Sunday, 6 May 2012

Syria's Cultural Treasures Fall Victim in Uprising


Zeina Karam, 'Syria's cultural treasures latest uprising victim' Fox News May 4th 2012:

 Syria's turmoil is threatening the country's rich archaeological heritage, experts warn. Some of the country's most significant sites have been caught in the crossfire in battles between regime forces and rebels. Others have been turned into military bases, raising fears of damage. Regime shelling of neighborhoods where the opposition is holed up has smashed historic mosques, churches and souks [markets].

Looters have stolen artefacts from excavations and museums. Just recently the Krak des Chevaliers, one of the world's best preserved Crusader castles was overrun by gunmen who threw out the staff and began excavations to loot the site, says Bassam Jammous, general director of the Antiquities and Museum Department in Damascus. Gunmen have also targeted a museum in the city of Hama, reportedly making off with antiques and a priceless gold statue dating back to the Aramaic era. Several weeks ago, troops and dissidents battled in and around the ruins of Ebla in the northwestern province of Idlib. This was a Bronze Age city where archaeologists in the 1960s discovered a massive trove of cuneiform tables that revolutionized our understanding of the ancient Middle East. Have any more been dug up in the period of lawlessness here?
The government and opposition have traded blame for damage and looting of sites around the country. But a group of European and Syrian archaeologists tracking the threats through witness reports from the ground says that in several cases, government forces have directly hit historic sites and either participated in or turned a blind eye to looting. "We have facts showing that the government is acting directly against the country's historical heritage," said Rodrigo Martin, a Spanish archaeologist who has led past research missions inside Syria. What's happening is reminiscent of Iraq's chaos in the wake of Saddam Hussein's 2003 fall, when Baghdad's major museum was looted, and of Egypt, where looting has reportedly increased at archaeological sites around the country in the turmoil since longtime President Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year. [...] The nearly 2,000-year-old ruins of Palmyra, an ancient oasis city [...] stand deserted. Government forces have surrounded it and the nearby town and have set up a base in a historic castle on a hilltop overlooking the site, deep in Syria's central deserts. In a report to the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO and the EU conservation group Euromed Heritage, Martin and the other archaeologists warned that the troops' fortifications have damaged parts of the ruins. They say there are also reports of looting under the troops' noses — raising the possibility they were involved. "Many groups have attempted to conduct secret excavations, starting by the security forces," their report said, referring to looting around the country. The archaeologists, who have set up a Facebook page to track reports of damage, say illicit digs have taken place at a number of unexcavated tells and other sites. Jammous, of the government's museum agency [...] denied that the army had attacked any archaeological sites and said armed rebels caused any damage.
Government assaults on opposition stronghold cities and neighborhoods — often with shelling and heavy machine-gun fire — have also caused extensive damage. "They have absolutely no respect for the country's cultural heritage," said activist Tarek Badrakhan, speaking via Skype from Homs' battered Khaldiyeh district. "Mosques, citadels, the old city, they spared nothing."

Vignette: Palmyra

1 comment:

Big Agness said...

Geez, I totally have to agree on that one. Makes me kinda furious as in a way how they totally destroy Syrian cultural heritage. I feel more people should make a statement like you have. It would be great to make people more aware of what's going on. It's a really great blog. The only thing I'm missing is some few basic information about Syria. If you wanna make people learn more about the situation in this country, you could add some more basic information. You can find it over here: I really hope it can be useful.

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