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[casi] the destruction of our history

[ Presenting plain-text part of multi-format email ]

Broken-hearted, I share this email with you all.

In addition to what is listed by Fisk below, an Al-Jazeera documentary talks
further of what was destroyed. Here are some examples:  In the museum that
they burned, they burned the first printing station, the beginnings of how
to print the alphabet. The first train. The first writings of Gilgamesh. The
first discovery of electricity. Hundreds of thousands of hand-written
history books. Hand-written copies of Al-Quran, and the writings of Al-Imam
Ali and Ibn Battatu.

This was clearly planned.  They knew the locations of the historical sites,
the museums, the libraries, .... They knew - and UNESCO had given the maps
of all the historical locations in Iraq so that the US/UK invaders would be
careful not to attack those locations. Those were the locations that were
looted and burned and destroyed.

The US and UK military occupiers were able to protect the Ministry of Oil
and they couldn't even protect the National Library, the Ministry of
Culture, the Museum of Archaeology, the Koranic Library, the other libraries
and Art Centers?

No one - among all the previous occupiers and destroyers of Iraq - no one
had ever done this in Iraq, to Iraq, to us all.

According to: Nida' Kadhim, Iraqi artist and witness: The US Military would
enter into empty streets, break the doors and windows of historic sites, and
then there would follow seemingly organized groups of people who would burn
and destroy what was in the museums.   (Source: Al Jazeera, Documentary.
April 14, 2003)

This clearly was no accident.

No Iraqi would burn his/her own history. No Iraqi would burn a museum or
burn a library or burn an art center. No way.

Our history. How do we restore it?

People die. And others are born. Buildings are destroyed and rebuilt. But
our history. Our books. Our archaeology. The history of all civilization.
They want us to forget our history. They want to make the history of Iraq to
disappear, and thus to make Iraqis disappear as Iraqis.

-rania masri

Robert Fisk: Library books, letters and priceless documents are set ablaze
in final chapter of the sacking of Baghdad

15 April 2003

So yesterday was the burning of books. First came the looters, then the
arsonists. It was the final chapter in the sacking of Baghdad. The National
Library and Archives - a priceless treasure of Ottoman historical documents,
including the old royal archives of Iraq - were turned to ashes in 3,000
degrees of heat. Then the library of Korans at the Ministry of Religious
Endowment were set ablaze.

I saw the looters. One of them cursed me when I tried to reclaim a book of
Islamic law from a boy of no more than 10. Amid the ashes of Iraqi history,
I found a file blowing in the wind outside: pages of handwritten letters
between the court of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, who started the Arab revolt
against the Turks for Lawrence of Arabia, and the Ottoman rulers of Baghdad.

And the Americans did nothing. All over the filthy yard they blew, letters
of recommendation to the courts of Arabia, demands for ammunition for
troops, reports on the theft of camels and attacks on pilgrims, all in
delicate hand-written Arabic script. I was holding in my hands the last
Baghdad vestiges of Iraq's written history. But for Iraq, this is Year Zero;
with the destruction of the antiquities in the Museum of Archaeology on
Saturday and the burning of the National Archives and then the Koranic
library, the cultural identity of Iraq is being erased. Why? Who set these
fires? For what insane purpose is this heritage being destroyed? When I
caught sight of the Koranic library burning - there were flames 100 feet
high bursting from the windows - I raced to the offices of the occupying
power, the US Marines' Civil Affairs Bureau. An officer shouted to a
colleague that "this guy says some biblical [sic] library is on fire". I
gave the map location, the precise name - in Arabic and English - I said the
smoke could be seen from three miles away and it would take only five
minutes to drive there. Half an hour later, there wasn't an American at the
scene - and the flames were shooting 200 feet into the air.

There was a time when the Arabs said that their books were written in Cairo,
printed in Beirut and read in Baghdad. Now they burn libraries in Baghdad.
In the National Archives were not just the Ottoman records of the Caliphate,
but even the dark years of the country's modern history, handwritten
accounts of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, with personal photographs and
military diaries, and microfiche copies of Arabic newspapers going back to
the early 1900s.

But the older files and archives were on the upper floors of the library
where petrol must have been used to set fire so expertly to the building.
The heat was such that the marble flooring had buckled upwards and the
concrete stairs that I climbed had been cracked.

The papers on the floor were almost too hot to touch, bore no print or
writing, and crumbled into ash the moment I picked them up. Again, standing
in this shroud of blue smoke and embers, I asked the same question: why?

So, as an all-too-painful reflection on what this means, let me quote from
the shreds of paper that I found on the road outside, blowing in the wind,
written by long-dead men who wrote to the Sublime Porte in Istanbul or to
the Court of Sharif of Mecca with expressions of loyalty and who signed
themselves "your slave". There was a request to protect a camel convoy of
tea, rice and sugar, signed by Husni Attiya al-Hijazi (recommending Abdul
Ghani-Naim and Ahmed Kindi as honest merchants), a request for perfume and
advice from Jaber al-Ayashi of the royal court of Sharif Hussein to Baghdad
to warn of robbers in the desert. "This is just to give you our advice for
which you will be highly rewarded," Ayashi says. "If you don't take our
advice, then we have warned you." A touch of Saddam there, I thought. The
date was 1912.

Some of the documents list the cost of bullets, military horses and
artillery for Ottoman armies in Baghdad and Arabia, others record the
opening of the first telephone exchange in the Hejaz - soon to be Saudi
Arabia - while one recounts, from the village of Azrak in modern-day Jordan,
the theft of clothes from a camel train by Ali bin Kassem, who attacked his
interrogators "with a knife and tried to stab them but was restrained and
later bought off". There is a 19th-century letter of recommendation for a
merchant, Yahyia Messoudi, "a man of the highest morals, of good conduct and
who works with the [Ottoman] government." This, in other words, was the
tapestry of Arab history - all that is left of it, which fell into The
Independent's hands as the mass of documents crackled in the immense heat of
the ruins.

King Faisal of the Hejaz, the ruler of Mecca, whose staff are the authors of
many of the letters I saved, was later deposed by the Saudis. His son Faisel
became king of Iraq - Winston Churchill gave him Baghdad after the French
threw him out of Damascus - and his brother Abdullah became the first king
of Jordan, the father of King Hussein and the grandfather of the present-day
Jordanian monarch, King Abdullah II.

For almost a thousand years, Baghdad was the cultural capital of the Arab
world, the most literate population in the Middle East. Genghis Khan's
grandson burnt the city in the 13th century and, so it was said, the Tigris
river ran black with the ink of books. Yesterday, the black ashes of
thousands of ancient documents filled the skies of Iraq. Why?


p.s. additional info:,2763,936330,00.html - > 'Museum's
treasures left to the mercy of looters. US generals reject plea to protect
priceless artifacts from vandals',2763,936264,00.html  -> 'The
collection lies in ruins, objects from a long, rich past in smithereens'

And older articles: -> 'UNESCO fears for Iraqi
historical sites caught in crossfire' -> 'Ancient treasures
imperiled in Iraq'

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