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ISIS Is Latest Radical Group to Destroy Ancient Art

From Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to the Taliban in Afghanistan, numerous movements have destroyed and stolen historic artifacts.
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BOSTON — Over the centuries, militant groups and radical regimes have targeted not just innocent lives but also historic and cultural artifacts preserved and revered by their victims.

In Afghanistan, it was the Taliban.

In 2001, Taliban fighters demolished two sandstone statues of Buddha that dated back to the 6th century with dynamite in the Bamiyan Valley.

But that wasn't the first time those pieces came under attack.

The towering statues were struck eons before the Taliban obliterated them. "In the 17th century, the Moghul emperor Aurangzeb ordered an attack on the Buddhas," wrote The New York Times' Barry Bearak in 2001.

Image: Unidentified Taliban official near destroyed Buddha statue on March 26, 2001
An unidentified official of the Afghan Taliban stands near a virtually destroyed Buddha statue in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, on March 26, 2001.if / AFP/Getty Images
In Cambodia, it was the Khmer Rouge. The regime was responsible for taking the lives of some two million people from 1975 to 1979.

The Khmer Rouge and other groups "began decimating that country’s ancient sites in search of treasures to sell on the international art market," Tess Davis, executive director of Washington, DC-based Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, wrote in The Los Angeles Times.

In Germany, it was the Nazis.

The Third Reich's reign from 1933 to 1945 saw the destruction and disappearance of hundreds of thousands of priceless pieces of art. Still today, there are ongoing legal battles over artwork that the Nazis allegedly obtained by coercing Jewish art dealers.

The latest group to join the list is ISIS.

A video released by the group this week and uploaded to YouTube by the Washington, DC-based nonprofit Middle East Research Institute purports to show ISIS militants summarily destroying archaeological relics.

In the video, an unnamed man says, "The Prophet ordered us to get rid of statues and relics, and his companions did the same when they conquered countries after him."

The rest of the footage shows men pounding antiquities reportedly from a museum in the Iraqi city of Mosul, with sledgehammers and drills — in seconds, they reduce years of cherished history to debris and dust.

According to German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur, experts said, "dozens of original statues from 7th century BC Nineveh — which might have then been the world's largest and most important city — were destroyed beyond repair."

Irina Bokova, the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), called the destruction a "deliberate attack against Iraq’s millennial history and culture" on Thursday.

Bokova added that she has "immediately seized the President of the Security Council to ask him to convene an emergency meeting of the Security Council on the protection of Iraq’s cultural heritage as an integral element for the country’s security."

Many art historians and aficionados around the world are also lamenting the loss of the precious works.

"This mindless attack on great art, on history, and on human understanding constitutes a tragic assault not only on the Mosul Museum, but on our universal commitment to use art to unite people and promote human understanding," Thomas Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, told Bloomberg.

This originally appeared at GlobalPost.

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