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From mid-2012 to early 2013, Northern Mali was in the hands of Ansar Dine, an Islamic extremist movement. Although the group no longer controls the main population centers, the aftermath of its brief and tyrannical rule is still being felt in society.
One of the monuments in danger is the Tomb of the Askia, in Gao, which dates from the 15th century. Although the extremists did not cause great damage, thanks to the defense carried out by the inhabitants of the city, the earthwork now faces the threat of rain. "Urgent measures are needed to safeguard the Tomb of the Askia«Says Lazare Eloundou Assomo, director of the UNESCO office in Bamako, the capital of Mali.
The mission in charge of determining the damage caused had members of UNESCO, other UN agencies, and several officials from the French and Malian governments, who were able to verify that the local community has already carried out work to repair the Tomb of the Askia.
Other parts of Gao's cultural heritage were not so lucky. The Saneye archaeological site, dating from the 11th century, has been 90% destroyed; the Sahel Museum was vandalized and served as a base for extremists for almost a year. Here again, Malians played a key role: Museum employees hid traditional Malian instruments and other cultural insignia to prevent their destruction. And even worse happened Timbuktu, where the extremists attacked mausoleums and other monuments that they consider “anti islamic”.
Eloundou has also expressed concern about the effects of the Islamist tyranny on the local population. Ansar Dine, who came to control the two main northern cities by taking Gao and Timbuktu, banned traditional Malian music and dance, as well as most women's clothing. The group organized public burns of instruments and dresses, and prohibited women from wearing their hair in braids.
UNESCO and the Malian Government continue to work to determine exactly the damage caused and to do everything possible so that the affected monuments do not suffer further deterioration.