Monday 24 August 2015

Syrian government no longer controls 83% of the country

As Columb Strack – Senior Analyst, Middle East and North Africa at IHS Review - points out, the 'Syrian government no longer controls 83% of the country'  (IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review  23 August 2015)
IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review

As the article says, the position of the Assad government looks increasingly precarious:
Territory fully controlled by President Assad’s forces has shrunk by 18% between 1 January and 10 August 2015 to 29,797 km2, roughly a sixth of the country, according to the latest data insights produced by IHS Conflict Monitor.  In a recently televised speech, President Assad admitted it was necessary to focus on holding certain areas of greater strategic importance, while sacrificing others. The key areas which Assad cannot afford to lose include the capital Damascus, the Alawite coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartous, and the city of Homs as the vital connection between them. These are likely to be defended, even at the expense of losing other major cities like Aleppo or Dar’a.
The issue is that it is to that remaining 17% of the country that almost all of the more portable archaeological heritage of Syria has been evacuated.  That presumably includes Aleppo, and if (when?) that falls, how will any of it be removed across rebel-held territory? Getting old pots and statues out will hardly be a priority for any regime in retreat. The fall of the Syrian regime will, if nothing else (depending on who takes it), be accompanied by looting of the storerooms and more stolen artefacts on the market. Good for antiquities dealers and unfussy collectors maybe, for the rest of us not so good.

What about all the paperwork of foreign archaeological expeditions left in museums, stores and dig houses all over that 83% in at the end of the 2010 season? Very little of that will survive, as I would assume that very little of it would have been evacuated along with the artefacts. Field plans, context sheets, inventories, soil samples, specialist reports, notes, photos, site plans, digitalised records of all types. All will have been lost unless a copy was made of everything and taken to the home institution outside Syria - a lesson for foreign expeditions to ANY land in future.

A human tragedy has been in progress here now for a number of years, the scale of the archaeological tragedy remains to be seen when the guns fall silent. Let that be soon.

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