Sudan's cultural treasures destroyed in conflict

Amid fighting between the military and paramilitary forces of the RSF in Sudan, many of the country's important cultural assets are being destroyed, from invaluable libraries to mummies.

Omdurman old market (photo courtesy @MarksSimon/Twitter)
Omdurman old market (photo courtesy @MarksSimon/Twitter)
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DW

The weeks of fighting in Sudan between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) troops have caused a humanitarian catastrophe. Since the conflict began in April 2023, more than 850 civilians have been killed and over 3,500 injured, according to Radhouane Nouicer, the UN expert responsible for Sudan.

There is looting, murder and rape every day. Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing the soldiers' vicious attacks.

"This is the destruction of a country in a way that is dehumanizing its people," Nouicer said in a recent statement. "What is going on is as bad as anything I have seen in conflict zones over the course of my long career. It is horrifying, tragic, brutal, and completely unnecessary."

According to the UN, both sides of the conflict are riding roughshod through international humanitarian law. Meanwhile, hospitals and doctors lack everything; chaos reigns at the borders and corpses lie in the streets. People risk being shot in an attempt to salvage the dead.

Destruction of cultural monuments and invaluable documents

The country's cultural treasures are also in great danger. Important sites have already been destroyed by the RSF. As the magazine The Continent reports: "The war in Sudan is destroying not just the country's future, but also the country's past."

Observers have compared the devastation of libraries, museums and places of worship to the Taliban's destruction of Afghanistan's cultural treasures.

According to the report in The Continent, historically important historical sites such as the Omdurman old market have been burned down by fighting in the Nile metropolis. The Mohamed Omer Bashir Center for Sudanese Studies, a library at Omdurman Ahlia University, was also destroyed there. Handwritten manuscripts and rare books simply no longer exist.

Mummified human remains among loot

Hamid Bakheet, a poet and member of the Sudanese Writers' Union, told DW about the destruction: "The Mohamed Bashir Center was one of the most important sources of our written heritage."

The National Museum in Khartoum was also stormed and exhibits, including ancient mummies, were destroyed or damaged.

According to the report in The Continent, a video can be seen of one of the RSF fighters presenting millennia-old mummies as victims of Sudan's former dictator Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in 2019, and pledging revenge for their deaths.

Hamid Bakheet also told DW about the destruction of important exhibits, such as rare animal species preserved at the Natural History Museum, as well as attacks on libraries and publishers, such as Dar Madarek, Dar Al-Kandaka and the "Booksellers' Complex" in Khalifa Square.

The country's cultural memory in grave danger

But why are the RSF destroying their own country's heritage? The fighters are often accused of ignorance, but Bakheet instead believes "that the destruction is being done deliberately, in an attempt to erase historical facts. They want to create a new era that starts with them."

"On top of this there is hatred. Hatred for education and learners in general. They seem to want to reshape society into an ignorant society with no memory," added Bakheet.

According to Bakheet, protecting Sudan's remaining cultural treasures is extremely difficult, if not impossible, because the soldiers do not respect any conventions. "Perhaps intellectuals can launch a campaign and try to salvage some references and historically important writings. But the museum exhibits remain destroyed forever, and herein lies the disaster."

Sudan has a rich history. There are 200 pyramids in the country alone, almost twice as many as in neighboring Egypt.

This article was originally written in German.

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