Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Nationalisms Continue to Destroy Eastern Archaeological Sites
In Azerbaijan there have been a stream of reports stating Udi Christians have been destroying their own inscriptions on their ancient churches. Meanwhile in Iraq the government is destroying ancient Jewish sites in Al-Kifi, site of Ezekiel's tomb.
The reasons these historical sites have been targeted for demolition is the rise of nationalisms with one being a few decades old and the other slightly less than one hundred years old.
Udis Erasing the Past
The Udi Christians belong to an old stream of Eastern Christianity known as Albanian Christianity. This branch of Orthodoxy had ties to Armenian Christianity though it was autonomous for a period of time until the Islamic conquests. After the rise of Islam few Albanian Christian communities were left in modern-day Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Those few who did survived hold onto Armenian traditions and the Armenian alphabet.
Today Armenia and Azerbaijan are locked in a cold war over ethnically mismatched territory. The Udi are a proud, patriotic Christian minority in a secular Muslim country. As part of their Azeri nationalism the Udi are destroying Armenian-alphabet writings on churches and grave stones. A modern-myth of only recent, forced Armenianization is spreading amongst the Udi who seek to show loyalty to the Azeri cause. The desire to rally around the modern-day flag is leading the Udi to erase their past.
Iraqi for the (Muslim) Iraqis
The Middle East has long been religiously mixed. Even after the final decline of Christianity in the 13th century, a rich diversity of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Yazdis, Zoroastrians, Druze, etc. left a multitude of cultural landscapes in the Middle East. Jews have been in modern-day Iraq since at least the Babylon Exile and they and other religious groups have kept in place many ancient Jewish sites. Saddam Hussein's regime even protected Jewish sites because it was part of the glory of old Iraq.
However, the rise of an independent Iraq saw the rise of an Iraqi nationalism combined with not Islamism but an Islamic identity complex. The 1930s saw a rise in attacks against Christians and Jews who were seen as supporters of the British. The anti-Semitism continued in Saddam's republican Iraq against living Jews but the ancient pre-Islamic sites were seen as part of Iraq's glory days.
Now though, the Islamic identity-complex is seeping into the past with Christians being targeted in the north and Jewish sites being removed for the creation of mosques. A new Iraq is being built, one that will tolerate the existence of minorities living but not representing themselves on the landscape.