Conversations in the desert – rare photo documents could be saved from destruction. © CNMO, Centre Numérique des Manuscrits Orientaux

IQ / Erbil | Digital rescue of ecclesiastical documents

A Topotheque can also be a valuable tool in times of crisis. Almost irretrievably lost treasures could at least be saved digitally. The old manuscripts, documents and photographs of the Chaldean Catholic Church that were stored in Mosul were saved from destruction on the initiative of the Iraqi Dominican Monk and, since 2018, also the head of the Chaldean Christians, Michael Najeeb Moussa. In the meantime, Pater Najib Michael Moussa is world-famous for saving the Christian manuscripts of the Mesopotamian region. When Mosul was attacked in 2014, Pater Michael organized the evacuation of the precious manuscripts. Despite the rescue operation, the fanatics managed to destroy thousands of manuscripts. Some also turned up sold on the black market and Pater Michael tries to buy some of them back. Nevertheless, up to 4,000 manuscripts have been destroyed, Pater Michael estimated. At that time only a small part was digitized. Iit can be safely assumed that around 1,000 manuscripts are lost forever. Pater Michael described his experiences in the book „Sauvez les livres et les hommes“ (Save the books and the people), published in French in 2017.

Over 12,500 photos have now been saved in the CNMO-IRAQ Topotheque “Center numérique des manuscrits Orientaux” (digital center for oriental manuscripts). This digitization project is still to be seen as a quick emergency backup, as a lot of information still needs to be added. But at least Pater Michael‘s goal was achieved: the rescue and publication of an almost lost treasure. At least digitally, because who knows what of these architectural treasures is left.