* ‘아시아엔’ 연수 외국기자가 작성한 기사의 한글요약본과 원문을 함께 게재합니다.
[아시아엔=라드와 아시라프 기자·번역 최정아 기자] 인류는 ‘문화 청소’(cultural cleansing, 하나의 가치관에 근거하여 다양한 문화를 하나로 통일하려는 것)는 반드시 사라져야할 악행이라 믿는다. 한번 무너진 문화유산들은 다시 재건하기 어렵기 때문이다. 하지만 지금 이 순간에도 돈으로 환산할 수 없는 문화유산들이 스러져 가고 있다. 이슬람 극단주의 무장단체 이슬람국가(IS)의 참혹한 ‘문화 청소’가 인류의 공분을 사고 있다.
IS가 시리아와 이라크 지역을 점령한 이후 수천년의 역사를 간직한 세계문화유산을 파괴하고 있다. 시리아와 이라크 지역은 인류 4대문명 발상지 중 하나인 메소포타미아 문명의 유산이 잠들어 있는 곳으로, 이라크의 하트라·니네베, 시리아의 팔미라 등이 보존돼 있는 곳이다.
IS는 2015년 4월 탄약더미를 이용해 하트라를 장면을 전세계에 공개했다. 이들은 또한 자동폭발장치와 망치 등으로 무참히 세계문화유산을 파괴하는 모습을 보이며 인류를 경악케 했다. 유네스코는 이에 대해 “이라크에서 잔혹한 ‘문화재 청소’가 이뤄지고 있다. 이번 하트라 파괴로 나타난 IS의 잔혹성은 도를 넘어섰다”고 말했다. 니네베 또한 고대시대 만들어진 조각과 문서가 남아있는 곳으로 문화보존가치가 매우 높아 유네스코 세계문화유산으로 지정됐지만 IS의 광란으로 모두 사라졌다.
이후 IS는 그들이 발행하는 월간지 <다비크>(Dabiq)를 통해 이라크와 시리아의 문화유적지를 파괴하는 장면을 담아 사진특집으로 다뤘다. 다비크는 “수니파 극단주의 집단 IS는 시아파와 관련된 유적지와 사원들을 모두 파괴한다”며 “전세계 모든 기독교 집단과 유산도 파괴할 것”이라고 밝혔다. 이처럼 IS는 ‘문화 청소’ 전략을 이용해 세력을 전세계에 과시하고 있다. 여기서 끝이 아니다. IS는 문화유산을 약탈해 암시장에 되팔아 군비를 충당하기도 한다. 이로 인해 수많은 사원들과 무덤이 파헤쳐 지고 있다. IS는 인류의 목숨을 앗아갈 뿐만 아니라 정신과 혼이 깃든 문화유산도 파괴하고 있다.
Heritage genocide and cultural violence in the Middle East
“Cultural violence is not a practice exclusive to Islamic groups or areas; rather, it is the nature of all radical ideologies, religious and national alike. The destruction of human communities is incomplete without cultural violence.” This was the conclusion of lawyer and human rights advocate Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-born jurist who came up with the term “genocide” and fought successfully for its recognition by international legal bodies as a crime.
Cultural violence has long been a component in the obliteration of communities; it legitimates the denial of diversity and makes them much harder to rebuild. Fiona Rose Greenland, a researcher at the University of Chicago, says that despite media coverage has rightly focused on the human dimension of suffering, she thinks we should reflect upon another important aspect of the violence: the systematic destruction of cultural sites and objects.
ISIS had long ago taken control over Syria and Iraq. The two countries are located in the region where the first alphabet, agricultural practices and cities were born. The rich cultural heritage of this region has thus been of global significance, with many sites being featured on the UNESCO list of World Heritage like the cities of Hatra and Nineveh in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria.
Heritage destruction at the hands of ISIS
Hatra boasts an impressive Greek and Roman influenced architecture and a prominent position on the Silk Trade, while Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian empire was at one point being the largest city in the world. Both cities were taken over by ISIS in 2014. Hatra has been used as an ammo dump and training ground by the militants, with a propaganda video being released by ISIS in April 2015 showing fighters using sledgehammers and automatic weapons to destroy sculptures in several of the site’s largest buildings. UNESCO commented at the time that “The destruction of Hatra marks a turning point in appalling strategy of cultural cleansing underway in Iraq.” Similarly, in Nineveh, many of its ancient sculptures and manuscripts were damaged during the rampage through the Mosul Museum, where most of the sculptures were housed, in late February 2015, while another propaganda video showed men smashing half-human, half-animal guardian statues called lamassus on Nineveh’s ancient Nirgal Gate.
Palmyra, the Syrian city which thrived as an oasis in the desert for centuries, offering sanctuary to caravans on the Silk Road, has been propelled to the forefront of the global media as the latest victim of these attacks on world heritage. ISIS seized the town and the nearby ancient ruins in May 2015, and although the militants initially promised to leave the city’s columns and temples untouched, in August they publicly beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, a Syrian archeologist and director of antiquities for Palmyra, after he refused to reveal the whereabouts of the city’s cultural artefacts. The same month ISIS released images of the militants rigging the 2000 year-old Temple of Baalshamin with explosives and blowing it up, along with the Temple of Bel, leaving nothing but rubble.
ISIS has openly boasted about its exploits in its own magazine, Dabiq. The magazine features photo reports of the various mosques, shrines and religious heritage sites they have destroyed throughout Iraq and Syria. ISIS’s drive to obliterate any non-Sunni heritage and culture in the region is blatantly declared, and the terror group has vowed to continue this destruction throughout the Christian world. As well as pursuing a strategy of cultural ‘genocide’, they have also looted many of these cultural sights, using it to finance their military operations. Selling artifacts in black market or even allowing others to loot and dig up temples.
UNESCO points out that the cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria, which bears witness to thousands of years of history in the cradle of world civilization, is being deliberately destroyed. The list includes other religious sites such as the Jewish Shrines of Jonas and the Prophet Daniel, the Jobar synagogue near Damascus, which, legend has it, goes back to the time of Elijah the Prophet, and the tombs of Sufi Sheikhs in Mosul have been sacked. The archaeological sites of the Green Church in Tikrit, dating back to the eighth century, and the citadel of Tikrit have been severely damaged. In Syria, cultural sites such as the historic city of Aleppo, which is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, have been hit.
The world’s latest genocide
Yemen’s precious heritage is also being ravaged by conflict, as the ancient capital of Sana’a is being ripped apart by the war between a Saudi-led Sunni coalition and the Houthis, the Shia rebel-group controlling the capital. Severe damage has been caused to the Great Dam of Marib, the structure dating from the 8th century BC which has sustained four hits in the past few months. Coalition air strikes have also obliterated the Dhamar museum holding the artifacts of an American-Yemeni archaeological dig along with 12th century citadels and minarets.
The international community aside, citizens of these countries are suffering the most from losing their own heritage. Mokadam Qabil, an Iraqi teacher who left Iraq a few years ago said, “This will remain deeply etched in the communal memory of Iraqis for decades to come.” While Ahmed Nabil from Egypt says, “We have a story to tell, so we can’t lose for our children and grandchildren. Our heritage is much more than our collective memory. It is our collective treasure.”
Syria and Iraq are simply additional chapters in the long-running story wherein conflict is characterized by a two-fold assault on humanity: human bodies themselves as well as the objects and sites that people create and infuse with cultural meaning.