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Museum Basra, bagaimana istana Saddam Husein disajikan untuk umum

Basra Museum

Inside the palace, now a museum

Mantan penguasa Irak, Saddam Hussein, telah membangun lebih dari 70 istana mewah selama kurun waktu 24 tahun masa pemerintahannya. Salah satunya di Basra kini menjadi pertunjukan khasanah sejarah negara.

Pintu besi besar melindungi barang antik minggu ini untuk mengenang sisa-sisa masa lalu mereka yang kaya raya. Proyek ini – sebuah gagasan dari Angkatan Darat Inggris dan Qahtan al-Obaid, direktur museum – belumlah  selesai, tapi satu galeri sudah terbuka untuk umum.

Mahdi Aloosawi

Pria yang mengatur renovasi tersebut, Mahdi Aloosawi yang berusia 27 tahun, telah menghabiskan waktu tiga tahun pengecatan, pembangunan ,pemipaan dan kelistrikan. Gedung ini selama bertahun-tahun digunakan sebagai pusat komando bagi tentara Inggris, dan telah beberapa kali rusak oleh milisi yang keberatan atas kehadirannya di kota itu. Dahulu adalah lambang kekuasaan dan kemegahan, kini telah menjadi reruntuhan. Bidang muka dan tiang-tiang telah runtuh.

Damage to the building

“Pada awalnya saya bertarung dengan diri saya sendiri tentang mengambil pekerjaan merenovasi istana yang pernah dimiliki Saddam,” kata Aloosawi. Yang menyulitkannya adalah bahwa gedung itu dibangun pada pertengahan dasawarsa 1990-an, satu periode dimana negara sedang menderita karena perang dan kelaparan.

“On the day that I saw it for the first time, I realised that it had not been built with bricks tetapi dengan darah rakyat sipil. On the day of the opening, though, I cried twice. Out of happiness. Because I saw how much the museum in this space meant to Iraqis.”

Langit-langit kini bersih dan dicat ulang.

Ceiling
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Ceiling
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Outside the museum

Aloosawi adalah yang paling bangga atas balcon depan. He tried to repair it while preserving its original design, which was more than 100 years old. “Ini bukanlah hal yang mudah untuk tukang batu kerjakan,” katanya. “Benar-benar tantangan esar tapi saya pikir ini sangatlah indah.”

Balcony

Masyarakat dibawah rejim Saddam tidak tahu apa-apa tentang apa yang terjadi  di balik tembok istana itu. Insinyur Duray Tawfik, dari HWH Associates, the British engineering company overseeing the project, says he was horrified to learn that three meals were cooked each day by Saddam’s staff, in case the leader ever turned up. He never did.

Saddam's name in the ceiling

“Ketika kami datang ke sini, kami menemukan 2.000 nama Saddam dicantumkan pada dinding dan kerajinan kayu – Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein – di mana-mana!” tuturnya. Perdana menteri yang baru menginginkan semuanya dibongkar, “tetapi untuk menghapus semuanya, kami harus menghancurkan semua gedung. Selain itu, saya pikir ini semua adalah bagian dari sejarah kita juga”.

Vase on show

Basra’s previous museum was looted pada tahun 1991. Half its objects were stolen and the director was shot dead. It’s now the job of Qahtan al-Obaid, the new director, to try to replace what was lost.

He’s returned hundreds of objects from Baghdad to Basra, their original home – but this time he hopes they will be safe. The British Army and the British Museum have been helping curate the exhibition. The museum is particularly important when you consider the destruction carried out by so-called Islamic State (IS) in the north of the country, says John Curtis, a curator at the British Museum, who has been advising on the project.

Artefacts

“Of course today we can see destruction all around the region. Particularly in northern Iraq – the great Assyrian sites of Nimrod and Nineveh. They’re so badly damaged. There’s appalling atrocities going on in Syria in terms of cultural heritage, so in the midst of all this it at least is a beacon of fresh light to see this new museum opening in Basra.”

Huge steel doors guard the entrance to the museum. According to Obaid, you can hammer the glass cabinets as hard as you can but they won’t break. The first thing you see as you enter is early Islamic pottery made in Basra and a display of coins from ancient Parthia in 350BC. A huge Sassanian empire tomb occupies the middle of the gallery.

Photographing the artefacts

Basra is a city rich in culture, art and history, but it has lacked a place to celebrate its heritage.

“Poetry and theatre happen all the time here in Basra,” says Obaid. “But it’s quite underground and on the main scene it’s only the privileged who can afford it. We want to expand this museum so it becomes a cultural centre, where people can come and be creative for free. We just need the money to do it.”

The gallery that’s just opened is the first step towards this goal. Now Friends of Basra Museum, a charity set up to realise the project, has applied for more funding from the British Council to transform the other rooms of the palace.

Looking at artefacts

“You wouldn’t believe the interest from the public,” says Obaid. “Social media has just exploded.” At the opening a man approached the team to say he has many artefacts he wants to donate – including what he says is the front door from the first church to be built in the city.

“It may seem strange to house a museum in this palace,” Obaid adds. “Something built by Saddam, something that symbolises so much pain and inhumanity. But who has won this time? Saddam Hussein or civilisation? Civilisation always wins.”

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