Amazingly, Fr. Najeeb and his brothers made it safely past the checkpoints. Then, just ten days before Islamic State invaded Bakhdida, Fr. Najeeb rescued many of the manuscripts again, this time bringing them to Erbil, where they have remained.
The documents include more than 25 subjects, including theology, philosophy, astronomy, medicine, history, and geography, many of which date back "to the 10th, 11th, and 12th century in Aramaic, which is the language of Jesus Christ, which is our mother tongue all the way to today," Fr. Najeeb said.
They also have documents in Syriac, Arabic, Turkish, Armenian, Hebrew, Persian, and more: "All of this makes up our collection and heritage, not only Christian but also in the international communion for the whole of humanity," he explained.
Rome hosted an exhibit and conference on just a small sample of the many photos and manuscripts June 10-17.
This exhibition was "just a small fragment of what we have in Iraq with respect to manuscripts and archives and materials and photos, because we have as well the largest deposit of photos in Iraq," Fr. Najeeb explained.
The more than 10,000 photos "tell the story of the past: the face, the work and much more," he continued. "Even the archaeology. And we have many archaeological documents in cuneiform as well, very ancient."
Since 2009 the Dominicans in Iraq have also partnered with Benedictine monks, who also help with the supply of equipment and organizing internships.
Their internship program has about 10 young university students, Fr. Najeeb said, which provides "practical information for true professionals in the field of the restoration of manuscripts, for their protection and digitization, and also the process of storing them and protecting them with sophisticated technology to be able to officially protect them in a scientific way."
Fr. Najeeb noted that preserving the manuscripts is far more important than merely having a record of history and an archive of historical objects, but something vital for the education of future generations as well.
"In fact, the manuscripts and the archives of these ancient document make up our history and are our roots. We cannot save a tree without saving its roots. The two can bear fruit," he said.
"So, it is important all of these archives. This history is a part of our collective archives, our past, our history. And these we absolutely had to save, as our children."
(Story continues below)
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Charles-Henri Huyghues Despointes and Alexey Gotovskiy contributed to this story.