Tuesday, August 23, 2005

OK, Can We Wrap This War Up, Quickly, Please?

There's an article in The New York Times today so awesome I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Sitting beneath the Citadel, a neighborhood in the Kurdish city of Erbil, are layers and layers of previous buildings dating back to what's literally the cradle of civilization, all waiting to be studied, once the turmoil that's continuously plagued this region since the advent of modern archeology finally subsides. This hilltop, walled-in community rivals Jericho and a few other sites as perhaps the oldest continually inhabited location on earth and has seen the rise and fall of, among others, the Hassuna, Akkadians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Parthians and Abbasids. By the time Alexander the Great defeated Darius to become ruler of Persia on a plain just west of here, this place had already been inhabited for an estimated 7,500 years.

In 1964, when Kanaan Rashad Mufti and his prominent family were part of the neighborhood, a floor in his father's house, near the mosque, collapsed during some renovations.

Underneath was a whole series of rooms from some previous civilization, possibly the Abbasids, said Mr. Mufti, who is now director of antiquities in western Kurdistan. There is nothing that Iraqi archaeologists would like more than to begin systematic digs through those layers, said Donny George, director of the Baghdad Museum.

Here are a few images. (The NYTimes has more):

More than anything, a site like this, having seen empire after empire turn to dust, mocking the folly of imperial desire, stands as a testament to the human will to survive. Even today, though, life in this place is not easy:

Living in brick hovels amid the ruins of palatial houses are about 1,000 families displaced from Kurdish villages that Mr. Hussein destroyed in an infamous pogrom called Anfal. In a routine that resembles a fire drill, the families scramble to siphon water from sinuous pipes running through the Citadel that function for about 30 minutes, once a day. [...]

Kadim Mustafa - a 39-year-old mother of three, whose brick and concrete shanty includes fragments of the grand home that was here before - stood on a fancy balcony overlooking Erbil and dismissed pretensions like Mr. Adlig's.

"We have a nice place with a view, but not the facilities of life," Mrs. Mustafa said. "As soon as we start having lunch, the electricity will go off."
Even amidst the ruins, though, there are attempts to preserve and promote culture here, including the Kurdish Textile Museum (see image below) and what sounds like a totally misguided institute called the "Center Arthur Rimbaud" opened by a Frenchman the NYTimes article spares no scorn.

There's already discouraging talk about this place turning into a tourist destination like the district of the Sacré Coeur in Paris or a "Kurdish SoHo or Greenwich Village." Considering all that's going on over there now, there could be worse fates, but I wish them better than that.

Here's a timeline of the history of this place. Again, I highly recommend this article. It's brilliant.


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