Monday, November 26, 2007

The Baghdad Museum Opening -- Propaganda?

The following story reported in late November, 2007, is to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. According to the report, after five years the Iraq museum in Baghdad is about to open its doors again.

The museum, famous for priceless antiquities representing the world’s earliest civilization, is scheduled to open next month, according to its acting director, Amira Emiran. Its former director Donny George who is quoted later in the story, left because his life was threatened.

The story continues: visits will be confined to just two galleries on the ground floor containing Assyrian and Islamic treasures that are too large and heavy to be easily removed. The remaining 16 galleries will remain empty and closed and security will be tight. Nevertheless, Iraqi and American officials are keen to portray the opening as a sign that security in Baghdad has improved after the chaos of the past few years. Now, isn't this propaganda? This doesn't mean the museum is REALLY opening.

Read on:

A Unesco official said: “Dr Emiran announced that the museum would be opening in December. But even if she says it is going to open, this has to be treated with some circumspection. The situation is so volatile.”

The Assyrian Hall has monumental sculptures, including stone panels from the royal palace at Khorsabad and two winged bulls. The other large gallery that is opening, the Islamic Hall, has the eighth century mihrab from the Al-Mansur mosque in Baghdad. It is also hoped to display 10 monumental Parthian sculptures from Hatra in the courtyard which links the two galleries and through which visitors will pass.

About 10,000 pieces remain missing despite a worldwide hunt; they include the 8BC ivory plaque of a lioness attacking a Nubian, which is inlaid with lapis and carnelian and overlaid with gold.

The museum was founded by Gertrude Bell, the legendary British archaeologist and explorer, in 1923. It was considered one of the finest in the Middle East but was rarely open to the public during most of the last 20 years of Saddam Hussein’s rule.

George, the renowned director, who is a Christian, fled Iraq following death threats in August last year. Before he left he sealed the museum entrance with a 3ft-thick wall of bricks and concrete to keep out thieves.

George yesterday questioned whether it was the right time to reopen the museum. “If it was me I would not open it,” he said. “The priceless artifacts inside are safe from theft or destruction so long as the museum remains sealed.”

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