I wish that headline was a bit of journalist hyperbole – but the pictures say otherwise. We’d all like to think that in the current civil war in Syria, its Roman and crusader sites – jewels that should be treasured forever – would be respected. But a civil war is always a brutal affair. YouTube videos of summary executions, torture and abuse of ordinary people show how the country has descended into hell. So what chance for its antiquities?
Before anybody says it – yes, people come before old buildings. And I don’t wish to be accused of being indifferent to the fate of Syrians because I’m a great supporter of the Arab Spring and the awakening of democracy in the Middle East. But on the ground – Syria is revealing all the worst aspects of human warfare.
When I heard that Aleppo was under fire from government troops – I naively thought the exchange of bullets would be reserved to the suburbs. But no – the main gate to the ancient citadel has been shelled and Time magazine has revealed the damage – click HERE for more. But worse than this is the smuggling and looting of antiquities – and shame on those dealers and buyers in the west who are aiding and planning these activities. As Time reports, the smuggling is not only for money now – but also for weapons. Priceless statues and artifacts are being traded for guns and bombs.
UNESCO has put out a statement – click HERE – warning that all of its six major historical sites have been damaged. And you have to remember that Syria has entire Roman and medieval villages dotted all over the country with incredible temple ruins. None of this has been spared in the fighting. A Facebook page has been set up to monitor the destruction including videos showing the bombing of old houses in Damascus and elsewhere. Click HERE to visit.
But surely – amidst all this madness – you would expect the magnificent crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers to be left untouched. It’s located in the desert near Homs and has remained in near pristine condition for eight centuries. Well, take a deep breath. It has been shelled and the chapel has been damaged. Click HERE for veteran Middle East journalist Robert Fisk‘s gloomy account in The Independent newspaper. He describes archaeological sites as having been ‘pulverised’.
What Fisk reports – and made me gulp – is the use of temples, castles and even a Roman amphitheatre as places for rebels to hole up. Inevitably, they then come under government fire with horrific consequences for human life and the heritage of Syria.
- Robert Fisk: Syria’s ancient treasures pulverised (independent.co.uk)
- Syria’s Looted Past: How Ancient Artifacts Are Being Traded for Guns (world.time.com)
- Syrian Battle Puts Art Treasures at Risk: Martin Gayford – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)