Monday 11 March 2013

BBC "Syria's priceless heritage under attack"

In Syria since the civil war began, more than 50,000 people have been killed, thousands more injured, imprisoned and tortured, and millions made homeless or turned into refugees. The war has also caused irreparable damage to some of the world's most precious historical sites. The treasures now being destroyed matter to everyone on the planet, argues historian Dan Snow (BBC, 'Syria's priceless heritage under attack',
It feels cruel to talk of bricks and mortar while children freeze in unsanitary refugee camps, and yet these sites and treasures matter to everyone on the planet, and they matter particularly to Syrians, who will rely on them as the mainstay of their economy whenever peace is restored. The heritage casualty list is deeply alarming.[...]  the Syrian government's Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums is doing a heroic job, but the scale of the catastrophe is swamping its meagre resources.  Artefacts have been removed from galleries, hidden in cellars and taken to secure locations but an organisation that lacked funds even in peacetime is struggling now. The Syrian government has lost control of several stretches of its border. Treasures are being smuggled out and sold. One report claims $2bn (£1.25bn) worth of artefacts have already left the country. 
The basis for the claim of such a high monetary value for the artefacts being sent to foreign markets was not stated ("one report claims..." where? It was made/written by whom?).  Snow points out the importance of Syria's heritage to the country's future well-being:
Heritage binds communities together. Like the pictures, heirlooms and stories in a family home, it forms a bedrock of shared memory. When the war ends Syria's treasures will be the foundations on which a shredded national identity can be rebuilt. Just as importantly, the tourists who were once drawn to Syria by the extraordinary heritage will return. Tourism was vital to the Syrian economy and the only sector in which, before the war, massive growth was a realistic prospect. If Syria's soul is to be healed, it needs its treasures, and if Syria's wrecked economy and impoverished people are to recover, its magical sites, and the tourists they attract, will play a central part.
It seems to me that in all this talk of heritage being a motor of tourism (ie the economic) argument tends to swamp the academic one. the minor 'flat' sites will never attract tourists, does that mean that their looting is in some way not as important as itf someone dug a hopeful hole in the cemeteries of Palmyra? Holes can be filled in so tourists do not see them, it's the information loss that is the problem.

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