By Mohammed Zaidi in Wasit
Abu Saadi Ibrahimi likes to sit in front of a house in Kut, that overlooks the Tigris river. It brings back memories and lessons because each stone in the 200-year-old building has a story, he says.
The house he is referring to is what is known to locals as the “old Townshend house”. The British military commander, Sir Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, was based in this house as he led the fight against Turkish forces here during World War 1. The fighting, between 1915 and 1916 ended with a British defeat and the fall of Iraq. Townshend was taken captive by the Turkish but survived the war and eventually returned to Britain.
His old house in Kurt is still considered a landmark, says Ibrahimi. That is even though experts have said that the house may be close to collapse, and if it doesn’t become unsafe soon, it will in the very near future. “Its historical value has been lost as its façade was converted into shops,” he added.
“Sites like this are part of the heritage of the province and its people, having survived both the Ottoman and British occupation,” Ibrahimi argued. “The local authorities should be paying more attention to these kinds of sites.”
“It would be great to own the property on which this house stands,” says Manaf al-Atabi, who heads the department of culture in the province. “But the fact that some of this historic property is privately owned hinders the possibilities for rehabilitating it.”
Al-Atabi says he too would really like to see more attention paid to sites like this.
“The ownership of the property is what is preventing any restoration or preservation,” confirms Hussein Ali Mohammed, head of antiquities and heritage in Wasit. He says that his department had previously asked about buying the historic property but that the price requested by the owner was too high. His department simply didn’t have a big enough budget to cover the costs, he noted.
“Unfortunately the department does not have the means to turn this into a museum or a heritage house,” Ali Mohammed concluded.
Meanwhile Abu Saadi Ibrahimi will continue to sit in front of the house, guarding it with his own memories. “It deserves refurbishment,” he says quietly.