Heritage for PeaceHERITAGE FOR PEACE: We believe that cultural heritage is a common ground for dialogue and a tool to build peace. Thus, we support heritage workers in the protection of cultural heritage for future generations.
This newsletter provides a summary of the most recent reports on the damage to Syria’s heritage. It should be stressed that much of this data cannot be verified, but it is hoped that it will assist in the documentation of the damage occurring, and help raise awareness.
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(Photo: Ruins of Kalybe in Bosra. Photo copyright: DGAM)
Damage to UNESCO site in ancient city of Bosra
A DGAM preliminary report shows significant damage from vandalism, illegal looting, and shelling, to a number of sites within the old city. Information and a dozen pictures can be foundhere. The UNESCO page on Bosra with photos before the damage is here.
There is significant damage to religious sites in Bosra, including al-Omari Mosque, Fatima Mosque, Abou al Feda Mosque, al-Hajar Mosque, and Mabrak Mosque, as well as Shmis Monastery and Monastery of Monk Bahira. DGAM details found here. (same page).
AAAS assessment of Syria’s UNESCO sites with high-res satellite imagery
The American Association for the Advancement of Science has released a story entitled, “New high-resolution satellite image analysis: 5 of 6 Syrian World Heritage sites ‘exhibit significant damage’” (18 September). Susan Wolfinbarger, director of the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project at AAAS, says only Old Damascus appears unchanged according to the photographs. Syria’s World Heritage Sites include the Old City of Aleppo, Bosra, Palmyra, the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria, and the Crusader castles of Krak des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din (Background of the sites can be found from UNESCO here ).The full highly detailed report of AAAS with before-and-after photographs can be found here.
More damage in Aleppo
Aleppo Archaeology has posted a photo of damage to the courtyard pavement of Great Umayyad Mosque of Aleppo, found here.
Aleppo Archaeology has posted a photo of damage to Bab al-Naser/Bab El Nasser in Aleppo. View the photo here.
Correction: The DGAM had previously reported the destruction of the Hammam (see original release here). The DGAM now notes that the site has been damaged, rather than totally destroyed. DGAM suggests the confusion is related to the fact that it is impossible to get antiquities officials to the area due to ongoing fighting, and reports rely solely on social media. Details are here.
Destruction of holy sites
Various sources reported on 23 September the destruction by ISIS of the Holy Martyrs Armenian Church in Deir ez-Zor. See article here. This elicited a strong reaction from the Armenian government, which called it ‘cultural genocide’ here.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has stated that amongst the ‘dozens of shrines, tombs, and Shia mosques’ destroyed by ISIL, the latest round of damage has seen the destruction of ‘two shrines and two tombs belonging to Sufi Muslims’ near Deir el-Zor/Deir Al-Zor. Read the article from Reuters run by Haaretz here. It should be noted, however, that Conflict Antiquities disputes the veracity of this claim, and discusses the evidence here.
Updates on Looting
(Looters seen on the site. Photo source: DGAM)
Looting in Tel-Ashaari
The DGAM reports illegal excavations at Bronza Age-era Tell Ashaari west of Daraa. See the update here.
Reports and Updates from the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums
DGAM to operate courses to train personnel in preserving cultural heritage
The DGAM announced on the 27th of September that courses to train personnel in the protection of cultural heritage will begin in Cairo on September 30th, with the support of UNESCO. Further training will follow in December and will involve participants from throughout the Middle East. See the full update here.
Programme for 50th anniversary of Ebla discovery
The DGAM held the event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Ebla discovery on 24-25 September in Damascus, as reported on the last newsletter (the news brief can be found here). The programme for the event, including speakers and lecture topics, can be found here.
Policy Changes and Updates from Syria
The Syria Campaign launches petition to UN Security Council
A petition has been launched by The Syria Campaign, addressed to the permanent members of the UN Security Council, to ban the trade in Syrian antiquities. The petition can be found here.
ASOR Syrian Heritage Initiative continues
Together with the US Department of State, the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) have established a one-year program alluded to in previous newsletters, “The Syrian Heritage Initiative”. This program is designed to preserve and protect projects in Syria. More can be found on their website, here. The initiative was discussed by US Secretary of State John Kerry, together with the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas Campbell, and the Met’s President, Emily Rafferty, in the event “Heritage in Peril: Iraq and Syria” at the Met in New York during the week of the UN General Assembly. This event also involved the Director General of UNESCO. Highlights from the event, including a video of Secretary Kerry’s speech, can be found here.
The Times of Israel has a story from AP entitled “Islamic State threatens ancient sites in Iraq, Syria” (19 September) Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s director-general of antiquities and museums, noted that there were “hundreds of people excavating on some days from dawn to nightfall, with gunmen and gangs involved” in Dura Europas. Dealers are present, and artefacts are sold on the spot.
“ISIS Profiting From Looting ‘Priceless’ Syrian Artifacts”, (15 September) offers an audio interview with Amr Al-Azm, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies at Shawnee State University in Ohio. (7”22). Al-Azm notes in particular that there is an incentive to loot, as much of the profits revert back to those who found the artefacts, and that ISIS has been facilitating looting by providing heavy machinery and contractors.