IS carrying out 'culture cleansing' in Iraq and Syria

IS carrying out 'culture cleansing' in Iraq and Syria
UNESCO has called for a campaign against 'culture cleansing' as Islamic State militants continue to target ancient ruins in Iraq and Syria.
2 min read
02 July, 2015
IS militants have attacked Syria's ancient city of Palmyra [Getty]

The head of the UN cultural organisation has called on for a campaign against the "culture cleansing" being carried out by Islamic State militants.

"Extremists don't destroy heritage as a collateral damage, they target it systematically to strike societies at their core", Irina Bokova said in a speech at the Chatham House think tank in London.

"This strategy seeks to destroy identities by eliminating heritage and cultural markers" she added.

Culture should be part of our response to violent extremism
- Irinia Bokova

Several archaeological sites have been attacked by IS militants in Iraq and Syria and their recent takeover of an area including the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria sparked worldwide concern.

In April, the IS group released a video in which militants can be seen using rifles and sledgehammers to destroy artefacts at the ancient fortress city of Hatra, famed for its unique blend of eastern and western architecture.

On Wednesday, UNESCO named 2,000-year-old Hatra as one of its "Heritage in Danger" sites, joining the likes of the US Everglades and the Old City of Jerusalem.

The site was listed due to the "destruction inflicted by armed groups" UNESCO said in a statement.

Earlier the militants also damaged the site of Iraq's ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and destroyed dozens of pieces from the museum in Mosul.

"I think the growing awareness that hard power will not be enough to defeat violent extremism is gaining ground. We need also soft power" Bokova said.

"Culture should be part of our response to violent extremism."

UNESCO is currently meeting in Bonn in Germany for its 39th committee session until July 8 and will consider at least 36 natural and cultural sites vying to get World Heritage status.

It was at the meeting in Germany that Hatra received its special classification.

The organisation has launched a campaign called "United Heritage" to defend historical sites under threat from extremists and to counter militant propaganda.

Heritage threatened by war: Click here for larger image