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post #1 of 13 (permalink) Old August 23rd, 2005, 21:09 Thread Starter
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The Citadel : An Archaeologist's Paradise

I'd like to share with all of you the following article in today's New York Times.

Under the Old Neighborhood: In Iraq, an Archaeologist's Paradise

by JAMES GLANZ - Published: August 23, 2005 (nytimes.com)



ERBIL, Iraq - If a neighborhood is defined as a place where human beings move in and never leave, then the world's oldest could be here at the Citadel, an ancient and teeming city within a city girded by stone walls.

Resting on a layer cake of civilizations that have come and gone for an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 years, the Citadel looms over the apartment blocks of this otherwise rather gray metropolis in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The settlement rivals Jericho and a handful of other famous towns for the title of the oldest continuously inhabited site in the world. The difference is that few people have heard of the Citadel outside Iraq. And political turmoil has prevented a full study of its archaeological treasures.

While there may be confirmed traces of more ancient settlements in Iraq, said McGuire Gibson, a Mesopotamian archaeologist at the University of Chicago, the people have all vanished from those places.

"The thing about Erbil is that it is, in fact, a living town," Dr. Gibson said. "It goes back at least to 5,000 B.C.," he said. "It might go back further."

Among the peoples that have lived in this neighborhood are the Hassuna, Akkadians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Parthians and Abbasids.

In 1964, when Kanaan Rashad Mufti and his prominent family were part of the neighborhood, a floor in his father's house, near the mosque, collapsed during some renovations.

Underneath was a whole series of rooms from some previous civilization, possibly the Abbasids, said Mr. Mufti, who is now director of antiquities in western Kurdistan. There is nothing that Iraqi archaeologists would like more than to begin systematic digs through those layers, said Donny George, director of the Baghdad Museum.

"I have so much in mind," Dr. George said, expressing scientific eagerness "to make such kinds of excavations to see what we might find."

For now, what sets the Citadel visibly apart are the contrasting rituals of an ancient neighborhood that is caught between war and peace. Although the Kurdish north of Iraq has remained comparatively calm, Erbil has had its share of insurgent violence lately, and before that Saddam Hussein's campaigns to uproot and exterminate the Kurds left their mark everywhere here.

The Citadel is no exception. Living in brick hovels amid the ruins of palatial houses are about 1,000 families displaced from Kurdish villages that Mr. Hussein destroyed in an infamous pogrom called Anfal. In a routine that resembles a fire drill, the families scramble to siphon water from sinuous pipes running through the Citadel that function for about 30 minutes, once a day.

But in one of the intact great houses, a Frenchman with impeccably moussed hair has just opened a cultural institute that is displaying paintings of wildly misshapen human and bestial figures in a genre he calls postabstract. The institute, the Center Arthur Rimbaud, plans to sponsor a contest that will send a Kurd to France to study piano.

Right next door is a financially desperate textile museum founded by Lolan Mustefa, a Kurdish native of Erbil who studied anthropology in St. Cloud, Minn., and is trying to preserve the brilliantly colored carpets woven by the old nomadic tribes of the Kurdish mountains. A trickle of tourists has even begun, along with the sense that all this could be the first hint of a Kurdish SoHo or Greenwich Village.

"If they give them the means, it could become a place like Sacré Coeur in Paris," said Suayip Adlig, a Kurdish filmmaker who was long exiled in France, referring to another historical and romantic district on a hill as he toured an old mosque next to an 18th-century bath.

The people who actually live here, not surprisingly, take a more practical stance. Kadim Mustafa - a 39-year-old mother of three, whose brick and concrete shanty includes fragments of the grand home that was here before - stood on a fancy balcony overlooking Erbil and dismissed pretensions like Mr. Adlig's.

"We have a nice place with a view, but not the facilities of life," Mrs. Mustafa said. "As soon as we start having lunch, the electricity will go off."

The direct evidence for what lies beneath Mrs. Mustafa's house is scanty: Assyrian pottery that tumbled out of the side of the Citadel in a renovation of its walls, a dig that Mr. Mufti said he participated in around 1980, an electromagnetic probe that provided intriguing hints about the layered structure. (to be continued in subsequent posts.)

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post #2 of 13 (permalink) Old August 23rd, 2005, 21:10 Thread Starter
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The Citadel, a city within a city in Erbil, Iraq, is girded by stone walls and is arguably among the world's oldest neighborhoods.
Photo: Georg Gensler (1973)/Photo Researchers, Inc.

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post #3 of 13 (permalink) Old August 23rd, 2005, 21:12 Thread Starter
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The 3,000 residents of the Citadel, mostly Kurdish, are the latest in a line of peoples living on what was probably an agricultural village up to 10,000 years ago.
Photo: Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times

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post #4 of 13 (permalink) Old August 23rd, 2005, 21:13 Thread Starter
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Historians hope to excavate parts of the Citadel to find artifacts much older than this statue of the 12th-century historian Mabarek Ahmed Sharafaddin.
Photo: Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times

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post #5 of 13 (permalink) Old August 23rd, 2005, 21:14 Thread Starter
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The 100-foot-high Citadel at the center of Erbil was formed as ancient civilizations built on top of previous ones.
Photo: Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times

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post #6 of 13 (permalink) Old August 23rd, 2005, 21:15 Thread Starter
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Women walk through the Citadel, a city built on top of itself for thousands of years.
Photo: Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times

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post #7 of 13 (permalink) Old August 23rd, 2005, 21:16 Thread Starter
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An aerial view of the Citadel.
Photo: Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times

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post #8 of 13 (permalink) Old August 23rd, 2005, 21:17 Thread Starter
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The Kurdish Textile Museum is located just outside the city's walls.
Photo: Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times

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post #9 of 13 (permalink) Old August 23rd, 2005, 21:17 Thread Starter
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Residents of the Citadel carry home gas tanks for cooking.
Photo: Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times

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post #10 of 13 (permalink) Old August 23rd, 2005, 21:19 Thread Starter
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A Kurdish man participates in Friday prayers at a mosque in the center of the Citadel.
Photo: Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times

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post #11 of 13 (permalink) Old August 23rd, 2005, 21:20 Thread Starter
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.

10,000 years and counting : a timeline
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/...rbil.large.jpg

.

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post #12 of 13 (permalink) Old August 23rd, 2005, 21:21 Thread Starter
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(cont. from first post... source: nytimes.com)



What seems clear, said John Malcolm Russell of the Massachusetts College of Art, is that with its location in a rain-fed plain near the confluence of two rivers and the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, Erbil "could have been the site of one of the earliest villages in the world." The first hunter-gatherer settlement could have started as early as 9300 B.C., followed by early pottery makers, the proto-Hassuna, by 7000 B.C.

And unlike the arid regions to the south, the rain remained relatively steady in Erbil over the millennia, so there was no compelling reason to abandon a settlement. By 1400 B.C., as cultures came and went, Erbil became one of the most important cities of the Assyrian Empire, said Dr. Russell, who is an authority on the period.

The Assyrian Empire collapsed after a siege in 612 B.C. The Persians took over and were defeated in turn by Alexander the Great at Gaugemala, west of Erbil, in 331 B.C. About a millennium later, the Ottomans swept through after sacking the Abbasids, a Sunni Muslim dynasty centered in Baghdad. And in 1918, as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling, the British Army entered the city without resistance, and finally the modern nation of Iraq was born, with all the consequences that the world is now facing.

Crouching on top of all those layers of history around 10 a.m. on a recent day, Muhamad Amin, 31 and a member of the Kurdish Khoshnaw tribe, had more immediate things on his mind. The water was gurgling briefly through one of the pipes snaking along a path between the close-packed houses, and he was rushing to connect a translucent yellow hose to the pipe.

As other families scampered around him hooking up their own hoses and turning on clattering little pumps, Mr. Amin intently wrapped black electrical tape around his own connection to keep it from leaking. "Those people who are near to the pipe are much better off than the ones who are far away," said Mr. Amin, who came here in 1993, when his village was destroyed by Mr. Hussein's troops.

The half-hour of water did double duty as a social event, and children swarmed everywhere until the water stopped running at 10:35. Indeed, existence at the Citadel is not uniformly bleak. Many inhabitants here have at least laboring jobs in the city: there is a thriving watermelon stand with a wisecracking owner, an outdoor poultry shop where men cut the heads off chickens on the spot, and cars protected with striped cloth covers parked along the sole paved road.

There is not much connection between the refugees and the Center Arthur Rimbaud, but the Frenchman with the moussed hair and black attire, Matthieu Saint-Dizier, said he did a little experiment to be sure he would be welcome after the center opened a few weeks ago. He opened an exhibition of modern paintings in an ancient bath next to the mosque. The paintings showed transvestites and men with multiple genitals.

"I want to make a test," he said. "The imam of the mosque come to this exhibition and he don't make any problems. He said to me, 'I don't understand very well, but' " - and Mr. Saint-Dizier exhaled in a peculiarly French sound, approximately phhhhht.

Mr. Mustefa, the Kurdish owner of the carpet museum, rolled his eyes and said that Mr. Saint-Dizier had no idea how much the exhibition had appalled the locals, who nevertheless wanted to be polite to a Westerner. As far as genuine interest in art goes, said Mr. Mustefa, Kurdistan has been so consumed with political turmoil that he has had a hard time drumming up local interest even in his own offerings.

Still, visitors do trickle in. Mr. Mustefa said that after spending virtually his entire savings on the museum contents he was now having serious trouble paying for operating costs and upkeep. But he does have an interesting building, with ornate old pillars and an unroofed central court, right next to the cultural center. When the municipality granted him the building for his museum, "it was a dream for me," Mr. Mustefa said.

"And I knew the Kurds wouldn't appreciate this," he said with a long-suffering look. "Especially the intellectuals. They think this is a backward art."

So it goes at the Citadel. Mr. Mufti, the antiquities director, is also a member of the board that is supervising preliminary studies, financed by Unesco, for renovating the Citadel. The initial project, according to the Unesco Web site, "aims at identifying a building in the Citadel and at providing it with necessary supplies and equipment to serve as focal point for the rehabilitation of the Citadel at large."

Mr. Mufti is trying, so far without success, to secure financing for a new archaeological dig. But as uncertain as all of those plans are, Mr. Mufti said, there is one thing they all assume.

The neighborhood will remain.

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post #13 of 13 (permalink) Old August 23rd, 2005, 21:22 Thread Starter
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Much of Erbil's history is not known, but it can be traced back to at least 5,000 B.C. Excavation will uncover more of its rich history.
Photo: Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times

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