Episode 51. Ali Al-Juboori: Reflections: Transcript

0:13  JT

Hello, and welcome to the Thin End of the Wedge, the podcast where experts from around the world share new and interesting stories about life in the ancient Middle East. My name is Jon. Each episode I talk to friends and colleagues, and get them to explain their work in a way we can all understand.

0:31  JT

I’m fascinated by hearing people’s academic journeys. And their life stories more generally, because academic life is so heavily shaped by historical circumstances. This episode is another in the series of retrospectives, and one which illustrates the point very clearly.

0:52  JT

I speak to someone who has been a major figure in Iraqi Assyriology over the last few decades. He is inextricably linked with the University of Mosul. He has played a crucial role in developing assyriology and archaeology there, and has created valuable resources to help the next generation of Iraqi scholars flourish.

1:14  JT

As always, these are stories based around one person’s journey, and their thoughts on life’s twists and turns. I’m very grateful for our guests’ generosity in sharing their memories. So get yourself a cup of tea, make yourself comfortable, and let’s meet today’s guest.

1:40  JT

Hello, and welcome to Thin End of the Wedge. Thank you for joining us. Can you tell us please: who are you, and what do you do?

1:48  AA

My name is Professor Ali al-Juboori. I’m now retired from … you know … my job at Mosul University.

1:56  JT

Let’s start at the beginning then: how does your academic journey start?

2:01  AA

Well, start is if I think I have to go back to the ’50s, from ’55 to ’60, when my primary school. My background is I’m living in a small village west of Mosul. My father is a farmer. And I have to go to another village where the school is about five kilometers. I have to walk daily, from my village to the other village, go there and then come back; during winter and summer, whether rain, heat, everything. Anyway, then I finished my school, well, by ’60/’61. And then I moved to Mosul to the town, because there is no intermediate school there. And luckily, I have another brother–elder brother–who work in the town. So I lived with him during my study in intermediate school and high intermediate school.

3:00  AA

I have a problem: when I came to school in town, it seemed to me the school where I get in they … mostly the people are from the town and they speak special dialect. I couldn’t understand some of them. Because I came from the village, I have different accent. Anyway, I couldn’t make any friend with any of them. It has two side effects. Number one, it pushed me or helped me to prove myself at the school between the students at that time. But in the other side, which is the bad thing, I couldn’t make friend with any of them. So I finished three years in the intermediate school and then move to the high intermediate school. And then finished my high intermediate school 1967. And then I left the town, went back to the village, and stay one year, you know, working with a farmer.

4:02  AA

’68 I came back to the town. And I saw one of my friends in the high intermediate school. And he said “What are you doing?” I said “Nothing”. And he said, “Why didn’t you apply to the university; you have a very good degree”. So I said to him, “What’s the university? I don’t know what the university is.” And he said, “No, you just go and get your certificate from the school and then go to the university and apply”. So I did. Then, after one month, the result came up. I was accepted in the department of Arabic. Why they choose that, I don’t know. So I went to the interview and then I have a problem with one of the scholars. And I decided to give up, not to study the Arabic. So I went to the dean’s office, you know, the administration. I said, “okay, I want to change the subject from Arabic.” There is management and economy department, but then they say, “This department is closed. But if you want, there is a new department open. It’s called archaeology.” So I said, “Okay, well, I’m going to apply to archaeology.” They gave me a paper and they sent me to the dean of the College of Arts.

5:19  AA

And there I met three scholars, for the first time in my life to see them … you know, well-dressed … you know, suit, tie, and everything. One of them asked me, “What do you know about archaeology?” I said “Nothing.” So he said, “If you don’t know anything about archaeology, how do you apply to it?” Well, I said to him, “Okay, they accept me in the Arabic department. I speak Arabic, write in Arabic. I don’t need anything more in Arabic. I want something which I don’t know. I don’t know what’s archaeology. I want to study archaeology, know what’s archaeology.” And he said, “Okay, go to your class.” That’s it. So I was accepted in the Department of Archaeology, simply just like that.

6:00  JT

Who was this professor who interviewed you?

6:03  AA

Professor Amir Sulaiman. He graduated with Professor Saggs. And then Professor Abdulmun’im Rashad. He was a professor of history, educated from SOAS. And there is a third person; is called Tal’at Alyawir. He is a professor of Islamic archaeology. He graduated from Germany.

6:24  JT

So university was your first introduction to ancient Iraq, then? You didn’t know about Hammurabi or Babylon, say?

6:32  AA

It’s absolutely new. I mean, it’s come Hammurabi in our textbook in school. But I don’t know who is Hammurabi. Nothing. They just mentioned name. And then when they in their first year in intermediate School, we have textbook called Ancient Iraq. And they only just give you names and years to memorise. But we don’t know anything about them. I mean, the teacher did not have the ability or he has a knowledge or information about those people. You know, the background of each king or … Hammurabi, or Gilgamesh or whatever they are. So we only memorise them by names and years. That’s why we forgot them.

7:14  JT

What did you do as a student in Mosul?

7:18  AA

We spent four years at the College of Arts. The problem is raised between the Department of Archaeology in Baghdad and the Department of Archaeology in Mosul. Because Baghdad department is open the ’50s–I think, ’51/’52, something like that. And this department is ’68/’69. So it’s a gap between them. And they said, “Well, this is new, and there is not enough staff. And there is no specialist in the department.” Anyway, they decided to close the department. The first year, we pass to the second year, they closed the department. We continued in the department for four years.

8:00  AA

I was very interested in cuneiform, I mean, the Akkadian language mainly. And we had Islamic archaeology, numismatic, Islamic history, and then ancient history of Iraq. And then Akkadian language, plus survey–somebody from college of engineers to teach us. Other thing is museum activities, something like that. I was so very interested in Akkadian. And I used to draw the cuneiform, you know, everybody has to start with Hammurabi’s laws. And then Professor Amir Sulaiman, he gave me the text of the Code of Hammurabi. So I copy each subject on the board with the cuneiform and they leave a gap for the transliteration of … you know, the Akkadian in Latin. So he will ask people, “What this sign is? What does that sign mean?” Something like that. And then by the end, we translated into Arabic or something. So this is the first one and then after that, you start with Sennacherib. His campaign to Babylon, and Marduk-apla-iddina. We did some of Eshnunna as well … Eshnunna law. But we didn’t do any letters or deeds in a document, I mean, sale or something. We … this is lack in our background. Mainly the historical texts. I mean, law and historical texts.

9:27  AA

We are 16 students only. And we continue at Mosul university until we finish. And luckily, me and the other two friends, we got the upper grades, you know, 1, 2, 3 to the college and the department. That year, the government issued that every student who graduated from university has to go to the military service, which is compulsory military service for 12 months. And then I joined the army, and they sent me to a camp in Mosul, with hundreds from other colleges. Every graduated student has to join. We spent two months.

10:08  AA

But before that, I did apply to the Department of Archaeology in Baghdad to study ancient archaeology. They studied Islamic archaeology and ancient archaeology. So I did, I applied and everything is okay. While I’m in the military, the same friend who advised me to join the university, he said to me, “I saw your name on the board of the Department of Archaeology. You have been accepted there for to study MA. If you go there, then you will be released from the army.” So I said, “Okay, well, that’s a good chance.” And then I went to Baghdad. I met the head of the department and he said, “Well, unfortunately, we accept the other friend. You have another friend from Mosul, who applied. So we accepted in the ancient department. And we put you in the Islamic department, because you have very good degrees in this.” I said, “But I don’t want. I did apply for ancient archaeology. I don’t want Islamic archaeology.” And he said, “Well, that’s what we have. This is the offer, which we could give you.”

11:12  AA

So I went to continue my military. The graduation was ’73. And that October ’73, the war started between Israel and Arab. So they decided to send every soldier. Luckily, my name is still as being accepted for MA. They said, “Okay, you can’t, you don’t go. Wait until see the results.” I think for the whole camp, there’s only 30 or 40 soldiers, you know, with other ranking officers. A month later, they said, “Okay, you have been moved to the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad.” So I said, “What? What should I do with the Ministry of Defense? I mean, I’m an archaeologist.” Anyway, so I went there. They said to me, “Okay, you have to go and work on the Department of Electric and Mechanic.” Can you imagine that? So I went, I went to this department and stayed there another 10 months, working with contractors, mainly contractors who set up electricity or air conditioning, or, you know, in the whole Iraq, in Diyala, or Najaf, or in Basra or in Mosul. So those contractor has to come to the Ministry of Defense. And before they go there, they have to come to our office. And then they everybody has a file. So we have to open file and see where he is and what he wants.

12:39  AA

Then suddenly, one, you know, the person who is in charge of this department called me and then he said, “Okay, well, you are lucky.” I said, “What?” He said, “We are going to release you from the military service, because the government said those who have upper grade in the university should be appointed as a research assistant in their universities. So that’s it. So they released me from the army. I went to the Minister of Higher Education, and they gave me a document to Mosul University. So I went there. They said, “Okay, you are lucky, because we open something is called Center for Archaeological and Research Studies. So you will be appointed there.” Okay. So I went there, there is no budget, what shall I do? I don’t know. There is nothing, there is no information about it. There is nothing.

13:35  AA

I think a year later, my friend who finished his MA came, and then another people appointed from other colleges and from Baghdad. And that was until 1977. The university gave us a grant to excavate one of the sites it’s going to be covered by the dam, north of Mosul. And we choose a site called Tell Abu Dhahir. So we start the excavations from February until May. And then we have to stop until autumn. So by that time, I went to the dean of the college and said to him, “I’ve been working here now from 1974, now ’73; three years. I need a grant to do my MA study abroad.” And they refused. They said, “No.” You know, there is two things. Number one, I don’t know the people there. Number two, that by that time everybody has to join the Baath party. And I’m not. I said, “No”.

14:42  AA

So by July ’77 … by the way, 1975 I get married, and then I have my first daughter next year ’76 by September, and I called her Ishtar. So, everybody, they know nothing about Ishtar. They, I mean, they just heard the name, but it’s very strange for them. By ’77, I talked to my wife. I said, “Okay, I have no chance to get scholarship. I decided to resign and to go study abroad from my own expenses. I need your support to help me to do this.” As she said, “Okay, I have no objection.” I said to her, “But you cannot come with me. I’m … I’m going to study from my expense. I cannot spend money for family. She said, “No, I will stay here. I’m …” … she’s working as a health visitor. And my brothers support me. They said, “Okay, go ahead. We will look after your family and send you some money when you need.”

15:48  JT

How was your time in the UK?

15:51  AA

July 9th, I was in London. And then there’s a hotel, there’s running by a Greek person, his name I think Costa or something. So I asked him, “How can I find a school to learn English?” And he said, “Well, go to the British Academy.” And he gave me the day. So I took a taxi and then there is a lady. She said to me, “Where do you want to study?” I said, “Well, I prefer in London. They told me there is schools called Davies’s schools.” She said, “Is full up.” So she said, “There is Scotland and there is other place in Brighton. And if you want to go you could go to Brighton.” So I took the train from Victoria to Brighton. And I found a school not far from the train station. And they said, “Okay, we can accept you, but you are late, you know, one week.” I said, “Okay, no problem.” But I said … told them, “I need an English family to live with them.” So they sent me to a couple there, they are very nice people. And that’s how I learned my English. It’s not from school, nor from Iraq. From the family themselves, because they are very nice people. They helped me and they … they answer any question which I really asked.

17:10  AA

The term will be finished by September. I said, “Okay, I will look for a scholar who could accept me to study postgraduate student. You know, an MA or a PhD. I knew Professor Saggs. He was in Mosul University in the ’70s. When we were students, he came and taught Dr. Farouk al-Rawi and other person at Mosul University. I took the train, went to London and then to Cardiff. And I asked for Farouk. And he came, and then I said to him, “I want to see Professor Saggs. If he could accept me for MA, or whatever degree he would like to do it.” So they set appointment. The next day, I met Professor Saggs and I spoke to him like when I am talking to you. And he said, “Okay, I prefer if you will study historical geography of north of Iraq, i.e., mainly the Assyrian military campaign.” So I said to him, “I could do this, but only within the Iraqis border. I cannot cross to Syria. And we have problem with the Kurds. I may go to Suleimaniyah. But beyond Suleimaniyah I cannot go there.” He said, “Okay, well, let’s put this title for your MPhil. And then we will see how far you could go.” He asked his secretary and they gave me admission.

18:37  AA

I went back to London. In my mind, I know Professor Wiseman. I went to the SOAS and asked for Professor Wiseman. “No, it is holiday and we cannot give you his phone number.” So I have to do it in Iraqis’ way. So I went to the Institute of Archaeology. I know Dr. Jaabar was there. So I thought probably Dr. Jaabar may have his phone number or if not, David Oates is there. So I went there and they said, “Dr. Jaabar is doing fieldwork in Iraq.” And the Secretary said, “Okay, Professor David Oates is there if you want to see him.” I said, “Okay.” So I went to see him and he said, “Oh, oh, you’re from Iraq? You are from Mosul?” “Yes, yes.” He said … and he start to talk about Nimrud. And I say to him, “Well, I want to be, you know, accepted at London university to do my, you know, MA.” I mean, in my mind is to do cuneiform study with nothing to do with archaeology in general. And he said to me, “Well, unfortunately, we cannot accept you to do Akkadian. That’s what I’m looking for. And he said, “If you want I give you Professor Wiseman’s phone number, and then give him a ring. And then he will be very nice person, and he will meet you and you could go to.” I said, “Okay, fine, fine. Very good.”

20:02  AA

So he gave me his phone number. I went to, you know, this telephone in the street, the red one. And I rang Professor Wiseman, and he said, “Okay.” I told him, I said I’m from Iraq. You know, my name is so-and-so. And I want to study Akkadian. He said, “Oh, okay. I will see you tomorrow at 11 o’clock. I say, “Okay, that’s good.” I met Professor Wiseman, we sat for almost an hour. He asked me, you know, about my background and things like that. And then we went down to the Administrative Office, and they gave me another acceptance from London University. So I have two choices: either to go to Cardiff, or to stay in London. So I prefer to stay in London, because I was thinking of the British Museum and the tablets. So I thought this will be easier, because the British Museum is not far away. I will stay in London. And that’s it. So I went back to Iraq, resigned from my office.

21:01  JT

What did you do at SOAS?

21:03  AA

Well, they said to me, “You have to do a course.” The course is mainly three scholars. Professor Wiseman, I did Hammurabi’s laws with him, and Eshnunna laws. Then other topic. I did some lines from the Epic of Gilgamesh. I mean, this is for the first year. And the same time Professor Hawkins, David Hawkins, he gave us Assyrian letters and documents from the neo-Assyrian, and from the Old Babylonian. And then there is a lady called Miss Farber. She gave us a text about Sennacherib, one of his campaigns. And that is mainly what we did.

21:46  AA

And then by the end of the course, we have they call it a comprehensive exam. And then they gave me a set of questions. Some of it is Akkadian to translate, and some to parse some of the verbs, some of the words, and then one of the question about Mesopotamian civilisation. You know, I mean, what’s the most important things in the Mesopotamian civilisation? Professor Wiseman told me, “You passed the exam, but unfortunately, there is some mistakes in your English, especially the grammar.” And then I went to the British Institute or English Institute. So I used to go at night. I stayed with him about three months. They said, “It’s enough. It’s okay. Your English is fine. You don’t need any more to come back.

22:42  AA

And then after that, they said, “Okay, you have to choose a topic. What are you going to write about?” So I told Professor Wiseman I’m interested in the Assyrian period, mainly neo-Assyrian period. And then he said, “Why don’t we write something about one of the provincial governors. You have to write it very carefully, because this is going to be put to the board of the department. If they accept your paper, then you will be transferred to the PhD. This is really very hard to me. I have to do it anyways. So I spent about three months just writing a paper about one of the Assyrian governors called bel pihati, the provincial governor. Then later on, I have this not exam, but it’s look like an interview. I have to submit the paper, and they have to listen. And then by the end, they ask you some questions. A week later, I have a letter from the administrative department. They said, “Congratulations, your registration is now for PhD and backdated to the beginning of your registration.” And this is very odd here in Iraq, because there is no system in Iraq like this. They have only MA and PhD. You have to do MA and then to start again for PhD.

24:00  AA

I finished 1984. In fact, I finished my research by ’82. And my wife, she came to London, and then we discussed the situation. She said, “I do not prefer you coming back. They will send you to the frontier because we have Iraqi-Iranian war.” So she said, “Well, if you can stay there in London, why not? I mean.” So I talked to Professor Wiseman, and he said, “Okay, no problem. You can stay. We will see and give you another year.” And my wife went back and luckily I found a job. They call it a proctor, you know, is just to oversee a student hall at night. And they gave me accommodation free, give me a room and then I have everything including breakfast plus 100 pounds per month. And that was very good. So I do not need any money from my family anymore. I spent ’82 and then ’83 until ’84, and then I decided to … I said, “Okay, I will go up, whether they send me to the frontier or not. I don’t care anymore.” So I applied and finished my exam. And a month later, I came back here to Iraq.

25:21  JT

Okay, so you’re back in Iraq now. What did you do next?

25:26  AA

After less than a week, I was at home, you know, very tired and, and then one of my relatives said, “Have you gone to the military office in Mosul?” I said, “No.” He said, “You should go, because there is something new.” I’d been told that everybody with PhD you will not join the army. He said, “Yes, but go there and check.” So I went there, and they said, “Oh, you have been absent for one week.” I said, “I just arrived. And now I was here on November 23rd and now is December 1st. It’s only seven days. He said, “No. Today, we will give you a document. You have to go to Babylon–Hillah, where is the military service there. So I have to take car and go there to Hillah, where the military camp. And I stayed three months there. And then they sent me back to the Ministry of Defense. They have a new department is called Military History Department–something like that–where they recorded all the, you know, the martyrs, the soldiers, the dead people, I think like that. This service it should be six months. And then we will be released from the army. They said the reserved army.

26:47  AA

So I spent three months in the military camp, and then two months in the Ministry of Defense. And they give you a permit to leave for one week every month. So I went to stay with my family. And somebody came to me, he said, “Okay, there is a call for you to go back immediately.” So I took taxi, went to Baghdad. They say to you, “You have to go to Kirkuk, and then from Kirkuk, they will tell you where to go.” Okay, then I went to Kirkuk. They told me is to go to Suleimaniyah. And then I went to Suleimaniyah. And then they said, “Okay, you will go to Darbandikhan, where is the dam. And there there is a camp and they will tell you what to do.” And then I came there, I saw the general there. And he said, “You have to go up to the mountain. They call it Khushik, the mountain. You have to climb three hours until you reach to the top. And so I spent in this month in the top of the mountain doing my military service. It’s in the high mountains. And then sometimes we get shelling from the Iranian army. And then by the end of this month and went back and then they released me from the army so I went back to university.

28:07  JT

What was your first academic job?

28:10  AA

I was appointed at the College of Education to teach ancient Iraqi history and civilisation. I stayed there from ’85 until ’94, i.e. nine years teaching the subject. And including some information given to the students for cuneiform, the Mesopotamian literature, and history, of course the law and some of the military campaigns. 1994, the president of Mosul University sent for me, and so I went there. And he said, “Okay, we open a Department of Archaeology, and you’re appointed the head of the department. And you have to go to College of Arts.” So I went there, there is nobody at all. There is no office, there is nothing, no classroom. There is no students yet. So we have to start from the beginning. From nothing.

29:04  AA

I have Professor Sulaiman whom I mentioned before. And then we have another two scholars in Islamic archaeology. One is called Adil Najim Abo, and he graduated from Edinburgh. And then Professor Ahmed Qasim Aljum’a. He graduated from Cairo. Anyway, I got a room in the department of French and my office there in the same floor. So students, they start to come, because it’s a new department. We have 40 students for the first year. Me and Professor Amir Sulaiman, we have to teach each of us three or four subjects, because there is a lack of scholars. And that is continue until 1999. That they supposed to be the first graduated students from the department.

29:54  AA

I went to the president of Mosul University. “Okay, this year we will have graduate students and I need to open an higher education MA, because we have no scholars. So if we need to have this good department, we need to develop scholars not only just graduate students from the street.” And he said, “Okay.” Then he should document that the first group who will graduate in the Department of Archaeology, any of them who want to come you know to study MA, he will be accepted. We accept about eight students. And in the same year, I applied to the University to open new department called cuneiform department … cuneiform studies. And then they agree, so I ran both of them for one year. And then the second year, somebody else took the archaeology department and I was in charge for the cuneiform department.

30:47  AA

And then those two departments running side by side, we have at least about 15 MA students from 1999 until 2003, where the invasion … American invasion to Iraq. And everything became chaos. But that time, it’s a very bad memory. Everybody is really … it hurt everybody. You could imagine, I went to my office, what I found? Only the wall. Nothing. No desk. Nothing. No … no chairs. Even they took them fan from the ceiling. Nothing. One of my students has a pickup, and I asked him to bring his pickup and then we started running inside the university campus looking for furniture. Anything we find it whether to belong to us or to anybody else. So we have to get tables, chairs, blackboard, anything which we found. Even air conditioning, something like that. So we started our postgraduate students, first of all, and then after that the undergraduate students came back.

32:02  AA

We continued until 2006. I applied for sabbatical year. They said, “Okay”. So by the end 2007, I was given a sabbatical year. And that is supposed to write my first dictionary, the Akkadian-Arabic dictionary. The thing which encouraged me to do it is not the subject itself, but the problem is financing my year. So luckily, the Kuwaitis they have a grant for, they call it, the distinguished Arabic scholar. So I applied to that and I get it. I communicate with Professor Postgate, thanks to him. And he arranged everything to come to Cambridge. During this year, I wrote my Akkadian-Arabic dictionary. And before a month or two, there was a lecture in the Institute of Archaeology in Cambridge. I met one person who is from Iraq. He’s the friend of Dr. Jaabar, but he lived in Canada and worked in the United Arab Emirates. His name Yassin something. He asked me what I’m doing. I told him, “I’ve nearly finished my book. It’s a dictionary.” He said, “Do you want to publish it?” I said, “Well, yes. Why not?” And he said, “Okay, why don’t you send it to Abu Dhabi. They have a very good section to publish Arabic research. I said, “Okay.” So he gave me phone number. And I phoned this person. “I nearly finished.” “Okay, send it to us.” Then I did. They agreed to publish it. Life comes sometimes easy. And sometimes it becomes very difficult to get it.

33:40  JT

Then an opportunity arose in Mosul, didn’t it?

33:43  AA

Before I went back, while I’m in Cambridge, a letter came from the university. They have said, “You have to come back immediately, because you are nominated to be the Dean, College of Archaeology. So I have to pack up everything. I went back and we opened the college called the College of Archaeology in Mosul University. So we have three departments. The Archaeology department, the Cuneiform department, and then we have a new department called Mesopotamian Culture and Civilisation. We run the college until 2009. I met the president of Mosul University privately. I said to him, “We just graduate students who knew nothing about archaeology, fieldwork I mean. And archaeology is like medicine. If you graduate as a doctor, you never seen an operation or you never been in the hospital, you cannot be a doctor. So it’s the same for archaeology. If you are an archaeologist, and you never practice, do excavation or go looking for archaeology, you are not really a good archaeologist. And so he said, “Okay, what do you want?” I said, “I need a grant. I’m going to apply for excavate the palace of Ashurbanipal. So he said, “Okay.”

35:03  JT

Why did you choose to dig there in particular?

35:07  AA

If you go to the roof of one of the buildings at the university and look at the Kuyunjik, it’s just in front of you. It’s only 2km from the university. It is easy to get access. And it is easy to take the students daily. I have to timetable: for the first year, have to come Saturday. And then second year on Sunday. The fourth year, they have to come in on Thursday, and so on. So if it’s in the countryside, it will be impossible to do this, because of, you know, the war. And there is a lot of checkpoints. And then the people they are worried to go out to the country. But here they could walk. That’s number one. Number two, the palace– a lot of things has been written. And we know there is a part of Ashurbanipal Library there. And there is next to it Nabu temple. So why not there is more tablets there in the palace? Of course, I’m looking for the tablets. But the other thing is to complete the map of the palace and then to start reconstructing it. That’s what’s in my mind–it’s to follow the wall and get all the plan of the palace. You know, the king, you know, the family, domestic life.

36:27  AA

So we have the grant. So I apply to State Board of Archaeology in Baghdad, and I got a permit to excavate the palace. That was 2010, late ’10 / 2011. We succeed to do three seasons very successful, until we reached the Assyrian level. We find an interesting piece of prism. It’s a stone. It’s of Shamshi-Adad I. This piece of stone is found on the neo-Assyrian level. Can you imagine? Well, I think it’s coming from Nabu Temple. Because what the late excavators, what they do, they dig and through the dump, the next where, you know, where is the hole, or anything like that. So one of the labourers saw this stone. He don’t know cuneiform by that time, so he threw it away. And it came to the level of the Assyrian level when we excavated. So we have other reliefs and pieces, a lot of pottery, and some jars mainly. A beautiful Parthian period jar, huge jars. We sent it to the Department of Archaeology in Baghdad. We have three seasons excavating there. By May 2014, everything stopped. And then ISIL came in. And we get into another dark time or dark period in Mosul especially. 

37:55  JT

What did you do then?

37:57  AA

During this period when the ISIL came in, and occupied the town, I have another friend, you know, American two friends who work in Erbil. One is Professor Danti and Dr. Richard Zettler. They wrote to me and said, “Okay, can you come to Erbil, and then we will arrange to take us to come with us to the [United] States [of America].” I said, “I’m sorry, I cannot come to Erbil.” Because the Kurds closed the border and nobody could get in. And they said, “Find a way and try to come. Just get out from Mosul by any means.” So the only thing I could do, because I was dean of the college, I cannot leave the college.

38:37  AA

So I again apply for sabbatical year. And I get it. It was in December 2014. I have the sabbatical year. So I with my wife, we gave a taxi driver … you know, there’s two routes to go to Baghdad. One you go to Sinjar to where is the Syrian border, and there is a road leading to Al-Bukamal or Qa’im. And then you go down to Anbar. But before Anbar you have to go down to the old road where they used to go to Brighlim, you know, the Hajj, from Iraq, they go on horses; this road. So we have to take this road, because ISIL in Anbar. We cannot go to Anbar. And there is another route. He said to me, “We could go to Hatra, and from Hatra across the desert. And then to Rawa–where is Farouk al-Rawi’s family background–and then from there, we have to go up again to al-Qa’im or Al-Bukamal to the west, to the Syrian border, and then come back with the highway leading before Anbar and then go to this old road leading to Brighlim. Is going to Karbala south of Anbar. Well, he said, “If you were lucky, they did not caught us, you know, the ISIL, because they have a lot of people in the desert. I said, “Okay, we will try and see what happens.”

40:01  AA

So we escaped at night. We left Mosul at two o’clock, and then we went to Hatra. And then from Hatra to Rawa, and then to Qa’im and then back to Anbar and then go to area called al-Nukhayb, where is the checkpoint there. Anyway, we were there about evening, next day. And then after that we have to stay, because this checkpoint do not allow a taxi driver from Mosul to go alone. They have to collect 10 for instance 10 cars. They make it like a truck and you know, they, then you have a Hummer [a Humvee] in front and a Hummer behind until you go to the highway to Baghdad, and then they give you back your ID and things like that. And then you will be free to go to Baghdad. So we did. We reached Baghdad by midnight. We left at two o’clock in Mosul and we are in Baghdad the next day at 12 o’clock.

41:00  AA

I wrote to Michael [Danti] and I said to him, “Okay, now I’m in Baghdad.” So they said, “Can you go to the Green Zone to go to the American Embassy?” I said, “If I am a bird, I cannot fly there! I cannot go there. We have to find another way.” We decided to actually go to Turkey to Ankara. I am going to Ankara and then apply for a visa. And they gave me they call it Scholar Rescue Fund from the Department of State there. We went there and we stay in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania, where I wrote my second dictionary–is the Sumerian-Akkadian-Arabic dictionary.

41:44  AA

By the end of this sabbatical year, I had to go back to the university. By that time the university has located in substitute place in Dohuk and in Kirkuk. So I went to Erbil, and stayed in Erbil more than a year and a half, where I finished my dictionary, and I wrote back to them, Abu Dhabi, if they would like to publish it. They said, “Yes.” So I sent them and they did publish it. By the end of the 2017 Mosul liberated and we came back here to Mosul. And I don’t know how to explain to you. I don’t know. Probably you’ve seen some images of the Second World War, they called Berlin, you know, how it’s been destroyed. So west of Mosul exactly like that.

42:30  JT

Were you able to resume university life after the liberation?

42:35  AA

With the president of Mosul university, we decided that what shall I do? I said, “Okay, I’m not the Dean of College anymore.” He said, “Well, why? What do you want?” He said, “Okay, why don’t we start establishing something called Centre for Assyrian Studies?” And he said, “Well, that’s a good idea. But what are you going to do?” I said, “Okay, well, we will do some documentation, i.e. digital documentation of this horrible damage to the cultural heritage of west of Mosul.” Are they said, “Good idea”. With Michael and Richard, they bought new cameras and computers and things like that. So we established the Centre.

43:17  AA

And then we took the camera, went to west of Mosul, and then the police just did not allow it to get in. They said, “No, you cannot do anything. This is it’s absolutely prohibited.” Because the bodies, some of the bodies, still you could visible, you could see their clothes. We don’t know whether ISIL or civilian or whatever they are. They said, “It’s very dangerous. And we don’t allow people until we have the demining division come and clear the site.” So what shall I do? I don’t know what to do.

43:52  AA

And then by chance, there was an Italian who came because, you know, ISIL burned the library of Mosul, the University of Mosul. I went to them with the Italians and then they show me a room and the room is full of hardcover, files, something like that. The whole room is full of them. So I opened some of them. It’s a newspaper. I checked those newspapers, some of them in the ’30s and the ’40s. So I immediately went to the president of Mosul. I said, “Okay, I find my treasure.” And he said, “Okay, what do you want?” I said, “Well, I want to document … make the documentation. I digitalise all these newspapers. He said, “Okay.” I said, “Okay, give me a letter to the librarians to allow us to do it.” So with the help of six scholars from, I mean, my previous students, whom I taught in BA and MA, PhD, they helped me with this. We digitalised all the newspapers and other books, the old books. We came about half a million images of this whole archive.

45:01  AA

And then by the end of 2019, I decided to retire. Because I thought it’s not really worth to carry on. I could see the decline of education, decline of student interest. I mean, in the past, I could see the students are interested in the subject. They follow, they obeyed. And the thing is now, the students, they are really … I don’t blame them, because they have this very bad time during ISIL. And now, they came to the university and it’s a different life. And now you ask him to do something, which is really far away from their mind. You know, some of them lost his brother or his father or his relative, or he has been imprisoned or has been taken by ISIL, something like that. So the students really not really completely are interested in the subject. And I thought it is for myself is waste my time to teach people who are not interested in the subject. That’s why I applied to early retirement. And I retired by December 2019.

46:16  JT

What are you doing now that you’ve retired?

46:21  AA

And then we have the problem with COVID-19. And everybody was imprisoned in his home. So what shall I do? Well, okay, I thought, well, I thought it’s good that the students now they have an Assyrian dictionary in Arabic. And they have Sumerian dictionary in Arabic. They do not need CAD or AHw. Not anymore. What should I do? Okay, well, I picked up from those two dictionaries, and I wrote another one, it’s called Sumerian loanwords into Akkadian and Arabic, and other Akkadian in Arabic. And this is published in Cairo in Alexandria library in Egypt. Then when I finished, I said, “Okay, well, now they have dictionaries, but they do not have grammars. So currently, I just finished a few months ago, Akkadian grammar for the students. And I send it back to Cairo. And it’s now in the processing, I don’t know. They have to send for review or something like that. They will let me know when it will be published. So that is the end of my academic to help the future students if they are interested to carry on.

47:39  JT

I can barely imagine how much harder it must have been for students without dictionaries in Arabic. It must have made such a big difference.

47:47  AA

Yeah, it’s really difficult. The thing which it really encouraged me to do it, is because I could see students are handicapped. They don’t know English, they don’t know German. And this is the two languages is the main languages for anybody who studies Akkadian or Sumerian. Most of the time, you know, the postgraduate students, sometimes they came to me, I mean, I gave them the dictionaries, the CAD and AHw, but they don’t know how to use it. And then we have to teach them how to use them and how to get the letter and I mean, the item or the word. They have to check with it’s Babylonian or Assyrian or something like that. So we gave them an idea about it, but they don’t know the English.

48:34  AA

So that’s what I thought is the best before I will retire. Now to complete those three dictionaries. I mean, the third one is for scientific research. It’s really for people who are interested, especially the Arabic department they will get benefited from this dictionary, because they … they have 1000s and 1000s of items or words in Sumerian, you could find it in Arabic, and you could find Sumerian in Akkadian and then some Akkadian you find in Arabic as well. And it’s up to today. Some of them is really used daily, now, we use them. The Arabic department, they are very interested in this dictionary, and they are doing some research on that.  They go to trace the Arabic word. They have some Arabic words they found what to look at. Instead of saying it’s unknown or something, now they know whether it’s Akkadian or it’s come from the Sumerian language.

49:29  JT

Can you give the listeners an example of one of these loanwords in daily use in Arabic please?

49:34  AA

Well, dishpu. Dishpu–in Arabic dibs. This this … this is very simple word. I mean, nadanuantanu bil ‘Arabiy … in Arabic. Nadanu–in Arabic intanu. So you see, even the pronunciation is very close to each other. And then sharaqu–in Arabic saraqasaraq. And so forth. Until now, I think I fulfilled my career. And I’m happy that I did something for the future generation.

50:09  JT

Thank you very much indeed for sharing your memories today.

50:13  AA

Alright. Not at all. You’re welcome anytime. It’s a good, great opportunity for me to put forward my life from childhood until now. And then people will have to see, for the Europeans and for the others, how difficult we lived in this period. I mean, I have lived during my student life with four revolutions. {LAUGHS} And yeah, and then finally, we have this ISIL which is really is the horrible things in history of the Nineveh and Mosul well. Thank you very much indeed, Jon.

50:55  JT

I’d also like to thank our patrons: Tyler Russell, Enrique Jimenez, Jana Matuszak, Nancy Highcock, Jay C, Rune Rattenborg, Woodthrush, Elisa Rossberger, Mark Weeden, Jordi Mon Companys, Thomas Bolin, Joan Porter MacIver, John MacGinnis, Andrew George, Yelena Rakic, Mend Mariwany, Zach Rubin, Sabina Franke, Shai Gordin, Aaron Macks, Maarja Seire, Jaafar Jotheri, Morgan Hite, Chikako Watanabe, Mark McElwaine, Heather Baker, Jonathan Blanchard Smith, Kliment Ohr, Christina Tsouparopoulou, TT, Melanie Gross, Claire Weir, Marc Veldman, Bruno Biermann, Faimon Roberts, Jason Moser, Pavla Rosenstein, Müge Durusu-Tanrıöver, as well as those who prefer to remain anonymous.

52:02  JT

I really appreciate your support. It makes a big difference. Every penny received has contributed towards translations. Thanks of course to the lovely people who have worked on the translations on a voluntary basis or for well below the market rate. For Arabic, thanks in particular to Zainab Mizyidawi, as well as Lina Meerchyad and May Al-Aseel. For Turkish, thank you to Pinar Durgun and Nesrin Akan. TEW is still young, but I want to reach a sustainable level, where translators are given proper compensation for their hard work.

52:40  JT

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