My Trip to Baghdad Last Week (Photo Gallery)

Here are photos from my trip to Baghdad last week, to attend the 3rd International Conference on Translation, sponsored by the Ministry of Culture. There were about 100 scholars in attendance, from all over the world. American colleagues who belong to the Middle East Studies Association included Mark Levine, Elliot Colla and Nabil al-Tikriti, along with a number of others in other fields.

We also visited the Independent Iraqi Film Institute, addressed the Baghdad University Department of History (in Arabic), and visited what’s left of the Iraqi National Archives.

The archives staff told us that there had been roughly 1600 files on Iraq during the Ottoman period (1534-1918), but they were stored in an annex that was hit by a US bomb in the 2003 “shock and awe” campaign. All but 300 of the files burned. The documents on the British (1918-1932) and monarchy (1932-1958) periods survived (in contrast to what had earlier been reported). But the government documents from the eras of Abdul Karim Qasim (1958-1963) and the Arif brothers (until the 1968 Baath coup) appear also to have been stored in the annex, and almost nothing survives from the 1960s.

Hearing the reality from the archivists was like a kick in the gut. Ottoman Iraq is an important part of world history, about which very little has been written. Now there is so much we will never know, which we could have if uncultured barbarians like George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld had not wreaked their havoc on that country. On the other hand, I was relieved to find that earlier rumors that all of twentieth century Iraqi historical documentation burned up in the same annex were not true. I once spoke of what the Bush administration did to Iraq as “Cliocide,” the destruction of the documentary history of a country. Turns out, it was just a partial Cliocide, sort of like a partial genocide.

At Baghdad University, the scholars were very interested in contemporary theories and practices of history in the United States. It was such a pleasure to have an intellectual exchange at that level, after the less edifying Iraqi-American interactions of the past few decades.

The conference held by the Ministry of Culture included some cultural performances (folk dancing and a classical music concert by the Baghdad Symphony Orchestra), and they bused us to some great restaurants, two of them on the Tigris in parks with carnival rides. Despite the real problems of security, Iraqis do go out at night, and I saw cafes open late in the upscale Karrada district.

Iraqis I met outside the context of the conference said that security was relatively good in the Shiite south and in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad, but not so in Sunni areas.

One young man said he did not follow news of political violence because he did not want to become discouraged and begin contemplating emigrating, as many of his friends had.

On my last day in town, last Friday, I and some others visited Mutannabi Street, the picturesque quarter of booksellers and art galleries. We came upon a small youth rally against sectarian divisions and in favor of Iraqi national unity, a video of which I will post.

Baghdad

Baghdad

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Juan and Mark Levine at the what's left of the Iraqi National Archives

Juan and Mark Levine at the what’s left of the Iraqi National Archives

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9 Responses

  1. Thank you, Prof. Cole. You look like you’re in your element! Glad you had a good time.

  2. I am so glad you enjoyed your visit to Iraq.Iraqi people are not barbarian after all, neither American people I know. The barbarians are the one who condemn weapons of mass destruction, but use it as they please!
    I have met you once in Chicago with the rev. Wagner at Northeatern Illinois University where you were promoting your book.
    I will be leaving to Iraq and the Middle east this summer to promote my book “The Epic of Gilgamesh” and “Alone Under the Prairie Moon”. I am an Iraqi American educated in the United states.
    Hope to hear from you.
    Sam Kuraishi

  3. Is it known what was in the Ottoman records that miraculously survived? Will there be efforts to either put records online or copy them in some way, providing copies to any universities?

    Thank you for the photos

  4. Hi Juan, your scholarly work is fantastic, but, photography is not your strength. ;-)

  5. It was North Park University instead of North Eastern Illinois University. Sorry for the mistake. I was earlier that day at North Eastern library.
    Sam Kuraishi.

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