Americans and Iraqis work to urgently preserve Iraqi cultural landmark
August 10, 2009
TIKRIT, Iraq -- The ancient Assyrian City of Ashur faces imminent threats. Recent construction of a dam on the Tigris River is causing large sections of the city to be swept away, while other precious artifacts are being looted.
The United States Embassy, with the assistance of the U.S. military, and officials from Iraq's Board of Antiquities organized the first international assessment of the site since 2003. The Embassy's most senior diplomat in the region said time is of the essence.
"We saw how the city is literally being washed away," remarked David Stewart, the Provincial Reconstruction Team leader in Salah ad Din. "We hope that by conducting this assessment, we can help to bring needed attention and funds to preserve one of the most important historical sites in Iraq."
The city of Ashur was the first capital of the once-prosperous, 5,000-year-old Assyrian empire. It was the religious center of the Assyrian empire because the temple of their national god Ashur was built within the city. Ashur also served as the place for the crowning and burial of Assyrian kings. The city was later conquered by the Babylonians.
Yet, many of its most impressive buildings were left intact, including the imposing ziggurat that stands on a cliff above the nearby town of Sharqat. The team found that the plateau is now being rapidly eroded by the river and artifacts are being swept away in the current.
Diane Siebrandt, the Embassy's Cultural Heritage Officer and an experienced archeologist, documented the deteriorated condition of the ruins. She said that these findings would help to form the basis for future American and international support for the endangered edifices.
These initiatives could include building a barrier to divert the river and erecting a more secure fence around the site.
Seibrandt explained that preserving Iraq's heritage is not only about the past.
"I am always curious and want to know the reason why we have paper, why we have pens, why do we write and why do we have a compelling need to do certain things," said Seibrandt. "To answer these questions we have to look back at history. It's through history that we see our beginnings and influences that contributed to our civilization. If that history is destroyed, however, it leaves a giant question mark. We need to be able to reference our history to find out how far we have come and possibly learn and avoid repeating mistakes," she explained.
Protecting these historical treasures can help to redefine the United States' legacy in Iraq, according to an Embassy spokesman, "As the U.S. forces look toward our draw down out of the country, this is a great potential legacy that we can leave behind; showing that we took proper care of the ancient sites and history of the Iraqi people," said Brett Bruen, Public Diplomacy officer for the PRT in Salah ad Din.
"When the security situation arrives at the point when there is an opportunity for wide-spread tourism, our good stewardship of these sites will pay off because we will have met the immediate needs to preserve these sites now," he added.