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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Lebanon rocked by deadly quake in Turkiye, Syria

Lebanon rocked by deadly quake in Turkiye, Syria
Updated 8 sec ago

Lebanon rocked by deadly quake in Turkiye, Syria

Lebanon rocked by deadly quake in Turkiye, Syria
  • Residents took to the streets and sheltered in cars as several aftershocks from the quake were felt during the day

BEIRUT: Parts of Lebanon on Monday were rocked by the deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit southern Turkiye and northern Syria, killing and injuring thousands of people.

Residents took to the streets and sheltered in cars as several aftershocks from the quake were felt during the day.

The National Council for Scientific Research’s National Center for Geophysics recorded a 4.8 magnitude tremor at 3:18 a.m. local time, which lasted for 40 seconds, followed by others.

Many buildings in Beirut, coastal cities, and all the way to the Bekaa Valley shook, but the Lebanese Red Cross reported no casualties apart from a few citizens who had suffered heart attacks.

The Lebanese Ministry of Education announced that all educational institutions should remain closed until Wednesday for the safety of students and staff, while traffic police urged citizens not to park vehicles near trees, billboards, or objects at risk of falling, and to keep away from beaches.

A team from the Civil Defense, Red Cross, and Beirut Fire Brigade was traveling to Turkiye to assist rescue workers.

Marilyne Brax, director of the National Center for Geophysics, said there was little chance of a tsunami.

“We were unable to scientifically monitor the movement of waves in Lebanon due to the loss of monitoring instruments in the sea, but in Cyprus and Turkiye, wave height movements recorded 20 centimeters.”

One resident of Ashrafieh, in Beirut, said: “I woke up to the bed shaking and objects falling on the floor. It was completely dark, so I used the flashlight on my phone to find my way out of my apartment.

“I could hear my neighbors crying as they came down the stairs. Everyone looked terrified. It was a horrific night. An earthquake is the last thing the Lebanese need right now.”

In Tripoli, northern Lebanon, young men fired shots into the air to urge people to leave buildings and private generators were turned on to provide light for frightened people.

Fatima, a resident of the southern suburbs of Beirut, said: “I already suffer from a phobia of earthquakes, and when I realized what was happening and heard walls cracking, I hurried out of the house into the street in the dark.

“My neighbors and their children and sick elderly were already in the streets praying.”

A nurse at Makassed Islamic Hospital in Beirut said the building had been designed to resist earthquakes.

“As soon as everyone calmed down, there was a strong aftershock, but we were able to continue our work about half-an-hour later.”

In the coastal city of Tyre, the earthquake caused cracks in a road, and a house in the Rashaya Al-Wadi area of southeastern Lebanon was reported to have collapsed.

But while encouraging citizens to evacuate any older buildings showing signs of collapse, Lebanon’s caretaker interior minister, Bassam Mawlawi, said there had been limited damage in the country.

Many buildings in Lebanon do not meet required safety specifications as they were constructed during the civil war.

Seismic activity is common in Lebanon. One of the worst quakes to hit the country was on March 16, 1956, in the Chouf, Jezzine, Sidon, and Bekaa areas. It claimed the lives of around 140 people and injured more than 600, in addition to destroying buildings, roads, and infrastructure.


Quake damages ancient citadel in Syria’s Aleppo

Quake damages ancient citadel in Syria’s Aleppo
Updated 3 min 4 sec ago

Quake damages ancient citadel in Syria’s Aleppo

Quake damages ancient citadel in Syria’s Aleppo
  • “Parts of the Ottoman mill inside the citadel” of Aleppo have collapsed, Syria’s Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums said

DAMASCUS: Several of Syria’s archaeological sites including a famed citadel in the northern city of Aleppo were damaged in a deadly pre-dawn earthquake Monday, the country’s antiquities authority said.
“Parts of the Ottoman mill inside the citadel” of Aleppo have collapsed, while “sections of the northeastern defensive walls have cracked and fallen,” Syria’s Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums said in a statement.
Parts of the dome of the minaret of the Ayyubid mosque inside the citadel fell off, while the entrance to the fort has been damaged, “including the entrance to the Mamluk tower,” it added, publishing photos of the site on its Facebook page.
More than 1,000 people were killed across Syria as buildings collapsed after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck neighboring Turkiye, state media and rescuers said.
At least 156 people died in Aleppo province alone and 507 were injured when 46 buildings collapsed, the official news agency SANA had said, quoting an official.
The city of Aleppo is renowned for its ancient citadel, its UNESCO-listed historic center and its centuries-old covered markets.
Aleppo was Syria’s pre-war commercial hub and considered one of the world’s longest continuously inhabited cities, boasting markets, mosques, caravanserais, and public baths, but a brutal siege imposed on rebels left it disfigured.
Even before the earthquake, buildings in Aleppo often collapsed due to poor infrastructure after more than a decade of war and little oversight to ensure the safety of new construction projects.
In Hama province, archaeological surveys found that “some buildings inside the ancient Al-Marqab Castle” in the city of Baniyas had been damaged, while parts of the fortifications and a tower had fallen, the antiquities body said.
In Tartus province, part of a rocky cliff fell in the vicinity of the Qadmus castle, and residential buildings on the site collapsed, it added.
Expert teams were reportedly assessing the damage, and whether the earthquake had affected the ancient city of Palmyra.
The pre-dawn quake hit near Gaziantep in southeastern Turkiye at a depth of about 18 kilometers (11 miles), the US Geological Survey said.
Tremors were also felt in Lebanon and Cyprus, AFP correspondents said.


Israel says approved aid to quake-hit Syria, Damascus denies request

Syrian rescue teams search for victims and survivors in the city of Hama on February 6, 2023. (AFP)
Syrian rescue teams search for victims and survivors in the city of Hama on February 6, 2023. (AFP)
Updated 06 February 2023

Israel says approved aid to quake-hit Syria, Damascus denies request

Syrian rescue teams search for victims and survivors in the city of Hama on February 6, 2023. (AFP)
  • Israel “received a request from a diplomatic source for humanitarian aid to Syria, and I approved it”: Netanyahu
  • Syrian official told reporters Damascus “ridiculed and denied the allegations” it had requested aid from Israel

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had given the go-ahead to send aid to earthquake-hit Syria, but a Damascus official swiftly denied they had requested help in the first place.
Israel “received a request from a diplomatic source for humanitarian aid to Syria, and I approved it,” Netanyahu told lawmakers from his hawkish Likud party, adding the aid would be sent soon.
But a Syrian official told reporters Damascus “ridiculed and denied the allegations” that it had requested aid from Israel.
“How can Syria ask for help from an entity that has killed... Syrians for decades?” said the official.
Syria’s government does not recognize Israel and the two countries have fought several wars since Israel’s creation in 1948.
Netanyahu’s office declined to provide further details on the source of the request to help Syria, where hundreds of people were killed by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake Monday in neighboring Turkiye.
The Israeli leader has also confirmed his government would send humanitarian assistance to Turkiye following the disaster.
Israel’s foreign ministry said a team of search and rescue specialists would leave for Turkiye on Monday, and that another delegation equipped with humanitarian supplies would follow on Tuesday.


Egypt offers condolences, aid to quake-hit Turkiye, Syria

Egypt offers condolences, aid to quake-hit Turkiye, Syria
Updated 06 February 2023

Egypt offers condolences, aid to quake-hit Turkiye, Syria

Egypt offers condolences, aid to quake-hit Turkiye, Syria

CAIRO: Egypt has joined countries around the world offering condolences and aid to Turkiye and Syria after a huge earthquake reportedly claimed the lives of around 1,900 people.

Wishing a speedy recovery for the thousands injured the Egyptian government said it was ready to help Turkiye, Syria and other eastern Mediterranean nations hit by the quake.

In a statement, Cairo passed on its sincere condolences to the families of the victims and the Turkish and Syrian people.


‘Buildings folded like paper towels’: Turkish survivors recount harrowing quake experiences 

‘Buildings folded like paper towels’: Turkish survivors recount harrowing quake experiences 
Updated 06 February 2023

‘Buildings folded like paper towels’: Turkish survivors recount harrowing quake experiences 

‘Buildings folded like paper towels’: Turkish survivors recount harrowing quake experiences 
  • “It was the strongest earthquake I’ve ever experienced,” Iskenderun resident tells Arab News
  • Death toll exceeds 1,500 as Turkiye activates level 4 alert state

ANKARA:Turkish survivors of one of the Middle East’s most devastating earthquakes in decades have relayed their harrowing experiences of surviving the disaster, which left buildings “folding like paper towels.”
Berjin and her cousin Rojhat, who were holidaying in Turkiye’s southeastern province of Diyarbakir, were about to return to their hometown, Van, in the country’s east, before the quake struck.
But early on Monday, the shockwave destroyed the building where Rojhat, a local football player, was sleeping. After emergency services arrived to rescue people from the rubble, Berjin waited for hours in front of the collapsed building in a distraught state.
After Rojhat was rescued, the two returned to Van, where an aftershock struck later in the day. “Please stop, it is such a strong quake, please stop,” Berjin cried in a video capturing lights and furniture shaking in her home.
Berjin, interviewed by Arab News, was was left waiting outside her destroyed home in minus 15 degrees Celsius temperatures after the second quake. The building was one of many in the city that had yet to be renovated following a 2011 earthquake, which killed hundreds of people.

Rescue workers search for survivors under the rubble following an earthquake in Diyarbakir, Turkey February 6, 2023. (Reuters)


Turkiye began the new week with a devastating and deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake — one of the most powerful to hit the region in decades — killing more than 1,500 people in the country and in neighhboring Syria. About 3,000 buildings were destroyed.
The quake struck just after 4 a.m. Monday morning local time, 23 km east of Nurdagi, Gaziantep province, at a depth of 24.1 km, according to data from the US Geological Survey.
The earthquake also devastated parts of Syria, claiming hundreds of lives in the country. Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Egypt were also affected.
There was another 7.5-magnitude earthquake at noon on Monday, with the epicenter recorded near Turkiye’s southeastern Kahramanmaras province.
A hospital in southeastern Sanliurfa province was completely destroyed by the earthquake, with many patients left trapped under rubble.
Turkiye stopped oil flow to the southern Ceyhan export terminal as a precaution.

People search through rubble following an earthquake in Adana, Turkey February 6, 2023. (Reuters)


Ozcan Karakoc, a teacher at a state-run school in Diyarbakir, immediately ran to his school building once he felt the quake.
He was involved in assisting survivors next to the school, providing blankets and food to those rescued from nearby buildings.
The school is in Baglar district, one of the most-affected areas in Diyarbakir and also one of the poorest.
“I live in Seyrantepe district of Diyarbakir where buildings were relatively new and we didn’t have so much damage inside the houses. But the building next to our school was about an eight-story old building where more than 200 people were living. It folded like a paper tower in seconds,” Karakoc told Arab News.
He now anxiously awaits news from his students, with many living in run-down housing in Baglar.
After the quakes, the streets of Diyarbakir filled with people, including children, dressed in pajamas in the freezing weather.

Rescuers work at the site of a collapsed building following an earthquake in Adana, Turkey February 6, 2023. (Reuters)


Berrak Demirel, another resident in Diyarbakir, was sleeping when the earthquake struck the city.
She ran out of her home with her husband and children when the second quake ended.
“We stayed long hours outside, but had to come back home due to the freezing weather conditions in the city,” she told Arab News.
Turkish armed forces set up an air aid corridor in the earthquake zone.
Misel Uyar, a resident of Iskenderun, a town in southern Hatay provice, said that a hospital in the area was destroyed in the quake, with health workers and patients inside.
Several new buildings collapsed despite having supposedly been built to modern standards, he added.
Iskenderun port was also damaged during the quake.
“It was the strongest earthquake I’ve ever experienced,” Uyar told Arab News, adding that many of the town’s older buildings were destroyed in the quake.
“Another old building, just some meters away from my house, also collapsed, with several people dying inside.
“All our churches in the region were completely destroyed. The policeman guarding the Orthodox Church died as well because of a stone hitting his body. People took shelter in cars due to the fear of the aftershocks,” said Uyar.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party deputy Ali Oztunc, from Kahramanmaras province, was present in the quake zone during an interview with Arab News.
“All our local municipalities and AFAD, the disaster agency, are currently collaborating to rescue people and provide them with urgent needs,” he said.
“The 500-year-old unbreakable East Anatolian Fault passes beneath this city. We had urged the authorities several times in the past to take necessary precautions regarding the buildings.”
The need to build quake-resilient cities has been a top agenda in Turkiye for years, with prominent scientists warning authorities to take urgent measures.
About 18,000 people in Turkiye were killed in 1999 in a 7.4 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Marmara region.
Another earthquake that hit the country in 1939 killed about 33,000 people.
Renate Cavdar, a music teacher in southeastern Gaziantep province, was surprised at the severity of the quake.
“It was felt so strongly. Several roads are blocked because they were damaged by the earthquake, and bulldozers have to clear the debris to open the passage,” she told Arab News.
“In Islahiye district, a building where an old relative was living collapsed. We are now trying to reach the area to get information from her,” Cavdar said.
According to the latest reports, several local politicians were killed in the region, which is also home to millions of Syrian refugees.
In the southeastern province of Adiyaman, a municipality building collapsed.
The campuses of some local universities were opened to host survivors.
Niyazi Buluter, a civil society activist for the Roma community in Gaziantep, lost six relatives in the quake, including children.
“I have been informed that some family died as the old building they were residing collapsed in seconds during the quake. Low-income people were residing in this district,” said Buluter.
“Several buildings also collapsed in our area. There were some cracks in our one-story house. But we couldn’t stand during the quake. It was so strong. I have a disabled child; I took him in my arms and ran out of the house quickly. May God protect poor people.”
Volkan Demirel, technical director of Hatayspor football team, appealed for humanitarian assistance in an emotional video posted on social media.
Several countries expressed solidarity with Turkiye after Monday’s earthquake.
“I have been in touch with Turkish officials to relay that we stand ready to provide any and all needed assistance,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Twitter.
“We will continue to closely monitor the situation in coordination with Turkiye,” he added.
Having declared a level four alert state, Turkiye also requested international help through the Emergency Response Coordination Center, the EU’s civil protection program. In response, 45 countries offered to help in search and rescue efforts.
“We express our solidarity and sympathy to our brothers in Syria and Turkiye following the earthquake,” said Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry.