In Mosul, the Louvre at the bedside of Iraqi heritage

In the twilight of the Mosul Museum in Iraq, natural light making its way to the ground illuminates fragments of monumental Assyrian sculptures dating back nearly 3,000 years, scattered around a gaping hole. They were smashed in 2015 by members of the Islamic State organization during the occupation of the city, where a “caliphate” was proclaimed in June 2014.

It wasn’t until three years later, shortly after Daesh was driven out by US-backed Iraqi forces, that Zaid Ghazi first returned to his museum. The shock is immense, commensurate with the extent of the damage. “Daesh wanted to destroy the culture, the identity of the city”, explains the director, during our visit at the end of May.

In addition to the sacked Assyrian section, 25,000 books in the library were burned and the Islamic art room was emptied of its objects, sold by the armed group on the black market. But, with the mission of a group of experts sent by the Louvre in June, Zaid Ghazi can finally foresee the departure of a “True restoration program” of all these destroyed works.

International aid

Founded in 1952, the museum, which displays thousands of years of Iraqi history in four exhibition halls, has since been secured and repairs have been undertaken, including on the roof, which was hit by mortar fire. . But still in poor condition, the museum remains closed to the public today, even if it has been able to reopen its doors for a few artistic events since 2019.

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Its director since 2004, specialist in stone conservation, is driven by vital energy. “It is crucial to rebuild the museum, because it is a legacy that represents Mosul through time. It is a mirror of our history ”, says Zaid Ghazi, who estimates that the work will take at least five years. Iraqi teams can now count on the help of international support, including the Louvre Museum and the Smithsonian, an American scientific research institution associated with 19 museums.

The two institutions have come together in the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (Aliph), which initiated a reconstruction project at the request of the Iraqi government by releasing an amount of 1.3 million euros. dollars (about one million euros).

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“What happened in Mosul is quite a nightmare, launches Ariane Thomas, director of the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the Louvre and involved in the project. We answered the call with our expertise on the collections, in particular that of the Department of Oriental Antiquities, which are in a way the cousins ​​of what has been destroyed. “

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