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Mapping the Terrorist Threat to Middle Eastern Architecture

January 29, 2016

City Lab

Mapping the Terrorist Threat to Middle Eastern Architecture

Culturally significant monuments and museum are being razed to the ground.

Tanvi Misra | @Tanvim | 12:54 PM ET


Last week, ISIS razed the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq. The St. Elijah monastery was 1,400 years old and stood in the South of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and a current ISIS stronghold. Unfortunately, it was just the latest casualty in the ISIS-led campaign to wipe out culturally and historically significant architecture in regions under their control; via The Associated Press:

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The Washington, D.C.-based Antiquities Coalition, a group fighting to protect cultural artifacts and monuments around the wold, has been tracking such instances of “cultural cleansing” by terrorist organizations operating in the Middle East and North Africa. Using this data, they’ve now created the Culture Under Threat Map, which shows which heritage sites are under threat, and which ones have already been destroyed and damaged.

“Our knowledge of this problem is incomplete and often presented on a case-by-case basis,” says Deborah Lehr, coalition chair and founder, via email. “We wanted to create a visual representation of the full sweep of the problem—one that showed not only the extent of cultural crimes but also its intensity.”

Their map plots 700 museums (in yellow) and other architecture (in blue) designated as UNESCO heritage sites. The little red bulls-eyes on the map show the location of sites that were damaged and destroyed. This is architecture that ISIS and other violent groups have deliberately targeted since 2011, not collateral damage of the conflicts in the region. According to the coalition’s estimate, 230 sites have already been wiped out—including monuments from ancient, Greco-Roman, Islamic, and modern periods of architecture.

The map also shows hotspots where ISIS and other such groups have been particularly active, giving a sense of which sites in that vicinity might be under attack next. Here’s Lehr explaining via email why the threat to these monuments is a cause for global concern:

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Complete as it is, the coalition map illustrates just a sliver of an incredibly huge problem. The heritage sites shown make up just a fraction of the 3-to-5 million important archeological sites in the region. “The ‘cradle of civilization’ is in imminent danger of destruction,” Lehr says.


PDF of the article here