institute in Iraq, told Arab News.

“The idea of Iraq as a cradle of civilization does not end with these periods; it continues to the present with its ups and downs.”




A workshop in Huwair teaches the art of making boat paddles. (AN Photo/Rashad Salim/Supplied)

Since the defeat of Daesh in Iraq, the country has entered a period of fragile calm following years of war and destruction. While Iraq’s people still await a political class capable of forming a cohesive government to address its socioeconomic issues, the country’s relative stability has given Iraqis and international agencies a chance to begin the process of rebuilding after decades of violence.

According to Jaafar Jotheri, a geo-archaeologist at the University of Al-Qadisiyah in Iraq, there have been five waves of destruction in recent Iraqi history.

The decline and implosion of the Ottoman Empire, the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and the Gulf War in the early 1990s, followed by UN and international sanctions on Iraq until 2003, constitute the first three phases of destruction. During the period of sanctions on Iraq, the smuggling of Iraqi antiquities thrived.

The fourth phase occurred during the US-led invasion and occupation from 2003, during which archaeological sites were destroyed by both military operations and looting.

On May 15 of that momentous year, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani issued a fatwa mandating the protection of Iraqi antiquities — one month after looting had begun following the US invasion.




Abu Hyder and Rashad Salim in Guffa on the Tigris in Qishla Baghdad. (Supplied/Ali Jewad Musafiri)

“It was a game-changer when religious leaders and institutions intervened to urge the stop of the smuggling of artifacts,” said Jotheri. “People began to recognize their importance again.”

Then began what he calls “a period of healing” — the beginning of restoration projects to rebuild the structures of Iraq’s great past. But this was tragically cut short by the fifth stage of destruction, which occurred during Daesh’s rampage.

“After Daesh was defeated, the local and international community, aware of how Daesh used cultural heritage for propaganda, realized how important archaeology was to the identity of a state,” said Jotheri.

Despite growing awareness of the critical importance of protecting Iraq’s history and culture, these efforts are often overlooked or forgotten.

“We as Iraqi researchers alongside the international community are also working to educate the Iraqi people on the importance of heritage. It is not their priority right now — electricity, jobs, and education, putting children in school, these are the priorities now,” Jotheri said.

Despite other issues often taking precedence over historic preservation, the desire to protect Iraq’s archaeological sites has intensified over the last few years.




Community Jameel is a philanthropic and service organization launched by the Saudi Jameel family in 2003. Since 2020, Community Jameel has helped Iraqi communities through a focus on cultural preservation. (Supplied)

Since 2020, Community Jameel, a philanthropic and service organization launched by the Saudi Jameel family in 2003, has helped Iraqi communities through a focus on cultural preservation. An international organization, Community Jameel has dedicated itself to using an approach that mixes art, science, data, and technology.

“One of our core mandates is about trying to support systems that curate, preserve, document, and disseminate knowledge, particularly in the Middle East, North Africa and Global South, more generally,” George Richards, Community Jameel’s director, told Arab News.

“With Iraq, a core focus for us is health. In partnership with the World Health Organization, local actors on the ground, and an organization called Culturunners, we have co-created the Iraq Cultural Health Fund, designed to support Iraqi cultural actors of different types using the arts and culture to address health challenges.”

The drive to restore Iraq’s famed heritage sites is not limited to Mosul. The Iraq Cultural Health Fund has supported Iraqi artist Rashad Salim’s “Ark Re-Imagined” project to revive traditional cultural practices in the marshes of Basra in southern Iraq through boat building and engaging various parts of the community.

“We were also interested in how Salim’s project was tackling various health-related challenges among the community in the marshes, from social, mental, and environmental health,” said Richards. “At Community Jameel, we support an innovative approach but make sure they are based on evidence.”




From the youth and from business owners, there is a huge hunger to reconnect with their heritage, according to Lanah Haddad Regional director, Academic Research Institute in Iraq. (Supplied)

A focus on restoration of cultural heritage has a wide range of benefits, not least among them the environmental gains. The unique wetlands in Basra are greatly affected by climate change, and Salim looked at how reviving cultural practices around boat building was also regenerating the ecosystem in the marshes.

“Re-engaging in traditional practices was restoring a sense of ownership, purpose and dignity among the community that has dealt with war and now also climate change,” Richards told Arab News.

Salim said: “My work is about reviving traditional boatbuilding, architecture and craftsmanship of central, southern and western Iraq in communities that have suffered repeated tragedies, brought close to the brink of extinction by conflict, displacement and trauma.

“I engage artisans across the country to revive and document what remains of traditional practices.”

While over the last decade, numerous international entities have been involved in restoring heritage sites in Iraq, Tarii’s Haddad noted that in recent years, a growing interest among local Iraqis and the Gulf region bodes well for the country’s historical and cultural revival.

“The restoration of Al-Nouri Mosque and the adjoining Clock Church is crucial and, in my opinion, symbolic because it shows how there is another majority Muslim country, the UAE, dedicated to reconstruction, research and excavations in Iraq,” said Haddad, who has carried out archaeological work in Iraq for the past decade.”




The iconic 12th century Al-Nouri Mosque in Mosul is being repaired after it was left in ruins by Daesh in 2017. (AN Photo/Rashad Salim/Supplied)

She added: “I have seen a great increase in restoration and heritage projects in Iraq among Iraqis and the international community.

“I can see huge development and change on the part of the state and the community, and also in the level of interest of foreign countries working in Iraq, especially after Daesh. Many things changed.”

There has also been an uptick in tourism, with the Iraqi government granting tourist visas to citizens of a dozen countries, including China, the US, the UK, Russia and EU member states since March 2021.

“I can see from the community, from the youth, from business owners that there is a huge hunger to reconnect with their heritage,” Haddad said.

“The youth born after 2003 have neither seen nor lived in the peaceful time. They are fed up with war, conflict, and corruption. The only thing they want is a good life and an identity. They want an identity that is not politicized and not based on sectarianism.

“The best way to do it, as I see from the efforts of this generation, is a connection with Iraq’s rich and diverse heritage.”

 

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Iran launches test ‘tug’ into suborbital space

Iran launches test ‘tug’ into suborbital space
Updated 14 sec ago

Iran launches test ‘tug’ into suborbital space

Iran launches test ‘tug’ into suborbital space
  • Saman test spacecraft was built by the country’s Space Research Center
  • Iran has long pursued a space program saying it is aimed at peaceful purposes

TEHRAN, Iran: Iranian state media said Tuesday the government has launched a space tug capable of shifting satellites between orbits.
State TV said the Saman test spacecraft was built by the country’s Space Research Center and launched Monday by the Defense Ministry.
Hassan Salarieh, chief of the Islamic Republic’s space agency, told state TV that officials “hope to use and test the main tug in near future.” Iran unveiled the craft in 2017. A space tug can transfer a satellite from one orbit to another.
Iran has long pursued a space program saying it is aimed at peaceful purposes. The country has both a civilian and a military space program, which the US fears could be used to advance its ballistic missile program.
In June Tehran had launched a solid-fuel rocket into space and in August a Russian rocket successfully launched an Iranian Khayyam satellite into orbit. It’s named after Omar Khayyam, a Persian scientist who lived in the 11th and 12th centuries.
However, Iran has seen a series of mishaps and failed satellite launches over recent years
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in April 2020 revealed its own secret space program by successfully launching a satellite into orbit. The Guard operates its own military infrastructure parallel to Iran’s regular armed forces.


Yemen seeks to implement developmental projects in Taiz

Yemen seeks to implement developmental projects in Taiz
Updated 42 min 41 sec ago

Yemen seeks to implement developmental projects in Taiz

Yemen seeks to implement developmental projects in Taiz
  • Work plans and challenges were reviewed ahead of finalizing projects under the Saudi Program for Yemen’s Development and Reconstruction

ADEN: Yemeni officials reviewed plans with charity organizations to implement developmental projects in Taiz as part of ongoing reconstruction efforts in the province.

On Monday, Taiz Governor Nabil Shamsan discussed work plans and challenges ahead of finalizing projects under the Saudi Program for Yemen’s Development and Reconstruction.
Yemen is working closely with Saudi Arabia to establish a college of medicine in Taiz University, construct a center to treat cancer and rehabilitate a road linking Taiz with Makha.
Shamsan said these sustainable projects aim to serve the people of Taiz, which remains under Houthi siege, and mitigate the effects that the war has left on vulnerable communities.
Meanwhile, Major General Abdul Karim Al-Sabri, the Undersecretary of Taiz Governorate for Defense and Security Affairs, discussed de-mining efforts with the HALO Trust, a Scottish charity organization specialized in clearing mines in war zones.
He vowed collaboration with the organization in surveying targeted areas, detecting the type of mines implanted and raising awareness among citizens on dealing with mines that might be encountered.
He said local authorities would facilitate the work with the organization to de-mine high-priority targeted areas and save lives.


Iran arrests prominent rights activists

Iran arrests prominent rights activists
Updated 04 October 2022

Iran arrests prominent rights activists

Iran arrests prominent rights activists
  • Iranian government has been referring to the protests as ‘riots’ and ‘sedition’ to suppress them

DUBAI: Iran’s crackdown against prominent individuals linked to ongoing protests in the country continues with the arrest of prominent human rights activists in Tehran.

Bahareh Hedayat, a university student, was detained early on October 3, Radio Farda reported, as the unrest hit a crescendo in Tehran and has hit far-flung provinces in open demonstration of grievances against rigid social restrictions, political repression and a failing economy.

Hedayat is a former political prisoner who has been arrested and imprisoned several times, the report noted, quoting the BBC.

Hossein Masumi, another political activist, was arrested on October 2 with his whereabouts unknown according to his family.

The protest actions, spurred by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while under detention by Iran’s morality police for alleged violations of the Islamic dress code, are on their third week despite government efforts to quell them.

The Iranian government has been referring to the protests as ‘riots’ and ‘sedition’ to suppress them, and being used as basis for the detention of key personalities.


UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault

UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault
Updated 04 October 2022

UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault

UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault
  • Adam Bouloukos said: ‘I witnessed the extent of the damage caused by the recent Israeli military operation. I saw fear and concern in school children’s eyes’
  • He added that the current level of violence in the camp, and across the West Bank, is at the highest level the agency has seen in years

JERUSALEM: Adam Bouloukos, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East’s director in the West Bank, has visited Jenin refugee camp, the Palestine News and Info Agency reported on Monday.

His visit came just days after a large-scale Israeli military assault on the camp last Wednesday that left four people dead and 44 injured.

During his visit to the camp, Bouloukos was shown an UNRWA clinic that was hit by bullets during the attack, which took place while patients and medical staff were inside. It provides healthcare services to about 35,000 people. He also visited a UNRWA school, where he met students and teachers.

“I witnessed the extent of the damage caused by the recent Israeli military operation,” Bouloukos said. “I saw fear and concern in schoolchildren’s eyes.

“The level of violence in Jenin camp, and across the West Bank, is the highest we have seen in years. Many Palestinians, including refugees, were killed or injured. Violence only brings loss of life, grief for families and instability.

“All parties to the conflict should protect civilians, including Palestine refugees. UN staff and facilities and civilian infrastructure must be kept out of harm’s way. I specifically call on the Israeli security forces to limit the use of excessive force and spare the loss of civilian life in Jenin and across the West Bank.”


Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power
Updated 04 October 2022

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power

GAZA CITY: Palestinians living in the Israeli-blockaded enclave of Gaza have long endured an unstable and costly electricity supply, so Yasser Al-Hajj found a different way: Solar power.

Looking at the rows of photovoltaic panels at his beachfront fish farm and seafood restaurant, The Sailor, he said the investment he made six years ago had more than paid off.

“Electricity is the backbone of the project,” Hajj said, standing under a blazing Mediterranean sun. “We rely on it to provide oxygen for the fish, as well as to draw and pump water from the sea.”

The dozens of solar panels that shade the fish ponds below have brought savings that are now paying to refurbish the business, he said, as laborers loaded sand onto a horse-drawn cart.

Hajj said he used to pay 150,000 shekels ($42,000) per month for electricity, “a huge burden,” before solar power slashed his monthly bill to 50,000 shekels.

For most of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, living under Hamas rule and a 15-year-old Israeli blockade, power cuts are a daily fact of life that impact everything from homes to hospital wards.

While some Gazans pay for a generator to kick in when the mains are cut — for around half of each day, according to UN data — ever more people are turning to renewables.

From the rooftops of Gaza City, solar panels now stretch out into the horizon.

Green energy advocates say it is a vision for a global future as the world faces the perils of climate change and rising energy costs.

Gaza bakery owner Bishara Shehadeh began the switch to solar this summer, by placing hundreds of gleaming panels on his rooftop.

“We have surplus electricity in the day,” he said. “We sell it to the electricity company in exchange for providing us with current during the night.” 

Solar energy lights up the bright bulbs illuminating the bustling bakery, but the ovens still run on diesel.

“We are working on importing ovens, depending on electrical power, from Israel, to save the cost of diesel,” said Shehadeh.

Both the bakery and the fish farm have relied partially on foreign donors to kick-start their switch to solar, although their owners are also investing their own cash.

But in a poverty-stricken territory where nearly 80 percent of residents rely on humanitarian assistance, according to the UN, not everyone can afford to install renewable energy.

Around a fifth of Gazans have installed solar power in their homes, according to an estimate published in April by the Energy, Sustainability and Society journal.

Financing options are available for Gazans with some capital, like Shehadeh, who got a four-year loan to fund his bakery project.

At a store selling solar power kits, MegaPower, engineer Shehab Hussein said prices start at around $1,000 and can be paid in instalments. Clients included a sewing factory and a drinks producer, which see the mostly Chinese-made technology as “a worthwhile investment,” he said.

Raya Al-Dadah, who heads the University of Birmingham’s Sustainable Energy Technology Laboratory, said her family in Gaza has been using simple solar panels that heat water for more than 15 years.

“The pipe is super rusty, the glass is broken ... and I just had a shower and the water is super hot,” she said during a visit to the territory.

But Dadah encountered obstacles when she tried to import a more sophisticated solar system for a community project in Gaza, where imports are tightly restricted by Israel and Egypt.

“Bringing them to the Gaza Strip has proved to be impossible,” she said.

The advanced set-up includes more efficient panels and equipment that tracks the sun’s path.

Such technology is being used by Israeli firms such as SolarGik, whose smart control systems factor in weather conditions and can harness up to 20 percent more energy than standard panels, chief executive Gil Kroyzer told AFP.

Across the frontier in Gaza, in the absence of such high-tech equipment, Dadah relies on the standard panels to power a women’s center and surrounding homes in the strip’s northern Jabalia area.