Damage to Syria’s heritage — 11 June 2015

 

 

Damage to Syria’s Heritage

11 June 2015

*Updated* Statement regarding information sharing and data verification

In light of the ongoing reports of destruction of heritage in the Middle East, Heritage for Peace would like to reiterate that it is not our purpose here to verify the reports referred to in this newsletter. Whilst we acknowledge the concerns posed regarding unverified information, the collation of such information serves to aid understanding of the conflict, and the motivations and priorities of the participants (both military and civilian), potentially aiding in finding solutions. In addition, it assists those who do verify such information and conduct damage assessments by providing comprehensive data, in order to aid stabilisation, damage mitigation and, future restoration and reconstruction. We would like to stress that whilst some of our reports are received from people on the ground, they are volunteers, and their safety is our first concern. Furthermore, whilst the ethical importance, and propaganda value, of raising awareness has also been debated, all heritage destruction should not pass unremarked, either by the public or the professional heritage community. We feel that the importance of heritage is fundamental to all humanity: its loss is a tragedy, and in acknowledging this, we pave the way to develop shared strategies for its protection.

We welcome opinions and suggestions and can be reached at: contact@heritageforpeace.org

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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Main Contents

New from Heritage for Peace | Updates on Damage | Updates on Looting | Intangible Heritage | Reports and Updates from the Syrian DGAM | Policy Changes and Updates from Syria | International Activity | News Updates

Stories

New from Heritage for Peace
Heritage for Peace involvement in the media  

  • HFP members have been interviewed by the press to discuss the heritage situation in Syria. Isper Sabrine was interviewed for RBB YV, ZDFSpanish T.V la sexta , Italian news paper Parole di Vitta, the Italian blog Gariwo, and Argentine Radio. Rene Teijgeler was interviewed on Brandpunt (Netherlands) and on NPO News at 3 in the Netherlands. Further interviews by Teijgeler have been given for Dutch television and radio news, BBC Radio Scotland, and Heemschut. HFP’s Greg Fisher was interviewed about Palmyra for Montreal’s Le Devoir on May 23 2015. HFP’s Emma Cunliffe discusses efforts to record heritage in light of the current crisis on May 26 2015 for New Scientist.

Updates on Damage
(Lion statue before alleged destruction.       Photo source: Wikipedia)

Palmyra site remains in danger

  • The International Business Times reported on May 27 2015 that the destruction of statues at Palmyra had already begun, here. However, the DGAM cautions that this has not been confirmed, here.
  • Video shows how Palmyra fell to ISIS here from Channel 4 News. Protect Syrian Archaeology shared a video shows the ancient city after being captured by ISIS here.
  • DGAM took several photos of the state of the site before the takeover, (May 18 2015) posted here.
Damage to north side of citadel in Aleppo. (Photo source: Aleppo Archaeology)

Damage updates for Aleppo 

  • Image shows the damage to the Museum at the citadel. Aleppo Archaeology, (June 11 2015) here.
  • Photographs show the damage to the Banqusa Mosque, Aleppo. See the image from The Syrian Association for Preservation of Archaeology and Heritage (June 3 2015) here.
  • Images show the damage to the temple of god Hadad at the citadel of Aleppo, shared by Aleppo Archaeology, (June 2 2015) here.
  • Images show damage to Al-Sawas Mosque in Jub Al-Quba, Aleppo. See them from Protect Syrian Archaeology (May 31 2015) here.
  • Image reveals damage to Abshir Pasha Mosque, Aleppo, shared by Aleppo Archaeology (May 28 2015) here.
  • Photographs show damage to Bab AlNaser/Naser, Aleppo. See them from Protect Syrian Archaeology (May 28 2015) here.
  • Aleppo Archaeology shares a photograph of damage to the North side of the citadel (May 23 2015) here.
  • The DGAM has provided over a dozen new photographs of the Aleppo citadel from the month of May, posted June 2 2015 here.

Updates on Looting
Authorities recover some looted artefacts

  • Finnish authorities seized a looted Ottoman-era artefact from Syria destined for Russia (June 5 2015). See the IB Times report here.
  • The BBC reports on June 5 2015 that the British Museum is safeguarding a looted Syrian artefact (no details provided) and hopes to return it to the country in the future here.
  • A consideration of ISIS’ motivations for destroying heritage can be found in the June edition of the New York Review of Books here.
  • Xinhua reports on items recovered by Syrian authorities (May 27 2015) here.
  • The Financial Times on May 23 2015 asks if we should “rethink our ideas about preserving world heritage”.
  • PBS reports on “How war has robbed Syria of its history” on May 19 2015.
Looting anticipated in Palmyra

Buzzfeed (May 21 2015) reports that smugglers anticipate “good business” from Palmyra. See details here.

Intangible Heritage
Species of Ibis in Syria threatened by conflict

The BBC reports on May 24 2015 that the Syrian conflict is threatening the survival of the Northern Bald Ibis, close to Palmyra. See the full report here.

Syrian art exhibition opens in Amsterdam

The first Syrian modern art exhibition in the Netherlands opened May 29 and will run until June 21. It features the modern art of Syrian diaspora artists. It is being held at ABC Treehouse Voetboogstraat, Amsterdam. See more, covered from Versal journal, here.

Reports and Updates from the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums
DGAM updates on Palmyra

DGAM has posted regular updates concerning the situation in Palmyra:

  • The DGAM announced “cooperation initiatives” with the people of Palmyra/Tadmur on June 1 2015, drawing on close connections between the local community and the archaeological site here.
  • DGAM posted a brief that the Palmyra site is in danger (May 21 2015) here, as well as a statement that the artefacts have been moved to a safe location here.
  • Before the ISIS capture, DGAM reported that steps have been taken to remove valuable objects to remote locations and to reinforce/bury some structures here (May 16 2015). Additionally, a statement from the Director-General was posted the same day here.
DGAM sponsors educational events

  • The DGAM is participating in a 10-day course in Beirut, “First Aid to Cultural Built Heritage in Syria”, which began on June 1 2015. For details, see here.
  • The DGAM held a conference between May 20 and 21 at the Damascus Museum, examining the government’s response to the heritage crisis in Syria. See here for details.
Policy Changes and Updates from Syria
  • None
International Activity
Countries working to protect Syrian heritage

  • US Congress bans sale of looted Syrian artefacts June 1 2015. See the report from Al Monitor here or US News here. Additionally, Katharyn Hanson’s testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee can be found on video here.
  • The anti-IS coalition meeting in Paris on June 2 2015, discussed, among other strategies, the protection of cultural heritage, reports the BBC on June 2 here.
  • Further coverage of the “Cairo Declaration”, intended to stop trade in “blood antiquities” can be found from Al-Ahram (May 21 2015) here.
  • UNESCO praises countries engaged in “the prohibition of cross-border trade of cultural objects from Syria and Iraq” here.
  • New exhibit opens at the Oriental Institute, Chicago, from May 21 2015: “A Threatened Heritage”, an exhibit “made up of a series of graphic panels interspersed throughout [the] permanent galleries, with a focus on Mesopotamia (Iraq and Syria), the Southern Levant, Egypt, and Nubia.” For further details. see here.
UNESCO continues efforts to protect Syrian heritage

  • UNESCO has provided a visual representation of its efforts to safeguard Syrian heritage via the Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage project: on May 27 2015 here.
  • UNESCO calls for immediate end to fighting in and around Palmyra on May 20 2015 here.
  • UN efforts alone are insufficient to halt antiquities smuggling, according to interviews of UNESCO experts in the Middle East Eye (June 4 2014) here.
News Updates

(Not covered in other sections)

Palmyra in the news

  • Franklin Lamb asks whether IS is ‘open to a deal on Palmyra’ (June 1 2015) here.
  • Fox News considers ‘Archaeology’s Victims of War’ (May 27 2015).
  • WNPR interviews Stefan Simon, director of the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage at Yale University, concerning Palmyra and heritage destruction (May 26 2015) here.
  • Palmyra theatre apparently used for executions by IS

    (May 27 2015). See here for coverage.

  • IS released images of Palmyra found here, and also released an audio statement about Palmyra claiming it will destroy statues, which can be found here.
  • The National on May 25 isolates the plight of Palmyra within the Syrian conflict here.
  • Some areas of Palmyra received aerial bombardment, covered by the Telegraph here , the Independent here, and Israel National News here (May 25 2015).
  • A Facebook page has been set up, seemingly linked with those on the ground in Syria, to provide updates here.
  • The BBC on 23 May 2015 reports that IS has ‘locked’ the museum in Tadmur.
  • Pulitzer Prize-winner Dexter Filkins reflects on ISIS in Palmyra for The New Yorker on May 21 2015.
  • Associate Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture Stephanie Mulder (UT-Austin) shares her thoughts on Palmyra here.
  • Franklin Lamb assesses the “Fall of Palmyra” for CounterPunch (May 21 2015). Notably, the article highlights the comments made by John Kerry about protecting Syria’s heritage, and the possibility of imminent international action.
  • Vice News (May 20 2015) covers the fears of looting at Palmyra here.
  • Washington Post (May 20 2015) carried a piece on “Why Palmyra matters.”
  • Boris Johnson writes eloquently about Palmyra in the Telegraph on May 17 2015 here.
  • The Daily Mail on May 17, 2015 reported on efforts made by Syrian personnel in Tadmur to protect the city of Palmyra here.
Looting and destruction Syria’s heritage in the news

  • The Telegraph reports on efforts by ‘digital monuments men’ to curb the trade in illegal artefacts (June 6 2015).
  • National Geographic (June 4 2015) reports on local efforts to guard the site of Urkesh in northern Syria here.
  • There is ‘Method to ISIL’s vandalism madness’, reports 9News (Australia) on June 3 2015.
  • FP argues (June 2 2015) that defeating IS and stopping its looting of heritage are two sides of the same coin. The article addresses the question of whether efforts should focus on protecting people or protecting artefacts:

    “The focus is, as it must be, on the human tragedy. But mourning these attacks against heritage does not change that focus. As devastating as this destruction is, history warns us that worse is coming. Once you erase a people’s historical identity, the next step is to erase the people themselves.”

    See the full article here.

  • The Telegraph reports that IS sets up ‘ministry of antiquities

    (May 30 2015).

  • The Washington Post discusses why IS’ attack on heritage matters (May 29 2015) here.
  • The Times of Israel reports on May 29 2015 that Syria is not included in a new UN General Assembly resolution designed to protect cultural heritage from IS, blaming political wrangling. For further details, see here.
  • FP reports on how IS sells its looted artefacts (May 28 2015) here.
  • The National reports on a group called the “Committee for Shared Culture” on May 28 2015, which it terms “a secretive organisation”. See the article here.
  • ASOR has a general news aggregate page that can be found here,

     

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