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ICC Note: It is reported that a Christian school built nearly a century ago in Baghdad will be razed to build a mall. The municipality says that most Christians have left the area, and while permission has not yet been granted to demolish the structure, there is also no reason to maintain the school. However, others maintain that this is part of the undermining of Iraq’s cultural identity and removes the place that Christians have had in the country’s history.                  

08/24/2018 Iraq (al-Monitor) – Baghdad’s small Christian community is up in arms about plans to raze a Catholic school for girls, Al-Aqeeda, which means “faith,” and in its place build a shopping mall.

“This is [becoming] a trend, the targeting of Iraq’s architectural heritage, not simply [its] Christian [heritage],” Joseph Slewa, a Christian former member of parliament, warned in an Aug. 6 Rudaw interview.

The rumor that the school, built in 1921, will be demolished and replaced by a mall or some other commercial center has emerged as a hot topic on social media, with concerned citizens accusing the government and local authorities of failing to do their part in protecting Iraq’s architectural heritage.

According to Baghdad municipality officials, the demolition request came not from public officials, but from the Christian association that owns the land on which the school, which has a chapel, sits.

Hakim Abdul Zahra, the municipality’s deputy media director, confirmed that there has indeed been a proposal presented to demolish the school and that it was submitted by a Christian group, whose name he declined to provide.

“[The petition] said that the Christian community has no more use for this obsolete chapel and school, as most Christians have left the area, and thus, there is no reason for maintaining them,” Abdul Zahra said. He underscored, however, that the municipality has not granted permission to demolish the structure, as would be the case in regard to “any historical or ancient sites in Baghdad.”

The Baghdad-based Rahebat al-Taqdumma Association, which owns the building, confirmed to Al-Monitor that it had been the party requesting permission for tearing down the structure. Association officials said that they had leased the school to the Ministry of Education, but have not received rent for it since 2013. “The school has become a hefty liability,” said a spokesman for the association’s management.

Shamkhi Jaber, a media figure and writer for the Iraqi Media Network, launched a media campaign on Facebook opposing demolition of the school, which counts Zaha Hadid, the internationally renowned architect, among its impressive alumni.

Jaber told Al-Monitor that despite conflicting reports about who had requested the church’s destruction, “the fact remains that there are investment offers [for the site].” He claimed that in light of the swift public opposition, those wanting to tear down the school are now trying to hide or evade responsibility.

Jaber sees the Al-Aqeeda episode as exposing the many and major violations against Baghdad’s cultural and historical landscape. He asserted, “The disregard for this school’s heritage began during the previous regime, when the school’s historical name was changed to another one – Al-Aqeeda High School for Girls.” The school was formerly the Madrisat al-Rahibat (School of Nuns).

Jaber remarked that the best policy would be for the state to buy the site so the school could be maintained and protected. He also expressed his pleasant surprise at the public response for preserving the school, given that in the past little had been done to protect historical buildings and sites.

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