Partners in saving Iraq’s threatened Christian heritage, digitizing manuscripts before and after ISIS.
Fr. Nageeb Michaeel, OP, has been a Dominican friar of the Priory of Mosul since 1980. After graduate studies in France, he returned to Iraq to become the archivist of the Priory. There he conceived a plan to copy the most precious items to preserve their contents. He may have had fire and theft uppermost in his mind, but war would be the greatest threat of all. In the chaos following the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq, life in Mosul became increasingly difficult for Christian leaders. Eventually the friars were forced to relocate to the Christian village of Qaraqosh in the Nineveh plain east of the ancient city. There Fr. Nageeb founded his Digital Center for Eastern Manuscripts (CNMO in its French acronym), training team of young Iraqis to find, digitize, and catalog Christian manuscripts from several traditions spread throughout the country.
Their commitment was tested by the 2014 rise of ISIS and the swift conquest of Mosul and surrounding areas. The Dominicans (and their manuscripts) joined the exodus of Christians and Yazidis from their ancestral homes to safety in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. In the Kurdish capital of Erbil Fr. Nageeb refounded his project yet again. Recently they have learned that important manuscripts left in Mosul had been destroyed, while others, miraculously, had been saved from harm. HMML has supported Fr. Nageeb’s work since 2009, through all of these poignant reminders that manuscripts, no matter how long they have survived, are vulnerable to the same dangers that can suddenly change human lives and destroy ancient cultures.