ISIS Targets 2,000-Year-Old Ancient Nineveh Walls in Iraq

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Adad Gate outside of Nineveh, Iraq.
by Mary Chastain2 Jan 2015183
The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) set their eyes on another historical site to demolish as they continue to establish their caliphate across Iraq. Residents near Mosul told Assyrian website Ankawa the militants’ plan to blow up the walls of Nineveh, which date back to almost 700 B.C.

Unnamed sources said the Islamic State leaders told members to set booby traps along the walls. If the Iraqi army attempts to liberate the area, the militants must “complete the bombing of the historic walls.” The walls are attributed to King Sennacherib, who rebuilt the city during his reign beginning in 704 B.C., and consist of a seven and a half mile barrier around the city—presumably to protect it from attack when it served as the capital of ancient Assyria. Nineveh was so important and Sennacherib’s contributions so great that some archaeologists have gone as far as to attribute to him the construction and maintenance of the ancient Hanging Gardens, long believed to be in Babylon.

The Islamic State moved to the Nineveh Plain in early August, “the last stronghold of Assyrians in Iraq.” Over 200,000 Assyrians fled to the Dohuk and Arbel areas.

When militants captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June, they proceeded to destroy shrines and tombs important to Christians and Muslims because they allegedly “distort Islam” and encourage “worship of others besides God.” They destroyed a shrine to Jonah, the biblical prophet, and Yunus in the Koran. The shrine was built in the eighth century BC. Worshippers believe that the prophet Jonah, most famous for surviving being swallowed by a whale in the Biblical legend, is buried there. Saddam Hussein renovated the shrine, and it remained a popular site for pilgrims.

Jonah and Nineveh are connected in the Book of Jonah in the Hebrew Bible. God tells Jonah to walk to Nineveh to tell the Ninevites about their destruction. The people fasted and repented and God allowed them to live, which upset Jonah. God provided Jonah a plant, but proceeded to destroy the plant. This also upset Jonah, but God turned it into a lesson to help Jonah understand why he saved the Ninevites:

¹ºBut the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. ¹¹And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

The story is so important that the Assyrian Christians started The Fast of Nineveh, later also adopted by other Oriental Orthodox religions. The three-day fast commemorates the three days it took Jonah to travel to Nineveh and the three days he spent in the belly of the whale when he did not go to Nineveh as God asked him. It is also connected to a plague leashed upon northern Iraq in the 9th century. The bishop used the Book of Jonah and “ordered a 3-day fast to ask for God’s forgiveness.” The plague went away after three days.

Islamic State jihadists have targeted a number of ancient structures in the region. The group attempted to destroy the Crooked Minaret, an 840-year old tower, but residents immediately protected it and told the terrorists they would have to kill the people as well.

Turkey fears the terrorist group might destroy the Suleyman Shah tomb in Aleppo, Syria, built in Turkish territory under a treaty with France when the French ruled Syria. Suleyman Shah was the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. The Empire, also known as the Turkish Empire, was founded in 1299. It expanded to southeast Europe, western Asia, Caucasus, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. It collapsed after World War I and evolved into modern-day Turkey. The government sent security to the tomb in April.

“We can’t leave that place, which is ours through agreements, unprotected,” said Turkish historian Ilber Ortayli. “Regardless of pride, this is important for our historical memory. This is important for everyone, not just for Turks.”