Being a veteran of Iraq often means experiencing a lot of anger when reading the news. In the past year, I’ve seen the fall of Mosul – where I spent the majority of my tour in Iraq; the desecration of the Mosul Museum; and, most recently, the destruction of ruins in Nimrud. The thought of the places that I fought to protect being taken over or destroyed by ISIS rips at my soul.
Reading the news and seeing pictures of the region and the destruction that ISIS has caused brings waves of anger. At this point, I’ve been home for 10 years and yet this level of destruction greatly saddens me. There is something so deeply troubling about what is happening in Iraq, especially when it relates to remnants of one of our more ancient civilizations. And while there has been outcry from the archeological community, there has not been nearly enough outcry from the international community. This is not just something that should be decried by museum directors and archeologists, but by each and every one of us.
This isn’t just one nation’s culture that is being destroyed. This is the culture of all of us that is being destroyed. The Assyrian civilization, which had its capital in Nimrud for a period of time, was active between 2500 BC and 605 BC and is one of our earliest civilizations. The legacy of this civilization belongs to all of us – and it is our responsibility to protect it.
I was lucky enough to visit the ruins at Nimrud while I was in Iraq in 2004. Walking among artifacts that predated anything I have ever seen was nothing short of moving. At the time it was guarded by just a couple Iraqi guards who were kind enough to give us a brief tour. I always figured that after the war was over, maybe decades later, I could come back and enjoy the site without body armor and an armed escort.
Now that I’ve moved to New York City, I make it a point every time I go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to visit their Nimrud collection. I visited the day after the ruins were destroyed. Every visit takes me back to that day I was able to see the site in person, and walk where the nobles of Assyria walked.
As an international community we have a responsibility to protect the sacred artifacts that reside in Iraq and elsewhere. This is an inexcusable crime against all of humanity. Sadly ISIS isn’t the first group to try and eradicate history — the Taliban and Islamic militants in Mali are some of the more recent examples. We have an obligation to protect this history and not let it fall to those who would seek to destroy the past and our collective history.
Jason is a graduate of the University of Washington and a veteran of the war in Iraq where he served in 2004 as part of the U.S. Army. Currently he is the Director of External Program Relations at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). All views are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IAVA or any other entity. You can find his other views on Twitter at @jasonhansman.