Mosul, in Iraq, has for centuries been a crossroads of cultures. Earlier this decade, however, the pluralistic, peaceful spirit of Mosul was overshadowed by an intrusion of hatred and violence. For almost three years (2014‒2017), Mosul was occupied by “Islamic State” (ISIS) forces who systematically plundered and destroyed the city’s historical sites and landmarks ― including the archaeological site of Nimrud, the Museum of Mosul, the Nabi Younnis Shrine, and the Al Hadba Minaret. Thousands more buildings and homes were severely damaged in the fight to expel ISIS forces from the city.
The UNESCO flagship initiative “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” is aimed at restoring and rehabilitating the city’s cultural heritage and reviving its educational and cultural institutions. Since February this year, this initiative has been fully mobilised at UNESCO’s Headquarters and in its field offices in Baghdad and the region.
On Wednesday, 26 June 2019, the United Nations University (UNU) and the National Estate of Chambord joined with UNESCO to convene a conference focusing on the Revive the Spirit of Mosul initiative. Held in France at Château de Chambord, a historical landmark that this year is celebrating the 500th anniversary of its construction, the “Mosul in Chambord” conference was attended by representatives from 44 countries, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization.
The conference was jointly organised by Daniel Rondeau, UNU’s representative to UNESCO (and newly elected member of the Académie Française) and by the personal office team of the UNESCO Director-General.
The purpose of this event was to give voice to the Iraqi actors behind the “Spirit of Mosul”: the men and women in Mosul who are struggling to rebuild the destroyed monuments and libraries of their city, to assist the wounded and displaced, and to restore their country’s freedom. The focus of the conference was on the ongoing efforts of local political leaders, academics, and the front-line workers/fighters as well as the contributions of writers, diplomats, and important witnesses.
The leaders of the three conference sponsors — UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, National Estate of Chambord Director-General Jean d’Haussonville, and UNU Rector David M. Malone — each addressed the gathering, which was honoured by the attendance of several senior Iraqi envoys.
The main agenda of the conference included video presentations on “The Destruction of Mosul Seen from the Sky”, “Education Under Attack”, and “Books for Resilience” (testimony from the Mosul Book Forum) as well as presentations by Daniel Rondeau (UNU), Susana AbdulMajid (performer, NTGent Stadstheater), and Dominique Charpin (professor, Collège de France) that traced various key moments of Mosul’s occupation and destruction.
Omar Mohammed, historian and journalist, offered testimony of the Mosul Eye blog, which he started and maintained for two years under the occupation of the Islamic State (before being forced to flee for his life). Via that blog, he provided the world with daily updates on the atrocities and crimes committed in Mosul under the Islamic State.
Najeeb Michael, Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul and Aqrah (an Iraqi Dominican brother) spoke about his effort to save the library of the Dominicans of Mosul before the Islamic State’s arrival. With the help of local residents, he was able to evacuate hundreds of books and precious documents (including the Yazidi manuscripts) to the town of Qaraqosh, and subsequently to Erbil when Islamic State forces closed in on Qaraqosh.
After closing remarks by Ernesto Ottone Ramirez (UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture), celebrated Oud musician and composer Ali Sabah entertained conference participants and other visitors to the museum complex in the Chateau’s central hall, beneath its iconic sculpted double staircase. Participants then toured the Château and viewed the exhibition “Chambord 1519‒2019, Utopia at Work”.
For more information about the UNU‒UNESCO “Mosul in Chambord” event, see the conference programme.
More photos from the conference, by UNESCO’s Christelle Alix, can be viewed on Flickr.
This event was the latest in the UNU‒UNESCO conference series. Previous conferences in the series, all held in Paris, included “Wars in the 21st Century, 2001‒2014” and “Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage during Armed Conflict” (2014), “Migrations” (2015), and “The Human Face of Migration: Historical Perspectives, Testimonies and Policy Considerations” (2017).