Marking the tenth anniversary: Mosul’s resilience and rebirth

Dr. Omar Mohammed
Dr. Omar Mohammed
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On June 13, 2014, ISIS seized full control of Mosul. Reflecting on that fateful day a decade ago, I vividly remember walking through the city streets, grappling with the gravity of the unfolding events and the identity of our new oppressors. Just two days earlier, they had circulated their so-called City Charter, outlining the brutal regime they intended to impose. Systematic executions began almost immediately, marking the onset of their reign of terror.

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As a historian, I quickly discerned ISIS’s strategy: they sought to establish a “Day Zero” in Mosul’s history, erasing our past to forge a new future under their tyrannical rule. Their plan became starkly evident through relentless ethnic cleansing. Christians were deported and their properties confiscated; the Yazidis faced genocide; both Sunni and Shia communities were systematically targeted. No one was spared as ISIS fighters luxuriated in confiscated homes, asserting dominion over our city’s destiny. Amid this chaos, I began documenting Mosul’s daily horrors through Mosul Eye, striving to capture the truth even as I lived through despair.

The most chilling aspect was ISIS’s systematic targeting of Mosul’s cultural heritage. They launched a campaign to obliterate every piece of the city’s history, aiming to replace it with their own twisted narrative. This existential threat compelled me to act, leading to the creation of Mosul Eye. It became my mission to safeguard the city’s history and ensure ISIS would never win this battle. I was determined to prevent Mosul from falling into a “Day Zero.”

As I write ten years after witnessing that brutality, it is crucial to reflect on where Mosul stands today and how the city has triumphed over ISIS despite the immense destruction and human losses. Mosul’s resilience brings to mind the words of medieval geographer Ibn Jubayr (1145-1217): “The city is a large and ancient one, fortified and imposing, and prepared against the strokes of adversity.” This resilience is something I have witnessed time and again.

So, where is Mosul now?

In the immediate aftermath of East Mosul’s liberation in March 2017, we boldly stated that life always triumphs. This declaration was a musical event where Mosuli musicians performed amid the ruins of the city’s most significant historical monument, Al Nabi Younis. This site, targeted by ISIS’s brutality, came back to life as the people of Mosul gathered to listen to the music. This act of cultural defiance began a broader global response to restore Mosul’s rich heritage.

Crowds of people shop at the Nabi Younes market, east Mosul, Iraq March 11, 2020. Picture taken March 11, 2020. (Reuters)
Crowds of people shop at the Nabi Younes market, east Mosul, Iraq March 11, 2020. Picture taken March 11, 2020. (Reuters)

UNESCO’s remarkable initiative, “Revive the Spirit of Mosul,” played a pivotal role in this resurgence, focusing on restoring historic Muslim and Christian sites to celebrate the city’s diversity. This was a significant step, as the residents of Mosul themselves began restoring their old markets, homes, and way of life, embracing their unique multicultural identity. The city loudly declared that the darkness ISIS brought would never overcome the light of its minarets and the chimes of its churches.

Moreover, a unique youth movement emerged, with young volunteers dedicated to cleaning and restoring historic sites. Muslims rushed to aid in restoring churches, while Christian priests stood in solidarity with their Muslim peers, celebrating their unity and diversity. This collective effort signaled Mosul’s definitive shift away from the doctrine of terrorism that ISIS sought to impose, with life gradually recovering.

Another remarkable sign of recovery was the revitalization of Mosul University’s central library, which ISIS had burned to the ground. Today, the library is active and open to the public and well-connected to the international community of librarians.

The cultural scene in Mosul is again thriving, evidenced by the establishment of a music school and the flourishing lives of artists, all contributing to restoring normalcy and livelihood in the city. A particularly hopeful sign is the rise of women entrepreneurs in Mosul, who are claiming their positions and inscribing their names in this crucial period of the city’s recovery.

The recovery of Mosul stands as a powerful testament to its people’s resilience and the city’s indomitable spirit. It serves as a clear statement that terrorism can never triumph as long as there exists a spirit of diversity, inclusivity, and unity in cities like Mosul. As we mark the tenth anniversary of Mosul’s fall, our focus should be on the crucial elements of sustainable peace, youth empowerment, and sending an unequivocal message to terrorism: they will never prevail. Mosul’s recovery is a direct response to brutality, demonstrating that through diversity and inclusion, terrorism can be defeated, and there will never be a place for it.

The Global Coalition against ISIS’s role was indispensable in this journey. Its support was instrumental in defeating ISIS and helping Mosul rebuild its cultural heritage and community. This collaboration underscores the ongoing importance of international cooperation in the fight against terrorism and highlights why collective action is vital for sustainable peace.

I celebrate Mosul as an epitome of resilience and triumph over darkness and terrorism. It is a city that offers valuable lessons about the roots of conflict but also about the essence of life, history, and the future. Mosul’s story is a beacon of hope and a reminder that even in the face of immense adversity, the human spirit can rebuild, restore, and thrive.


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