Who were the Assyrians and why should you care if their legacy is destroyed or not?
The world is full of historical sites that, together, create a collective story that tells us who we are and how we got here. From Stonehenge in England to Versailles in France, every site of any significance to a nation or the world at large is a part of our shared history.
Our Ġgantija temples, for instance, are a sign of how Neolithic people lived 7,000 years ago; the Vatican is a reminder of the power the Church held in Europe and beyond for almost a thousand years; the Moulin Rouge stands testament to Paris’s contribution to art, sex and freedom. Each of them is a part of our heritage and, when someone does something to destroy that, we should be angered and we should be worried.
The Islamic State, known more commonly as ISIS, has recently taken to destroying sites and works of art that are over 3,000 years old – and that is a war crime that, in certain ways, even goes beyond killing people or destroying lives.
Your past is who you are. No matter what happens to you tomorrow, you will be remembered for your deeds and for your work. But if that past is taken away from you, dead or alive you become a shadow, you are erased from history, and your time on earth would have been futile.
The Assyrians, who created the palace, statues and carvings that ISIS are destroying, were one of the most advanced civilisations that had ever existed until that period. In fact, before the advent of Ancient Rome, the Assyrians had managed to become the largest empire the world had ever seen and, in total, the Assyrian state existed for thirteen centuries before it was wiped off the map.
Unlike other empires, however, the Assyrian one had a history of being subjugated and of being conquered and their eventual success is a story forged on the field of battle. That is the story of humanity, of how we rise like phoenixes from the ashes, of how we never give up.
To make this even worse, the Assyrians were also an incredibly gifted people and art, science and mathematics flourished in their domain. We lead the lives we do now because some of their discoveries helped us on our way to modernity.
Now, ISIS are destroying their legacy, leaving their descendants with faceless, broken statues and ruins. It is a slap in the face of humanity, to our collective history and, even more disturbingly, to those who they’re not only killing physically, but also metaphorically.