UNESCO deplores ‘cultural cleansing’ of Iraq as armed extremists ransack Mosul libraries

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova (centre) during a visit to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in November 2014. Photo: UNAMI

3 February 2015 – The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voiced alarm today over the reported destruction of thousands of books in museums, libraries and universities across Mosul – the northern Iraq city currently controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

According to the UN agency, the books – on topics ranging from philosophy and law to science and poetry – have been “deliberately burned” over the past several weeks in what may be “one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history.”

“This destruction marks a new phase in the cultural cleansing perpetrated in regions controlled by armed extremists in Iraq,” UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, declared in a press release issued earlier today. “It adds to the systematic destruction of heritage and the persecution of minorities that seeks to wipe out the cultural diversity that is the soul of the Iraqi people.”

UNESCO has been taking stock of the “cultural cleansing” perpetrated by armed groups in Iraq over the past several months and has repeatedly condemned the targeting of cultural heritage sites as well as minorities.

Drawing comparisons with recent book burnings by Islamist extremists in Mali, Ms. Bokova said that the act constituted “an attack on the culture, knowledge and memory” and was evidence of “a fanatical project, targeting both human lives and intellectual creation.”

“UNESCO was created 70 years ago to combat this type of violence, through education, science and culture, using the tools of dialogue and peace,” she continued. “Such destruction is a cruel reminder that the nations of the world must remain united to combat such fanaticism today.”


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