Damage to Syria’s heritage – 13 April 2016

Damage to Syria’s Heritage
13 April 2016 

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. Heritage for Peace have released a statement concerning their stance on data recording, availbale here.

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Main Contents

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


New from Heritage for Peace

H4P’s SHLTR programme progressing 

  • Last week a member of Heritage for Peace attended the conference “Archaeological Heritage in the Arab World”, organized by the Faculty of Archaeology at Fayoum University, this week to discuss the relationship between Islamic law and heritage protection, meeting with a number of key Islamic scholars, who were very interested in our work!
  • At the weekend, the Board met in England to plan the project and meet with our key partner, Save Muslim Heritage. We are delighted to be working with such a committed group!

H4P members write articles

H4P members have penned articles discussing cultural heritage for the press:

  • HFP’s Bastien Varoutsikos, together with Jason Felch, writes about “the collision of iconoclasm and clickbait” on April 7 2016 for the Art Newspaper here, in a must read article questioning whether discussion heritage destruction contributes to it.
  • HFP’s Emma Cunliffe considers the ethics of rebuilding Palmyra on March 31 2016 for The Conversation here.
  • HFP’s Bastien Varoutsikos writes about Palmyra on March 29 2016 here.

H4P to present at CBRL/SOAS conference, London

This Friday afternoon, members of Heritage for Peace will present a collation of their work demonstrating how Syrians care for the their heritage, and the risks taken by them at the CBRL / SOAS Conference, The Past in the Present of the Middle East.
If you are around, come and join us…
(Details here)

H4P interviewed concerning Palmyra 

H4P has participated in numerous interviews concerning Palmyra, including de Morgen (March 30 2016) here, de Volkskrant (March 29 2016) here, I’editiondusoir (March 29 2016) here. and Servizio Informazione Religiosa (4 April 2016) here.

This last article, in particular, highlights the problems faced by the people in Palmyra/Tadmur, something which is too often overlooked.

Updates on Damage
Remnants of destroyed Roman arches in Palmyra. Photo Copyright: Bryan Denton for the New York Times.

Palmyra damage being assessed

  • In summary, approximately 80% of the site is undamaged, but the 20% that is gone includes the most important monuments. International opinion is divided on what to rebuild, how to rebuild it, and when to rebuild it.
  • The DGAM published aerial photographs of damaged monuments at Palmyra on April 4 2016 here. DGAM also shared photos from a preliminary site visit by its officials on March 30 2016 here, though access was limited due to the danger of mines and unexploded ordnance.
  • ASOR has published a special report on damage at Palmyra here. On March 30 2016 ASOR’s Syrian Heritage Initiative provided an update on satellite photo analysis of the Palmyra necropolis here, showing additional damage. See also here.
  • The Gates of Nineveh blog offers an analysis of the damage at Palmyra on March 31 2016 here.
  • According to the BBC on 6 April, Russian engineers are already at work removing mines from the site.
  • The Palmyra museum has received attention from RT, which has posted a video here and The Washington Times March 28 article here.
  • Press photographers have had a chance to visit Palmyra. The NYT goes inside Palmyra on April 4 2016, providing dramatic photographs of damage to the site here. Slate magazine looks at destruction in Palmyra on April 2 2016 with in-line before/after photos from Joseph Eid here.
  • Additional news articles (of which there are many) can be found in the News Section.
Damage to Qaryatayn. Photo credit: Lindsey Hilsum.

Destruction reported in Qaryatayn 

Lindsey Hilsum of UK’s Channel 4 news reports on destruction in Qaryatayn on April 4 2016, as does RT on April 5 2016 here and here respectively.

Further damage to Aleppo shown by drone footage 

  • The Aleppo Project reports updates on damage to the city on April 4 2016 here.
  • Drone footage shows damage in Aleppo on March 30 2016 uploaded on the BBC here.

Remains of Mar Elian Monastery recaptured, photos published.

According to the Telegraph, on 5 April, here, “Bones of Christian saints have been uncovered in the remains of a Syrian monastery blown up by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) militants last year.

Reporters published footage and photos from Mar Elian monastery as they entered the town of Al-Qaryatain yesterday, after it was recaptured by Syrian government forces.”

Updates on Looting

New Efforts to stop looting in Deraa province

According to Biladi news, in the article “Random Illicit Excavations in Deraa Province and Efforts to Stop It”, illicit excavations have become widespread in Deraa lately and the Free Syrian Army is trying to stop it. Deraa is known as a rich land for antiquities and many people are taking advantage of this to find ancient objects and sell them. Many of those people have no awareness about the importance of these objects and they only view them as a source of money, especially after the war and the economic collapse in Syria. Secret excavations were found in Bosra after it was liberated. Now, the Free Syrian Army is trying to stop these practices and the Department of Antiquities in Bosra City is playing a major role in spreading awareness.
The article, available here. It is in Arabic, and the translation was kindly provided by W. Albahri.

Palmyra again – stolen objects recovered

According to AhlulBayt News Agency, the Syrian authorities have recovered five artefacts stolen by Daesh from the Palmyra museum. “The artifacts were found buried inside a house in al-Maalef area in Palmyra”. Read the article here.

Looting continues to plague Syria

  • NBC interviews a smuggler and former Daesh member about Daesh’s looting activities (April 6 2016) here.
  • RT examines looting of artefacts via Turkey on March 31 2016 here.
  • Al-Monitor looks at private demand for artefacts and looting (April 7 2016) here.
  • International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) questions Russian assessments of Daesh’s  income from looting, in the Antiques Trade Gazette on April 8 2016 here.

Intangible Heritage

  • None

Reports and Updates from the Syrian People

Syrian Antiquities Department concerned for Bosra

The Department of Antiquities in Bosra City expresses its concern that all international attention is focused on Palmyra, and renews the calls for international aid for the World Heritage Site of Bosra that they have been making for a some time. The article, here is in Arabic, and the translation was kindly provided by W. Albahri.

Syrian architect Marwa al-Sabouni says architecture a key to rebuilding

The Guardian examines the vision of Syrian architect Marwa al-Sabouni for the “crucial role architecture will play in the future of Syria” on April 3 2016 here. She also discusses the current state of Homs’ heritage, and provides an extremely interesting perspective on the destruction and recapture of Palmyra.

“Hope is blind, and always manages to find its way into the human heart, mine included.”

Syrians discuss future of Palmyra

  • The DG of the DGAM, Maamoun Abdulkarim, writes about plans for Palmyra for The Guardian on March 26 2016 here.

    “We will issue a challenge to international terrorism, that no matter what you do you cannot erase our history, and we will not sit idle and weep over the ruins.”

  • The possibilities of rebuilding Palmyra are being debated. The DGAM on March 29 2016 responds here to inaccuracies that were printed in an article about Palmyra that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on March 28 2016 (here). See also H4P’s Emma Cunliffe’s article here.
  • Franklin Lamb highlights the work of the DGAM and the Syrian people in protecting Palmyra and its artefacts on April 1 2016 here.

DGAM co-creates new 3D model of the Temple of Bel

The DGAM provides a virtual tour of the exterior of the Temple of Bel on April 3 2016 here.

Syrian workers continue efforts to preserve heritage

The efforts of Syrian heritage workers risking their lives to defend the artefacts and sites is examined in the Times of Israel on April 1 2016 here.

Policy Changes and Updates from Syria

  • None

International Activity

Initiative works to restore mosaic museum

The Day After Heritage Protection Initiative has been working to assist in repairs and restoration to the mosaic museum at Maarrat al-Numan. See here for photos and details.

Arab League drafts document to protect heritage sites

Egypt Independent reports on April 4 2016 on Arab League efforts to draft a resolution “to protect Arab antiquities”. Read it here.

UN ‘blue helmets’ proposed to protect heritage sites

Interview with Francesco Rutelli on March 29 2016 (in Italian) goes into more detail about the proposal for UN “Blue Helmets” to protect heritage sites here.

Don’t forget the people

The Textualcultures blog examines the difficulty of reporting damage to culture when so many are killed and displaced by the Syrian war on March 31 here.

This isn’t an action, but with so much news about Palmyra, is it an important reminder.

International action concerning Palmyra’s future

  • NewPalmyra is crowdsourcing Syria’s destroyed heritage – See more here.
  • A new petition calls for UNESCO to intervene in plans to reconstruct Palmyra here.
  • Heritage & Culture of Syria is calling for submissions to syriaheritage@gmail.com with regard to how best to restore damage at Palmyra. For details, see here.

New funded PhD position open

A fully funded PhD Scholarship is being offered to work on a specific thesis attached to the project, ‘Heritage Destruction in Iraq and Syria’.

This is an exciting opportunity for a PhD candidate to work on a major project documenting and analysing heritage destruction in the Middle East, with a specific focus on the destruction wrought by the ‘Islamic State’. The project involves several key stakeholders, including government departments, and the opportunity to have a real impact on cultural property protection policy.

The scholarship is open to both domestic and international candidates, although the candidate would need to be based in Melbourne for the bulk of the study period. Applications close on the 30th April.

Please note: The ability to read/speak Arabic, although helpful, is not an essential eligibility criteria (as incorrectly listed on the job advertisement).

Brief details on the broader project are available here.

The advertisement for the scholarship can be seen here.

And to apply, please go to the Deakin website under ‘Arts and Education’ here.

ASOR publishes weekly report 81/2

ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives Weekly Report 81/2 (February 17 2016 – March 1 2016) has been posted here.

Key points from this report:

  • The Malthai Rock Reliefs in Dahuk were vandalized by graffiti (ASOR CHI Incident Report IHI 16-0005).
  • Two ISIL suicide bombings damaged the Shia Rasul al-Azam Mosque in Baghdad (ASOR CHI Incident Report IHI 16-0006).
  • An ISIL suicide bomber attacked a Shia mosque in Muqdadiyah, Diyala Governorate (ASOR CHI Incident Report IHI 16-0007).
  • Russian airstrikes damaged the al-Souq Mosque in Palmyra, Homs Governorate (ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 16-0029).
  • Aerial bombardment damages two mosques in the city of Aleppo (ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 16-0030).
  • A series of four suicide bombings occurred near the Shrine of Sayyida Zainab in Damascus Governorate (ASOR CHI Incident Report IHI 16-0031).
  • ISIL militants damaged or destroyed at least 19 Assyrian churches along the Khabur River in Hasakah Governorate since early 2015 (ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 16-0032).
  • Russian airstrikes damaged a mosque in Dar Ta’izzah, Aleppo Governorate (ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 16-0033).
  • The Day After Heritage Protection Initiative produced two condition assessments on heritage assets in Jaradeh and Serjilla in Idlib Governorate (Appended TDA Reports #1 and #2).
  • The Day After Heritage Protection Initiative also conducted a rapid site assessment to document damage caused by Russian airstrikes around the site of Ebla (Appended TDA Report #3).

ASOR publishes weekly report 83/4

ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives Weekly Report 83/4 (March 2 2016 – March 15 2016) is posted here.

Key points from this report:

  • Recent video shows the damage to the al-Kabir Mosque in Hayan, Aleppo Governorate, which was destroyed on February 10, 2016 (ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 16-0025 UPDATE).
  • DGAM reports illegal ongoing excavations at the Dead Cities of Dahes, Babisqa, and Dar Qita in the Jebel Barisha area of Idlib Governorate (ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 16-0034).
  • Several sources reported damage to the archaeological area of Palmyra, the Qalaat Shirkuh, and the Sayyeda Khadija Mosque in modern Palmyra, Homs Governorate (ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 16-0035).
  • Video footage shows damage to two churches in Raqqa, which were first damaged in September 2013, which are now occupied by ISIL (ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 16-0036).
  • A new video of the Abi Thar Al Ghafari Mosque in Tadmor, Homs Governorate, reportedly struck by SARG missiles in December 2015, shows the extent of the damage (ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 15-0160 UPDATE).
  • DGAM reports illegal excavation with heavy machinery has caused significant damage at the archaeological site of Tell Ajaja in al-Hasakah Governorate (ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 15-0037).
  • Coalition airstrikes caused extensive damage to al-Farouq Mosque in Kubaysah, al-Anbar Governorate (ASOR CHI Incident Report IHI 16-0008).

News Updates
(Not covered in other sections)

International discussions and debate ongoing on Palmyra’s future

  • International Council of Museums (ICOM) advises against hasty action with regard to Palmyra on March 31 2016 here.
  • The WSJ examines UNESCO’s plans for 3D reconstruction at Palmyra here.
  • Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, examines the failure of the international community to aid at Palmyra, and suggests that British archaeologists could help here. This opinion piece has been widely circulated in at least 9 newspapers, and – given its content – is unsurprisingly making waves.
  • Many of these discussions and the hypocrisy in them are criticised by Clarkson, in a tongue in cheek article in the Sunday Times, available here, which – unusually for the press at the moment – actually talks about the people. Sort of.
  • French historian Annie Sartre-Fauriat offers scathing opinions on the role of Palmyra in the current stage of the Syrian conflict in an interview with Deutsche Welle on March 31 2016 here. *see also* the piece in the IBTimes here and responses in The Conversation to discussions about international efforts to “save” Palmyra here. See also on the same topic The Gates of Nineveh blog “Palmyra Propaganda” on April 7 2016 here.

More discussions on Palmyra – Russian involvement

  • UNESCO’s DG Bokova and Vladimir Putin discuss the conservation and protection of Palmyra and its ruins on March 27 2016 here.
  • RT News reports (March 28 2016) on Russia’s intention to send demining equipment to Palmyra. See the 10 minute report here. As listed above, the engineers are now on site.
  • MEDMAK reported that Hermitage Museum in Moscow has offered to reconstruct the Ancient City of Palmyra. See here.

Damage to Palmyra in the news

  • The NYT reports the mining of Palmyra by Daesh here.
  • Ban Ki-Moon celebrates the recapture of Palmyra here.
  • Since the recapture of Palmyra, there has been extensive coverage of issues regarding damage and restoration, including Der Tagesspiegel here, PBS here, Irish Times here, WNPR here, and Swissinfo here.
  • The BBC goes inside Palmyra on April 1 2016 to report on damage here.
  • On March 28 2016 the NYT assesses the damage at Palmyra. The DG of the DGAM says that “the militants appeared to have deliberately slowed their assault on the ruins, fearing that they would stir a revolt among the local population.” Read it here.
  • Buzzfeed posted reports on March 28 2016 here.
  • Alnahar Journal published an article about the damage in Palymra titled “DGAM reported that tombs and temples have been destroyed and 400 artifacts have been saved” here (in Arabic).

Looting and destruction of Syria’s heritage in the news

  • Even though Palmyra is recaptured, Syria’s heritage is still under threat, reminds China Post on April 2 2016 here.
  • The Church Times on April 1 2016 reminds readers that the damage at Palmyra is only a small percentage of the damage to heritage in the Middle East, and highlights damage to churches and shrines. Read it here.

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