A video uploaded to social media Thursday appeared to show Islamic State fighters destroying ancient artifacts in the Iraqi city of Mosul and its environs. The jihadists have been in control of the city since last summer. Their puritanical, fundamentalist brand of Islam deems icons and images of divinity, including those from pre-Islamic civilizations, to be forbidden.
"These statues, these idols, and these antiquities, when Allah, Glorified and Exalted be He, ordered to destroy and remove them, it was an easy matter," says an Islamic State fighter in the video. "We do not care even if it costs billions of dollars."
They targeted the the winged bull statue at Nergal Gate, one of the entrances to the ancient city of Nineveh, as well as relics in a city museum that they said were put on display by "devil-worshipers," a term the jihadists use for the persecuted Yazidi sect.
The winged bulls featured on Iraq currency since the 1950's are gone forever. pic.twitter.com/IOhn8loOdy
— Ihsan (@Thawra_city) February 26, 2015
The act, akin to the Afghan Taliban's 2001 demolition of massive statues of the Buddha in Bamiyan province, sparked outrage and mourning on Twitter. Here's a brief list of other holy sites razed or damaged by Islamists in recent years.
Nineveh was the great capital of the Assyrian empire, a powerful political force in late Mesopotamian antiquity. Its ruins include the 7th century B.C. palace of the King Ashurbanipal, where archaeologists once uncovered tablets recounting the tale of Gilgamesh, arguably humanity's first great epic.
A mid-19th century account from a British archaeologist describes the discovery of winged deities at Nergal Gate that the jihadists chose to smash.
The gateway, facing the open country, was formed by a pair of majestic human-headed bulls, fourteen feet in length, and still entire, though cracked and injured by fire...They...[wore] lofty head-dress, richly ornamented with rosettes, and edged with a fringe of feathers peculiar to the period. Wide spreading wings rose above their backs, and their breasts and bodies were profusely adorned with curled hair.
To this day, the area surrounding what was once Nineveh is home to its diverse descendants, including the Yazidis and some of the oldest communities of Assyrian Christians. But the ravages of the Islamic State have forced tens of thousands to flee and seen the unraveling of Iraq and Syria's social fabric.
"When you watch the footage, you feel visceral pain and outrage, like you do when you see human beings hurt,” Mardean Isaac, an Assyrian writer and activist, told the Guardian.