ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Though the Kurdistan Region is home to displays of world-class archeological artifacts dating back to the dawn of human civilization, an Italian archaeology professor working with a museum in Erbil says that few locals ever come to see them.
Along with the museum's director, he hopes to change this.
"In Kurdistan, you can find all the different cultures" from "the most ancient and earliest times when we are in prehistory up to the change from village to town" and the arrival of "the Assyrian empire and the Islamic age," said Luca Peyronel, professor of Near-Eastern Archaeology at the University of Milan in Italy.
As one of eight areas considered to be centers of origin for the independent development of agriculture, and later ruled by a number of empires from antiquity all the way up to modern history, the Kurdistan Region contains historical sites from all periods.
Understandably, Kurdish officials have made concerted efforts to preserve as best they could the myriad of artifacts they have found, often seeking guidance from international organizations and later putting many of those items on display in local museums - the largest of which is located in the city of Sulaimani.
Local authorities first decided to establish the Erbil Civilization Museum, the second largest in the region, in the mid-1960s. Construction on the current building, located near the ancient archeological site known as Tell Qaling Agha, concluded in 1989.
It is divided into three halls: the first contains artifacts from the Paleolithic age, the second from the middle-Assyrian empire until the early Christian era, and the third houses items from the Sassanian period onwards to the Islamic Abbasid era.
However, both museums fail to attract much attention, despite having been there for decades and offering free admission.
Among factors thought to have contributed to the apparent disinterest is thought to be a lack of emphasis on the importance of artifacts and history in general by area educators. Another issue is the limited hours of operation in state-owned institutions. The official operating times are Monday through Thursday, for only four hours - the same hours that most workers are busy earning their livelihoods.
"Since museums are places of education and entertainment, it is better to follow standards similar to international establishments, where they are open later in the day and on holidays," Rebwar Jalal, director of Erbil Civilization Museum, told Kurdistan 24.
This would require additional funds and a partial reorganization of the museum's program.
Jalal said he hoped this would soon happen, adding that such changes would bring the rich history that is housed in the building to a wider audience.
This plan could potentially work in part because the Kurdistan Region hosts growing numbers of tourists every year, with a record number of 1.3 million flocking to the region from April through October.
Aside from international tourism, many from across Iraq visit the Kurdistan Region during the three major holidays of the Kurdish New Year, known as Newroz, and the Islamic feasts of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, many of whom might marvel at the local archeological history if they could be enticed to show up.
Professor Peyronel stressed that he was willing to assist in the further development of the Erbil Civilization Museum with the aid of Italian students of archeology and museology, the study of organizing and managing museums.
"It is very important that people come here and see the common roots of the past in Kurdistan."
Editing by John J. Catherine
(Additional reporting by Diyari Sheikha)