Archbishop of Basra: Reopening of museum for the cultural revival of the city

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The museum is home toartefacts from the Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Islamic periods. Closed since 1991, after 10 years of work it has reopened its doors to the public and intends to become a “message of peace and

civilization”. The prelate: after months of tension the situation has improved, but employment opportunities and services “. Basra (AsiaNews) – An “important” event for the city of Basra “in many respects: ours is an ancient town, founded in 632 B.C., today is the economic capital of the country and is the only city in all of Iraq to own a port”, says the Chaldean archbishop of Basra, southern Iraq. Msgr. Alnaufali Habib Jajou, in commenting on the complete reopening of the local museum, one of the most valuable and significant cultural centers and archaeologists in all of Iraq. “I visited last year – he adds – the first [and only until a few weeks ago] room reopened in 2016 with a group of faithful from Basra and Baghdad and I must say that it is very beautiful”. Basra is the most important center of southern Iraq and was the scene in the recent past of grave episodes of violence, which had led the Church to suspend all extra-pastoral activities. For the reopening of the cultural center, the prelate continues, “the support of the Friends of the museum in Basra (Fobm)” group was essential, a group founded in 2010 and based in the United Kingdom. The local officials “recently inaugurated two other galleries, one dedicated to Assyrian antiquities and the second to the Babylonian finds”. The reopening of the museum to the general public confirms, once again, the country’s desire to make cultural heritage available, part of which has suffered serious damage in recent decades. From the conflict with Iran in the 1980s to the violence of the Islamic State in 2014, passing through the Gulf War in 1991 and the US invasion of 2003, many episodes have jeopardized artifacts, treasures and structures. The closure dates back to 1991, when at the end of the First Gulf War some opposition groups of the then dictator Saddam Hussein took advantage of the confusion to plunder at least nine museums scattered around the country. Today, after almost 30 years, with the collaboration of the British Museum and other organizations, thousands of artifacts – some of which date back to 6 thousand BC – are back on display in the rooms and on the walls. The collection, which boasts unique pieces from the Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Islamic periods, was once stored in a building that belonged to the former raìs. Qahtan Al Obeid, head of the cultural and archaeological heritage of Basra, explains that the museum exhibits “over two thousand objects preserved in the Baghdad museum and another 100 stolen, trafficked abroad and then recovered”. “It took 10 years – he adds – to prepare for this”. In the summer of 2015, UNESCO warned against the irreversible devastation carried out by ISIS on the historical and cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria. The same Chaldean patriarch Mar Louis Raphael Sako intervened on the subject, hoping for a renewed commitment to protect assets, artifacts, works of art and literature at risk of destruction, a “universal good” that is worth “more than oil”. In addition to rebuilding the monuments destroyed by wars and jihadism, the goal is to trace and return to Iraq those works of art that were stolen and trafficked abroad. The project includes the addition of a library with volumes dedicated to archeology, a conference room and a laboratory. The goal is to make it a “message of peace and civilization” for Iraq. “After months of tension – says the bishop – security has improved, but people continue to suffer from the lack of work, of medicines, due to the poor quality of care. The situation has been aggravated by the floods of recent weeks ”. Amid all of this the Christian community is attempting to live ” period of Lent with devotion”, which many Muslims “share by joining us in churches and in prayer”. “We invoke peace, justice and pray for Iraqi leaders – concludes the prelate – so that they can lead the country, which continues to suffer at a political, economic and social level”.