Cultural Cleansing and Iconoclasm under the ‘Islamic State’: Human/Heritage Attacks on Yezidis and Christians

A paper by Antonio Gonzalez, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation for the Ancient World Seminar at 1:00 on Monday 20 March in the Mcmahon Ball Theatre, Old Arts.

When the ‘Islamic State’ (IS) seized large swathes of territory across Iraq and Syria and declared their new caliphate, they unleashed a cataclysmic wave of both devastating human suffering and unprecedented heritage destruction.  In terms of the human suffering, the IS has executed many who questioned their nefarious ideology or committed petty crimes.  At the same time, the rapid expansion of the IS has also proved fatal for many of the world’s most sensitive and important cultural heritage sites.  Targeted sites range from ancient Mesopotamian city-states through to Greek, Roman and Byzantine sites, as well as museums, art galleries and libraries. However, little attention has been paid to the intersection between the human suffering and the heritage destruction undertaken by the Islamic State (IS).  Here, human/heritage destruction are intertwined: the suffering inflicted on people is projected onto their sites of ritual and worship; just as the destruction of these sites are deliberately orchestrated to inflict symbolic suffering on specific communities and to shatter the ethnic and religious diversity of the region.  This talk will explore and document the human/heritage ‘cultural cleansing’ undertaken by the IS against two fragile minorities: the Yezidi and Christian populations of northern Iraq and Syria.

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