Aid & Development

800-year-old Tahera Church awaiting restoration after theft and destruction

Iraq

According to locals, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has contributed to the further desecration of the 800-year-old Tahera Church in Mosul. They say that UNMAS' use of large bulldozers to clear mines has resulted in the damage of at least two old walls.

The Tahera Church located in the Midan area in Mosul’s Old City is considered one of the oldest churches in the area, dating back to the first millennium. Despite its great legacy and heritage, the Tahera Church, which is found within a complex of historic churches in Mosul, requires major rebuilding and restoration work.

While many promises have been made to restore the church to its glory, the opposite has happened. According to locals, as part of the demining work of the UN Mine Action Services (UNMAS) in Mosul, the Church fell into greater disrepair.

“Two walls of the Old and New Tahera Church were destroyed. After arriving at the site, it turned out that there is the destruction of about 4 meters square from the church’s area, along with the removal of all the monuments,” said Fares Abd al-Ahad, a coordinator in Mosul.

Last year, a French organisation called Brothers in Iraq stated that they are taking the preliminary steps to reconstruct the church, which was named after one of the Virgin Mary’s titles, al-Tahera (The Pure).

However, the reconstruction efforts were halted in order to remove the mines that were planted in the church by ISIS.

During their rule, ISIS looted the valuables of many historic churches in Mosul and near their defeat, destroyed and planted mines throughout them to slow the advance of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).

As a result, following the group’s defeat, UNMAS and other organisations began operations to demine the area, which they estimated will take at least ten years.

However, the demining organisations failed to take into consideration the local administration before beginning their work. This resulted in the anger of many locals who said that these operations had done much harm to the city due to poor planning.

“[UNMAS’} work has been authorised by the General Secretariat [in Baghdad]. However, this organisation does not have permission or coordination with the local administration,” said Amin al-Finsh, the assistant to the Governor of Nineveh.

As a result of the failure to gain permission, the Governor of Nineveh Nufal al-Akoub ordered the formation of a commission to inquire about the damage that UNMAS has caused, which will then be followed by legal action.

While this may seem like a minor bureaucratic issue, international organisations working in Mosul must take into consideration that while reconstruction is critical, maintaining the architectural integrity of many of these historical buildings is crucial in the healing process.

According to some architects interested in reconstructing war-torn cities, the complete removal of war debris will not help to heal the wounds that the war has caused. As a result, cooperation with local architects and officials must be taken into consideration to rebuild destroyed cities like Mosul.