It was 1929 when British archaeologist Leonard Woolley made a sensational discovery in Nineveh, Iraq’s province. He commanded an Arab worker to dig a pit to test the archaeological layers of the biblical Ur of the Chaldeans, the birthplace of Abraham. They found broken bricks and other items that indicated an ancient human settlement.
At a depth of one meter, the worker reached what archaeologists call “virgin clay”, the layer from which it follows that there is nothing more that is interesting and signs of life end right there.
Woolley told him to continue. After two and a half meters of further excavation, the worker found fragments of pottery and other archaeological material.
Sir Woolley gasped: How you could interpret that split between two civilizations, the clean land between two layers which clearly indicated two different human presences, two different civilizations separated by a layer of sandy soil and virgin clay?
Nineveh had been erased from the earth. The most magnificent capital of Mesopotamian civilization, the “great whore” of the Bible, the land of Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, full of sculptures of terrifying winged genuses, man-hawks, demons, Pazuzu and bulls with wings, was the first to disappear, reduced to rubble by the Babylonians and Persians, with lynx and jackals howling in the ruins of palaces and temples, ruins still largely submerged by the hills of dirt accumulated over the millennia. Even a dam on the Euphrates, still in business, was built with bricks stamped with the seal of Nebuchadnezzar.
In Nineveh today the grass grows once more. There where the most ancient cults of the earth sill mingle, Islam is waging war against the world’s oldest religions.
As Louis Sako, head of Iraq’s largest Catholic congregation, said: “This has never happened in the Christian and Islamic history”.
Priests and astrologers have been present in Mesopotamia since the dawn of civilization. It has been proven that our civilization was born in the land of the two rivers, in Mesopotamia. Up to today, throughout the Fertile Crescent, despite the many wars in the region, one could find communities that bore witness to the extraordinary antiquity of the areas religious traditions.
Until the arrival of the Islamic State.
Like the Jews, who fled decades ago, Christians are now also all gone. On Sunday, “for the first time in two thousand years the Christian communion was not celebrated in Nineveh”, said the Anglican vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White. There remain only the homes of Christians marked with the “n” of Nasrani. Nazarenes.
A year ago there were 60,000 Christians in Mosul. Today there is only a handful.
Yazidis of the Islamic State are killed in mass. The bodies of thirty Yazidis, including five children, killed by the jihadists of the Islamic State, have just been found in a mass grave, one of many fresh graves discovered in northern Iraq near Zummar, in an area recaptured by the Kurdish Peshmerga militia .
The Yazidi Fraternal Organization has recorded the names of twelve thousand Yazidi – five thousand women and seven thousand men – killed or kidnapped (in the case of women) since August third, when the mountain of Sinjar fell into the hands of Islamic State. Yazidis are one of the oldest communities linked to the Zoroastrians, the ancestors of the great orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta, who fled from Persia twelve centuries ago to preserve the sacred fire of Zoroaster from the desecration of the Arab invaders.
Relatives of the Yazidi are Kakais, the Kurdish syncretic sect known for their mustache rituals. The Islamic State considers them to be “blasphemous”, because the Qur’an prescribes a short mustache. Kakais are a heterodox sect linked to Shiite Islam. The Islamic State kills them every time they are caught.
Among the Sunni jihadists fighting in Syria, supporters of Bashar el Assad, Alawites, are called “Majous”. Like in the Gospels.
The Mandaeans, the last Gnostics on earth, are also disappearing in Iraq. Every Sunday they gather on the banks of the Tigris to celebrate immersion in the waters as did John the Baptist. Ninety percent of the Mandaeans have fled Iraq, threatened with death by Islamists. The first Mandaean tribes migrated from the Holy Land to the banks of the lower Euphrates during the first and second century AD, over two thousand years ago.
The Mandaeans speak a dialect similar to Aramaic of the Babylonian Talmud. They are the cousins of the people who produced the Nag Hammadi codices (such as the Gospel of Thomas)
The Mandaeans are pacifists, their religion prevents them from carrying weapons. They have fallen victim to lawlessness, kidnappings, rapes, murders and forced conversions at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists.
The Shabak syncretic cult is another of the main objectives for terrorist movements, especially the Islamic State. According to a report published by the Ministry of Human Rights in Iraq, 1,200 Shabaks have been killed and six thousand displaced. The position of the Shabak in support of the Anglo-American war in Iraq in 2003 and their vote for the Iraqi constitution has made them enemies of terrorists.
Also threatened by the Islamic State are Zoroastrian Turkmen. Finally there are the Sabians, the children of the South Arabian civilization and the Queen of Sheba, the one who appears in the Bible and in the Qur’an. As reported by Uday Asa’ad Khamas, spokesman for the Iraqi Sabeans, in ten years ten thousand of the forty thousand Sabians have left. In Baghdad there is only one religious Sabean. They are mentioned in both the Qur’an and the Book of Job.
Targeted by the Islamic State are also the last people who speak Aramaic. As in the Syrian town of Maalula, long besieged by the Syrian Islamists and then freed by the army of Bashar el Assad. The Islamists say they want to transform Aramaic into a “dead language.”
This is a war not only against humanity, but against civilization. It seems almost a confirmation of the biblical prophecy: “Babylon will become a heap of ruins, haunted by jackals. She will be an object of horror and contempt”.
What remains of the most gorgeous and sinful capital of the ancient world today bears the appearance of death. There is a silence, in which one can still hear echoing the curse of Jeremiah.
The writer, an Italian journalist with Il Foglio, writes a twice-weekly column for Arutz Sheva. He is the author of the book “A New Shoah”, that researched the personal stories of Israel’s terror victims, published by Encounter. His writing has appeared in publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, Frontpage and Commentary. He has just prblished a book about the Vatican and Israel titled “J’Accuse: the Vatican Against Israel” published by Mantua Books.