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A Statement, The Syrian cultural heritage in the ancient city of Palmyra is face to face with challenges and risks

Par Maamoun Abdul Karim
Publié le 18/05/2015 • modifié le 08/06/2020 • Durée de lecture : 3 minutes

SYRIA, Palmyra : Tetrapylon, view from the Great Colonnade, reconstructed after 1963 by Syrian Directorate of Antiquities, Palmyra.

Syria Picture by Manuel Cohen, AFP

With the painful events in Syria escalating at an unprecedented pace leaving their tragic impact on the Syrian scene, our cultural heritage has been battling for almost five consecutive years to survive in spite of the massive destruction affecting our historical monuments, buildings and souks in a number of cities, including, first and foremost, the city of Aleppo, which calls to mind the horrors of World War II (for instance, 140 historical buildings, thousands of shops in the old souks and hundreds of houses were destroyed and damaged in the old city), Homs, Daraa and Bosra, which have witnessed the destruction of Syria’s rich, diverse and unique cultural heritage.

Today, the situation has worsened dramatically, reaching alarming levels in the vicinity of the ancient city of Palmyra with unpredictable consequences following ISIS militants’ attack on the city. Our fears, hence, will aggravate if the ancient city falls under ISIS control, which will result in a real tragedy befalling a great civilization worthy of protection by all means. This civilization was once a monumental city sitting on an important trade route linking the east with the west during the Roman era. It was also marked by its buildings, temples, tombs and theaters.

Today, this city is facing an imminent threat to its ruins and its very survival, which can lead to a real disaster inflicted on Syria’s history and wipe out its glorious past. Moreover, we should not fail to remember the damage and destruction besetting our cultural heritage as armed gangs of antiquities spread all over the city in the summer of 2013 and conducted various acts of excavations, theft and systematic destruction of tens of archaeological sites, hills and cemeteries (in addition to what happened in Dura Europos and Mari in Deir ez-Zor, Hammam al-Turkman in Raqqa, Tell Ajaja in southern Hasaka, Apamea in central Syria, Ebla and some sites in the Dead Cities in Aleppo and Idlib and tens of sites in rural Daraa). Those sites have been classified as disaster areas whose great history is irreplaceable.

Thus, we believe that we are bound to make mention of Resolution 2199 adopted by the Security Council on 12 February 2015, which reaffirms its decision on preventing and suppressing the financing of terrorist acts as well as protecting the endangered cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq. We also hope that this resolution will be followed by executive actions embodying the international will in preserving Syria’s cultural heritage which is subjected to unprecedented dangers and challenges (for example, obligating the neighboring countries to control their borders, fight organized smuggling operations in our cultural heritage across those borders and prevent the systematic damage carried out by extremist and terrorist groups).

Thus, we call upon all Syrians nationwide to unite and come together to stand up to extremist and terrorist smuggling gangs targeting our history and heritage in a brutal and systematic fashion. We also urge them to take part in this cultural battle to defend our history and identity represented by our diverse, rich and incomparable cultural heritage.

We would like to thank the workers at the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums all over Syria, who believe in their historical role in safeguarding our heritage, and who are steadfastly resolute to carry on with this decisive battle through defending our heritage in such dire conditions and confronting all sorts of risks while performing their duties.

We would like also to express our sincerest gratitude to all those who have supported us in our mission of defending our heritage through providing help, expertise, guidance and assistance, both individuals and institutions, at the national and international levels, including the Syrian people, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and its regional offices, ICOMOS, ICCROM, ICOM, the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage (ARC-WH) in Bahrain, the ICCROM-ATHAR Regional Conservation Centre in Sharjah, the World Monuments Fund in New York, Associazione Priorità Cultura in Rome, the international Interpol, the World Customs Organization and international archaeological institutes working in Syria, including archaeological expeditions and archaeologists.

Finally, we would like to assure that we are not going to lose this battle targeting our existence, history and civilization. In addition, we will spare no effort and will go to great lengths to protect and rescue our cultural heritage which constitutes an invaluable component of the human heritage.

Damascus, May 15, 2015

Publié le 18/05/2015

Prof. Maamoun Abdul Karim is Director-General of Antiquities and Museums, Syria