Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Greek Monument in Iraq Commemorating the Clash of Civilizations?

The jingoism of the Greek and Greek Cypriot Governments that collectors and museums have certainly experienced firsthand apparently carries over to flying the Greek Nationalist flag as far away as Mosul, Iraq.

The Museum Security Network listserv reports as part of Greek help to Iraq on cultural matters, Greece plans to build a monument to Alexander the Great's victory over the Persians near Mosul.

Greece to help Iraq cultural reconstruction

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece pledged Tuesday to provide financial and technical aid to help Iraq restore and conserve its damaged archaeological sites and museums.

Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said Greece and Iraq have also agreed to build a monument honoring the Greek warrior-king Alexander the Great at an ancient battlefield in southern Iraq.

She was speaking after talks in Athens with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

Iraqi museums and sites suffered extensive damage and looting in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The National Museum of Baghdad, a treasure trove of artifacts from the Stone Age through the Babylonian, Assyrians and Islamic periods, fell victim to bands of armed thieves. Up to 7,000 pieces are still missing.

Zebari welcomed the Greek offer of cultural assistance, which he said followed an Iraqi request."We have great need of such assistance," he said, adding that technical committees from both countries would meet to discuss the details. Zebari said the battlefield monument would underline the interaction of civilizations in the region. It will be built near the city of Mosul, where Alexander won a crushing victory over a Persian army in 331 B.C. At the time, Iraq was part of the Persian Empire, which stretched throughout most of the Middle East.

While I am glad Greece will offer Iraq some "cultural assistance" and would personally love to see a monument to Alexander, I wonder how that monument will really play in Mosul.

In Persian folklore, Alexander is damned as "Alexander the Accursed." In particular, the few remaining adherents of Zoroastrianism carry a visceral dislike for Alexander and his destruction of the Persian Empire. See:

This should raise an obvious question to anyone but the most ardent Greek nationalist. As we all know from the long running Arab-Israeli and Greek-Turkish disputes, old scores never seem to be settled in the Middle East. While modern Iraq is not exactly Ancient Persia (or even modern Iran), I have to really wonder whether any monument to Alexander will just become a likely target for those who hate the West and view Alexander as merely the first Westerner to target the Middle East for conversion to Western ideals.

Still, I know any misgivings that may be expressed on this blog will likely fall on deaf ears. Who knows. I could be wrong. And, if this monument is actually built and succeeds in bringing in the tourists rather than the terrorists, I would become the first to suggest that perhaps Greece can build another to Alexander in Afghanistan as well.

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