Terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have seized Mosul, Iraq’s second city, and embarked on a rampage towards Baghdad. In their wake flee some 500,000 refugees, desperate to escape the brutalities associated with this former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
On the other side of the River Tigris to Mosul, in an area now firmly under ISIS control, lies Nineveh. Nineveh is the former capital of the great Assyrian Empire and is one of the cradles of modern civilization.
“The Assyrians brought many scientific, philosophical and practical advances to humanity including many inventions that we take for granted today. Everyday most of us lock our doors when we leave the house, locks and keys were invented in Assyria. They also invented a system that kept time and ascribed 360 degrees to a circle. They are given credit for inventing paved roads, the first postal system, the first use of iron, the first libraries, the first plumbing, flush toilets and aqueducts. They came up with the first governmental administration of dividing of territories ruled by local governors reporting to a central authority”.
Many of the relics of Nineveh bear reference to the technological achievements of the Assyrians. Several sources testify to the might of the city, particularly the Bible:
Contained a population of upwards of one-hundred and twenty thousand people, when Jonah preached (John 4:11)
Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey (Jonah 3:3)
In approximately 612BC Nineveh was attacked by a mixed force of Medes, Persians, Babylonians and their allies leading to the fall of the Assyrian Empire and the destruction of much of the great city. That said, many archaeological relics remain and they are now under threat from the ISIS intrusion.
Nineveh may be one of the birthplaces of culture and civilization, yet it is now exposed to some of the most uncultured and uncivilized barbarians ever to stand at its gates. Willing to slaughter any civilians that defy them, and uncaring of destroying any remnants of a civilization opposed to their virulent strain of Islam, ISIS militants could finally erase the traces of one of history’s great cities.
In 2010, the Global Heritage Fund published a report naming Nineveh as one of twelve sites on the verge of irreparable destruction and loss, citing looting, neglect and development pressures as justifications. Islamic extremists have shown in Syria their wanton disregard for archaeological relics (even though many are associated with Islam) so unless a reversal in the insurgency occurs, expect the same for Nineveh.
The US and its international partners now have a conundrum. Do they hope that military aid to the Iraqi Army will alone be enough to turn the tide against ISIS and stave off a battle in Baghdad? Or do they recommit ground forces in an unprecedented about-turn to make a justifiable stand against a very real global danger?
For the fleeing refugees, and for Nineveh, it is likely that the situation will only get worse.