Damage to Syria’s heritage 14 September 2014





Damage to Syria’s Heritage

14 September 2014

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


New from Heritage for Peace
  • none

Updates on Damage
(Photo: Remains of St. Samaan monastery. Photo copyright: DGAM)

Damage to UNESCO site Samaan Jabal in Aleppo countryside

  • The DGAM reports that the Monastery of St. Simeon has been subject to digging and ‘illegal building’. A bulldozer appears to have been used. Bathhouses, adjacent castle, and mosaics have been damaged. A report with pictures can be found here.
  • The DGAM reports that walls and other structures from a variety of sites in the surrounding area, including Zarzarita, Fadra, Sett Rum, Rafadeh, Taqla, Kafr, Bazid, and Batota have been broken down to provide building material. More documentation and photographs can be found here.
  • Details about background of the Syrian villages can be found at the UNESCO website in a number of languages, including Arabic and French, here.
Additional damage in Aleppo 

  • The Saraya Building in Aleppo has received damage. A short video shared by Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology shows ruins of the eastern section, which can be found here.
  • The Hammam Yalb(o)ugha (built in 1491) has been destroyed. Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology posted a video of the destruction here.
  • Aleppo Media Centre shared photos of damage to Bab al-Naser found here. The Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology shared a video surveying the site here.
  • Al-Hadadin Mosque has been damaged in fighting. View photo of the upper part of the 14th century mosque here from Association to Protect Syrian Archaeology.
  • Explosions caused further damage to the Grand Serail. The report by DGAM is here.
  • A picture of damage in Old Aleppo is found here, shared by Aleppo Archaeology.
  • Pictures of damage of different parts of Aleppo as of 3 September, from Shady Hulwe Reporter, found here (captions in Arabic).
Damage in Homs

  • Damage to Sahabi Dahyah bin Khalefa Al-Kulabie Mosque, Bab Al-Masdod neighborhood, Homs has been photographed (Homsy Camera) here.

Updates on Looting
                                          (Photo source: SAFE)

Heritage Crisis in Syria: A Call for a Moratorium on the Antiquities Trade

  • Saving Antiquities for Everyone (S.A.F.E., September 3, 2014) ran a story calling for a demand that Syrian antiquities no longer be purchased, as looting continues on a massive scale: ‘Regardless of which side of the trade we are on, we can demonstrate our collective commitment to save the past for our future by not aiding and abetting the destruction of our shared heritage’. Article here.
  • Much attention has been given to ISIS and looting. See News Updates below.
Intangible Heritage
  • None
Reports and Updates from the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums
DGAM celebrates 50th anniversary of the discovery of Ebla

A conference will be held at the Damascus Museum on September 24 and 25 under the patronage of the Minister of Culture. Prof. Paolo Matthiae from the Italian Archaeological Mission will participate via Skype. The Ebla site has given a wealth of knowledge about the ancient world since its discovery, but remains in danger. Information can be found here.

Exhibition raises awareness 

The DGAM reports that the exhibition ‘The Splendor and Drama of Syria’ successfully completed its journey in Rome the end of last month. The travelling exhibition was part of an effort to heighten awareness of the damage being done to Syria’s heritage. The note and pictures can be found here.

Policy Changes and Updates from Syria
  • None
International Activity

ASOR Syrian Heritage Initiative

The American Schools of Oriental Research provides a 6-point update on its Syrian Heritage Initiative, noting that the initiative will be on the agenda of the ASOR annual meeting in San Diego (November 2014) and may have a stand-alone conference at some point in 2015. Full article can be found here.

News Updates

(Not covered in other sections)

Looting funding terror

  • The Huffington Post reports on cultural damage (“Trading Treasure for Weapons: ISIS Campaign of Terror Strikes at Culture”, 9 September 2014) urging Secretary of State John Kerry to keep cultural heritage part of ‘the agenda of his coalition building efforts’.
  • The Wall Street Journal ran ‘Syria’s “Blood Diamonds:” A Nation’s War on Culture’ (8 September 2014) by Christian C. Sahner. The article discusses how ‘The nation’s heritage has been used as a weapon to finance bloodshed, to settle sectarian scores and to erase entire chapters of the country’s past in the expectation of radically reshaping its future.’ Sahner has a book coming out with OUP this month called Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present.
  • The International Business Times (September 4, 2014), covers the benefit IS receives from its looting activities. It observes that ‘the Islamic State is funding its jihad by plundering historical artifacts in Syria and Iraq’. The full article is here.
  • Islamic State makes millions from stolen antiquities’ (Al-Monitor, 4 September 2014) says the problem lies with ‘the warring parties’ indifference to historical heritage coupled with international traffickers taking advantage of authority vacuums in many areas.’
  • National Geographic, ‘Archaeologists train ‘Monuments Men’ to save Syria’s Past’ (September 3, 2014), leads with a discussion of the terrible damage to Dura Europos. Dr. Simon James, who previously worked at Dura, says that ‘the looters were bankrolled to a massive extent to do something like this’ referring to the ‘lunar landscape of spoil heaps’. The article reports on the workshop in Turkey also discussed by the NYT (below).
  • The New York Times has a story entitled “ISIS’ Antiquities Sideline” (September  2, 2014) written by three US-based academics who have recently trained museum staff in techniques to document and protect Syria’s heritage. They report that ISIS’ involvement in the illicit trade in antiquities is ‘more complex and insidious than we expected’, ranging from the encouragement of casual looting to the licensing of ‘semiprofessional field crews’ from Iraq. The authors conclude that ‘ISIS has caused irreparable damage to Syria’s cultural heritage.’
  • Artnet.com posted a brief story, ‘Is Isis Bankrolling Terrorist Activities with Stolen Antiquities” (2 September 2014).

This mailing list was produced by Dr Emma Cunliffe, in association with Heritage for Peace

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