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.
(Photo Copyright: EFE, Una ONG une a los sirios en la defensa de su patrimonio cultural único, in MSN, here)DGAM article on Heritage for Peace Conference on Syria’s heritage
“The Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums is involved in an international conference in Spain on “Heritage and Conflict. Lessons to safeguard Syrian Heritage”, hosted by the city of Santander, Spain, and organised by the Institute of Prehistory at the University of Cantabria (IIIPC), in collaboration with the association Heritage for Peace (H4P) and the European Institute of the Mediterranean in Barcelona (CSIC). Attending the conference, which begins today, 23 April, and continues to April 25, are experts from Syria, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Iraq, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other countries. The importance of this conference is in its role to establish a climate for co-operation and the exchange of experience, paving the way to mobilize international co-operation to provide artistic and technical assistance to rehabilitate the archaeological heritage which was damaged during the crisis experienced by Syria. Also the conference will present experiences from countries who have recently suffered from devastating conflicts to their cultural heritage, and it will discuss the impact of the current crisis on cultural heritage of Syria, and propose measures that can help protect the heritage currently at risk, proposing possible actions to mitigate risks such as illegal excavation and trafficking in cultural property. The first day of the conference program includes case studies of cultural heritage in several countries affected by wars which have damaged cultural heritage, the current restoration work, and the experiences of heritage conservation during these conflicts, as examples to propose measures to reduce the current damage to cultural heritage in Syria. On the second day, experts will present the current situation of the cultural heritage in Syria, and the third day is a special session: these are to analyse the elements that can help to limit the damage and protect and restore the injured cultural heritage, in addition to evaluating the effectiveness of international conventions and protocols currently in place and the recommendations that can be applied. It is worth noting that with both the Institute of Prehistory at the University of Cantabria and the European Institute of the Mediterranean in Barcelona (CSIC), there has been previous cooperation since 2003 in archaeological research projects in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan.”To read the full article (in Arabic),An international conference in Spain to assist in the protection of the Syrian cultural heritage, on the DGAM website, click here.
Updates on Damage
(Photo: Crak des Chevaliers, July 2010. Photo copyright: E Cunliffe)Journalists reconstruct the battle for Crac des Chevaliers.
“Journalists from The Associated Press reconstructed the battle for Crac des Chevaliers after talking to Syrian soldiers and local residents during a rare trip by Western media to the castle since its capture by government troops in March. They talked of residents of Hosn and rebels using the castle walls as a last refuge, much like the Crusaders before them. […]About two years ago, Assad’s forces identified the Sunni-populated village of Hosn as backing the rebels. They began an armed blockade that allowed no one to leave or go inside. The government said Hosn harbored foreign, al-Qaida-linked armed insurgents who terrorized neighboring, mostly Christian villages.
“The terrorists killed and kidnapped people and even chopped off their heads,” said a Syrian army officer, using the government term for the insurgents. “We had to stop them at any cost.”
He spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. His claim could not be independently verified […]Under the heavy bombardment last winter, Hosn’s population of around 9,000 people had nowhere to go but up the hill to the castle. Some fled to neighboring Lebanon in a daring dash through the army blockade. Hundreds barricaded themselves inside the castle — men, women and children.
Among them were dozens of rebel fighters who occasionally lobbed mortar shells from inside the tall walls, hitting nearby Christian villages, government soldiers and locals say.
The insurgents are overwhelmingly from the country’s Sunni majority. Shiite Muslims and Christian minorities have either remained neutral or supported Assad, fearing for their fate should hard-liners come to power.
Those who found shelter inside the citadel ate little food they had taken with them, or sneaked out at night to search for anything that can be cooked, including cats and dogs. For seven months, they slept in the tiny church inside a walled compound, or in huge and dark stone halls used as horse stables by the Crusaders in the 12th century.
Mattresses and blankets, together with clothes, shoes and gas cookers lay scattered on damp stone and soil floors inside the castle when AP journalists recently visited it. Pages from a copy of the Quran fluttered in the breeze inside the church, which was turned into a mosque when Ottomans captured the fortress in the 13th century.
The villagers apparently hoped that castle’s thick walls and its historic importance would prevent the Syrian army from further shelling. It didn’t.
In March, during a massive government offensive against opposition strongholds on the border with Lebanon, Syrian jets unleashed a series of airstrikes. Heavy cannon fire pummeled the castle walls, with shells causing some ancient stone structures to crumble. Some of the shells ricocheted against the mighty stone structures, leaving deep marks on the historic citadel.
The army did not stop there. Its tanks went house to house in the empty village, methodically destroying each. […] About 300 villagers and rebels were killed in the offensive, hundreds more were wounded while thousands managed to flee under fire across the border to Lebanon, according to government figures. Hundreds surrendered or were captured.
“A lot of people have been killed by the terrorists,” said Rami Sarheed, a 23-year-old Christian from the nearby village of Nasra. The government offensive “had to be done so that Syria returns to normal.”
But what normal is remains in question in this now ghostly village, where two olive-green Syrian army tanks hoisting large government flags stand guard on the main road.”To read the article in the Washington Post, Syria’s historic Crusader Castle damaged by war, click here.
(Photo: Destruction of the Assyrian lions from Arslan Tash. Photo copyright: Syriana)strong>Reports on damage to Raqqa
The Assyrian Lions from the entrance gate at Arslan Tash were deliberately destroyed using a bulldozer at the end of April. The statues, which date to the 8th century, were excavated from the site of Arslan Tash in 1928 by the French. Two were taken to stand outside the Aleppo Museum (now heavily sandbagged, but at great risk) and two were taken to a public park in Raqqa. One of these was 30% restored. Both are now utterly destroyed.
Photos of the damage can be found here on Twitter (no account necessary), and shared by the DGAM.
Lovely photos of the lions in situ during the excavation can be found here.
A recently released video lists the damage sustained to the archaeological monuments and museums at Raqqa. Shells hit the ancient city walls, and the old mosque, Qasr-al-Banat, and the Baghdad gate are under threat of destruction due to restoration stopping, and illicit digs and looting of the site. It also says that hundreds of objects were stolen from the museum, including pottery, mosaics and stucco, many of which have come from Hercules temple nearby the city. One of the interviewees is asking Islamic institutions to intervene and save the site. Another indicates that the site represents the identity of Raqqa residents.
Translation with thanks to A Badran.
The video (in Arabic) is available on Al Jazeera English here.
An extensive interview was conducted by Franklin Lamb with an employee of the Raqqa Museum regarding the human rights situation in Raqqa, and the state of the museum and sites around Raqqa. The interview is too long to reproduce here, but provides a detailed insight. Site translations, where available, are in the section on looting below.The full interview, “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”, is available in al-Manar here.
(Photo: damage to Ma’aloula, April 2014. Photo copyright: souriabaladi)Reports of extensive damage to the Tentative World Heritage Site Ma’aloula are released.
According to an article in the Telegraph newspaper,
“Syrian army officers showed off their latest conquest in the long back-and-forth war with the country’s rebels, the monastery of St Sergius was a sorry sight. The same shellfire that had helped to drive the rebels out had breached its massive limestone walls and, inside what had long been seen as a symbol of Syria’s religious freedom, broken icons lay on the ground alongside crosses, catechisms, and images of the Virgin Mary – though it was not possible to ascertain the cause. […] His friend, Imad, said there had been 32 churches in Maaloula and claimed that “all of them have been destroyed” – although it was clear from the vantage point near the monastery that in fact churches were still standing, albeit with signs of damage and some burning. […] I can’t describe my feelings because the terrorists are destroying the Christian religion,” said Imad, who said he had been an electrician in Maaloula before he joined the military and the rest of his family moved to Damascus two years ago. Samir claimed that the rebels had behaved brutally to young men of the town when they first arrived, killing many. However, there have been no documented massacres of Christian inhabitants under the rebels’ rule of Maaloula and a group of nuns who were released last month after being kidnapped by the Islamist group, Jabhat al-Nusra, said they had been treated well. […] Deep inside its walls is a small Christian church, one of the most ancient in the world, dating back to the Fourth Century. It had suffered heavy damage and its altar had been smashed in two.”Read the full article in the Telegraph, Syria war: Maaloula’s monastery destroyed after Assad forces drive rebels out, here.
(Photo: damage to the Aleppo Museum. Image copyright: Wall Street Journal)Damage to the Old City of Aleppo
In this interview with Ammar Kannawi, Curator of the Aleppo Museum, the curator reports on the danger to the Museum, and the precautions taken, lamenting the fact that it is so hard for UNESCO to reach them.
70% of the Old City is now estimated to have been destroyed.
The Wall Street Journal interview, Syrian Curators Strive to Save Artifacts Amid War, can be viewed here (video).
The Islamic front have declared a major offensive from the Mosque in the area around the Aleppo Citadel and the Carlton Hotel against the other factions. Violent clashes have occurred and more than 50 people are reported dead.
A You-Tube video released by the Islamic Front describing these events can be viewed here.
The Facebook group Aleppo Archaeology have released “before and after” pictures of the damage to the minaret of the Al-Dabbagha Mosque, north of Great Mosque. The minaret is Ayyubid, or possibly Mamluk, although the mosque itself is later. Structural weaknesses and damage to the Gallery are visible in the first photo, but the second shows a clear hole in the minaret walls, threatening the structural integrity. The photos can be viewed here.
A team from the Aleppo Antiquities Department entered the Museum of Folk Traditions and viewed the previous status quo. The situation of the construction of the museum is generally good, although there are cracks in the ornate wood-beamed ceilings of the museum rooms, and distortions in the stone walls, some of the interior walls, and the bathrooms floor due to mortar shells. The Directorate report explained that room doors and windows of wood and glass overlooking the courtyard are destroyed, and the water fountain has broken / disappeared? […] They could not view the second storey due to the difficult and dangerous security situation.
Additional information is available in the full article (in Arabic) on the DGAM webpage here.
A photo of damage to the Aleppo Mosque was taken and shared by by A A Abo Aljood: it can be viewed here on Facebook (no account should be necessary to view the image).
A photo of the destruction of the area around the citadel was shared by the Facebook group Aleppo Archaeology. It can be viewed here.
(Photo: damage to Um al-Zenar. Photo copyright: souriabaldi)Damage to the Church of Um al-Zenar
Armed groups apparently set fire to the Church of Um Al-Zenar before they left the area of Homs. No further details or verification are available. The site of the current Church is said to date to 59AD, and the modern liturgy is also apparently 1st century. The church held a belt reputed to have been worn the Virgin Mary: however it has been the subject of extensive damage.
The original photo, which was shared by the Facebook group Eyes on Heritage can be found here.
(Photo: damage to Old Homs. Photo copyright: Lens Young Homsi)Photo of damage to churches and mosques in Old Homs
Photo of damage to the outside of, and area around, ancient churches and mosques in the Bustan Al-Diwan area of Old Homs. The original image, by citizen journalist organisation Lens Young Homsi, can be found here.
(Photo: damage to Homs Souk. Photo copyright: Eyes on Heritage)Photo of damage to the historic Homs souk
Photo of damage to the outside of and area around historic Homs souk. The original picture is shared by Eyes on Heritage and can be found here.
(Photo: damage to Khalid ibn Walid Mosque, Homs. Photo Copyright: shared by Eyes on Heritage)Evidence of the damage to Khalid ibn al Walid Mosque, Homs
A recent photo shared by the Facebook group Eyes on Heritage shows the damage to the outside of the mosque. It is available here.
A video of the mosque has also recently been released, showing the damage to the outside, and also the barricades which have been set up in some of the lower windows, suggesting a military use.
The You-Tube video, by the account Coordinating the Khalidiya neighbourhood of Homs, can be viewed here.
(Photo: Abu Habel Mosque, Damascus. Photo Copyright: Lens Young Dimashqi)Abu Habel Mosque, Midan, Damascus, used as military checkpoint
A recent photo by the citizen journalist Lens Young Dimashqi shows the Abu Habel Mosque in Midan, Damascus, is being used as a militayr checkpoint. It is available here.
Damage to the Al-Adiliya Library, Damascus
According to the group Eyes on Heritage, a shell fell on the Old City of Damascus, damaging the Al-Adiliya library on 05 May.
Updates on Looting
(Photo (Christian Science Monitor caption): “The sun sets behind ruined columns at the historical city of Palmyra, in the Syrian desert, some 150 miles northeast the capital of Damascus November 12, 2010″. Copyright: Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters/File)More news of looting, especially at the World Heritage Site of Palmyra
“The Army shelled this and other areas on the pretext that rebels were hiding there. The bombing opened up new craters, allowing people easy access to ruins. Some citizens stole ruins seeking a profit, FSA fighters also took stuff to get money for ammunition.”. […] An illicit trade in such artifacts existed well before the conflict, but fear of the mukhabarat, intelligence, kept a check on it. Getting caught could result in a 15-year prison sentence. […]”Now there is no more fear,” he says. […]Tedmuri considers anything not registered with UNESCO before the war to be fair game. Most of his clients are Turks linked to smuggling mafias or other Syrians working in the business, although one piece was bought directly by a private buyer in Germany. He also makes the occasional trip to Istanbul to sell smaller artifacts to foreign collectors and oriental shop merchants.
Not all of the items in Tedmuri’s collection come from Palmyra. He also has a piece of pottery recovered from Idlib Province, which is rich in ruins. The ceramic vase allegedly dates to the Mari kingdom, a Bronze Age civilization that flourished on the western bank of the Euphrates River. He first put the item up for $500, but in a moment of despair he offered to sell it for $150. […]Tedmuri complains that newcomers have driven down prices by flooding the market and ignorantly selling artifacts for less than they are worth. Only half-joking, he says he hopes for a crackdown by the Turkish authorities to drive prices back up.
“Precious pieces are being sold for $300 to $400 a pop – nothing!” he says with genuine indignation. “Veteran smugglers feel sad when they see such items fetching such low prices.”
In a tattered apartment in Reyhanli, three smugglers lay out a sample of their goods. One is an elderly man sporting glasses, the second a wounded rebel seeking a quick commission to cover medical costs, and the third an ex-tourism worker who speaks a smattering of English.
Their stock in Turkey includes ancient ceramic figurines from Talbiseh in Syria, Bronze Age coins, and blackstone oil lamps. They also have a collection of images on their phones of artifacts they say are in Syria but can be brought to Turkey at a moment’s notice for the right price.
They want $3,200 for a trio of an Ancient Greek high-relief silver coin emblazoned with the owl of Athena, a limestone cup, and a metal bird figurine they obtained from another smuggler. A fist-sized Roman head, tagged at $3,500, is their trophy piece.
When pressed, the wounded rebel – a middleman for a bigger player – says he is willing to sell the silver coin for $200.
“He is desperate and doesn’t know the value of what he has,” says the eldest man, exasperated.”Read the full article, Syrian smugglers enjoy a free-for-all among ancient ruins, in the Christian Science Monitor here.
The article interviews a woman (Umm Ahmad) who witnessed armed men digging for antiquities underneath the site. She also says heavy machinery was working on the site for a short while. There are several holes as a result of the digging activities, some of which reveal wooden columns.
An archaeology graduate, Ziad Alta’meh, speaks about more destruction. he indicates that these digs will affect the structure of the castle due to the tools and methods used. It also affects the image of the castle (beauty). Moreover, some of the objects that were dug out were illegally smuggled and sold outside the country.
An archaeology enthusiast, Abu Salem, suggest solutions: Strict laws to punish looters, enhanced monitoring of sites, public awareness campaigns, customs responsibility to prevent illicit trade, the provision of details of looted objects to the concerned international organisations.
(Translation A. Badran)Read the full article, Illegal Excavation in Al-Rahbah Castle, in Arabic here.
Details of extensive looting in the area around Raqqa.
An extensive interview was conducted by Franklin Lamb with an employee of the Raqqa Museum regarding the human rights situation in Raqqa, and the state of the museum and sites around Raqqa. The interview is too long to reproduce here, but provides detailed information on the lives of the people of Raqqa, and
the military occupation of the museum,
precautions taken to protect it,
the conflicted nature of the looting, the destruction, and the museum’s protection,
the current status of the stolen museum antiquities,
the bravery of the staff in attempting to secure the collections,
the status of the Heraqla warehouse,
and the illegal excavations of the sites around Raqqa.
Site names, where it was possible to confirm them, are:
The hill of “Al Sabee Al Abead,” [Tell Sabi Abyad]
The hill of “Shaheen” [Tell Shaheen]
The hill of “Hamam Al Turkmen” [Hamam al-Turkman]
Most of (the) hill of “East Dammer” and “West Dammer” [?]
The hills of “Almafsh,” [?],
“Alsawan” [Tell Sawwan],
and “Alsheikh Hassan” [Tell Sheikh Hassan]
“Ghanem Al Ali” [?]
Al Swehat” [Tell Es-Sweyhat]
The hill of “Moumbaqa.” [?]
Corrections are gratefully received.
The full interview, “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”, is available in al-Manar here.
Reports and Updates from the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums
DGAM report on damage to site sin Deir ez-Zor translated
An extensive report was published by the DGAM on 17 April 2014 on damage to archaeological sites in the Deir Ez-Zor area. The Arabic report is available here.This report has now been translated, and is available here. Whilst all every attempt has been made, Heritage for Peace cannot guarantee all site names are correctly translated. Corrections are gratefully received.”Increasing intensity in some locations. The report shows continued scraping, illegal drilling, architectural violations of other forms of abuse of some hills. However, there are access difficulties as some of the sites are on the banks of the Euphrates. Mari: The entire site has been exposed to drilling and vandalism by an increasing number of armed robbers, some of whom are residents of near-by villages (3 villages named in the article), in particular the temples are damaged. Dagan Temple – following the sabotage and demolition of the walls, the temple is now destroyed. Temple of Ishtar – the walls have been demolished and the site sabotaged. Red Bloc – Al-Kutlah Al-Hamra’ [?]: destruction of the base of Rabat Al-Yanbou Al-Sakhriah (name of a goddess?) platform. Royal Palace: the theft of part of the roof, which covered the previously unknown demolition of some walls and sabotage. The southern section of the Royal Palace – the existence of several deep holes. Dura Europos: Illicit excavations, conducted as a business. Digging depths range between 5 to 6 within the western part of the site, and in the area of the cemetery outside the city walls. Thieves are using drilling equipment, and have recently demolished temple walls in search of treasure. The only thing left as a result of this sporadic destruction of the city is the wall surrounding the site, which is also facing threat of tearing down. There are also new buildings within the southern side of the site adjacent to the village Safsafa. Halabiyah: Levelling mechanisms have been used on the southern side of the site Asharh site [?]: Illegal excavations on the site and with the houses located on the hill, especially in the area east of the old mosque. In addition, building violations have increased within the hill and archaeological area (including 4 storey buildings and shops), scraping the side of the Asharh bridge wall, which dates to the 4th millennium BC. Taboss hill [Tell Tabous]: Cannot be reached to assess the condition Al-Basera [Alboseira / Al-Busayrah]: illegal excavations and levelling within the archaeological mound to establish earth mounds around it, and the spread of illegal buildings (shops) within the eastern archaeological area along the banks of the Khabur. Tell Alesna [Tell al-Sin]: Intensified drilling to the north-east of the site within the area of the Byzantine graves. In addition a levelling mechanism has been used inside the site. In the eastern part of the city, adjoining the wall, a multi-story building has been constructed. Al Rahba Fortress: Illegal excavations (the yard and storages) and in the Ayyubid town surrounding the castle: Excavations in the area surrounding the site Tomb of Sheikh Anas: The front end has been demolished, and there have been excavations in the area surrounding the shrine. The Tomb of Shiekh Shibli: Illegal explorations Tell Masaikh / Tell al-Masayih: excavations in the Acropolis? (الأوكروبول) area south west of the site. Tell Abu Hassan: Excavations within the hill area Zalibiyah: excavations within the castle Tell Abu Fahed: Located nead Al-Kasrah (or Kisrah)-Harmoushieh Village. The site is being dug by the residents. It is an important site in the Euphrates area as it contains city of Yakhdoon-Lim, which constitutes the northern territories of Tell Mari. Tell Al-Hamidah: Traces of construction work and digging of the Tell in Jazaret Abu Hmeid Village. Tell Jleeb (or Jaleeb) Al-Himmeh (or Al Hammah): Digging in the tell in Al-Kasrah/or Kisrah Desert. Tell Abu Radan: Digging in the tell in Al-Kasrah/or Kisrah Desert. Tell Barqas Foqani: Digging Tell Hareem (or Hreim): Digging Tell Abu Nhoud: Digging in the tell in Mohasan town Tell Qaftan: Digging Tell Al-Marwanieh: Digging by heavy machinery in the tell in Hardoub Village located in Dheiban area. Tell J’aabi: Digging in the tell in Hajeen village Tell Al-Madkouk: Digging in the tell in Al-Siyal Al-Sharqi Village Tell Al-Nafad: Digging in the tell in Al-Ghabra villageSites on the banks of Al-Khabour River:
Sites of Al-Khabour Al-Gharbi (Western Khabour):
Digging in Tell Al-Jibin/or Al-Jubun, Tell Al-Khan, Tell Talfees, Al-Hajnah, Al-Banat, Al-Fadein, Al-Soor, Al-Haseen. Removal of Tell Khan using heavy machinery.
Sites of Al-Khabour Al-Sharqi (Eastern Khabour):
Digging in Tell Abu Hayet, Mashekh and Tell Al-Sheik Hamad. Illegal activities increasing for the latter, plus the equipment of the German expedition stolen.
Unrecorded Tells: Tell Aby Al-Ateeq: Illegal construction work in the tell in Al-Kisrah area-Jazaret Meelaj village Tell Malhat Al-Tharou: Illegal excavations in the tell in Al-Kisrah area-Qariyat Al-Ali Desert. Recently, residents prevented looters from nearing the site. Ain-Ali [in Deir Al-Zour, but people are indifferent as to which town/village it belongs. Four different places are mentioned in the discussion as to where the site is located: Mahkan village, Qourieh Town, Asharah Town, Mayadin Town]. Excavations in the area surrounding the site
Vote on Museum closures on DGAM homepage
Visitors to the DGAM homepage may vote on whether to close museums. As of today (08 May) the votes stood at: Are you with the closure of museums in light of the current crisis?
11.86% the matter does not concern me (i.e. do not care)To vote click here and scroll to the far bottom left of the webpage.
Policy Changes and Updates from Syria
Volunteer artists and sculptors to contribute to restoration of Syria’s heritage
[Anna Mas’ad] “reveled [sic] that she is working in cooperation with the Center for Research and Studies in the Middle East, to gather the biggest number of volunteer artists and sculptors they could to contribute to restoration works of the Syrian archeological monuments and ruins damaged by the armed takfiri groups”.
Read the full article, Syrian young lady prides herself on Syria’s civilization before Spanish Queen, in SANA here.
(Not covered in other sections)
Reports and more information on the damage to Syria’s heritage
The new report (in German) by Archaeologik Blog on the situation in Syria, SyrienReport April 2014, is available here.
Of note, it highlights this webpage (in French) as an excellent source of information
In addition, it recommends the website Archaeology in Syria as a good source of more information.
The current events page is particularly useful, listing all forthcoming conferences on Syrian cultural heritage and cultural heritage protection.
Syria (PRWEB) / Israel Foreign Affairs. Syrian Expatriates Organization Reports that Syria’s Ancient Sites and Antiquities in Danger, Deliberately Targeted. 28 March 2014. Read the full article here.
When Memories Hurt… , an article in Preservation Journey Blog, 02 May 2014, available here.
Opinion column in The Journal Pioneer, Syria’s Past is Being Obliterated, 04 May 2014, available here.