Damage to Syria’s heritage – 16 May 2015



Damage to Syria’s Heritage

16 May 2015

Statement regarding information sharing and data verification

In light of the recent reports of destruction of heritage in the Middle East, and acknowledging the value of this as a propaganda tool, Heritage for Peace would like to reiterate that it is not our purpose here to verify the reports circulated and referred to in this newsletter.  Our intent has always been the collation of all available data of possible heritage destruction in order to raise awareness of the problem, and assist 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. Considering recent debates concerning the value of unverified information, we are currently considering this position and will issue a formal statement in the next newsletter.  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


New from Heritage for Peace
Palmyra – Heritage for Peace in advisory role  

HFP is actively engaged in efforts to safeguard the World Heritage Site at Palmyra, working with the Syrian DGAM and offering advice to Syrian personnel involved in protecting the ruins.

Updates on Damage
(View of citadel overlooking Palmyra      Photo credit: BBC)

Palmyra site in danger

  • Videos show the fight between the ISIS and the Syrian army near the Citadel. (May 15 2015), shared by Protect Syrian Archaeology here and here.
  • Images show the fighting between the group of the Islamic State and the Syrian army near the archaeological area in Palmyra. (May 14 2015), from Protect Syrian Archaeology here.
  • The Guardian covers ISIS reaching gates of ancient Syrian city Palmyra, stoking fears of destruction (May 14 2015) here, as does the BBC in ‘IS Threat to Venice of the Sands‘ (May 15), and the Telegraph has a series of high-res photos and news here (May 16).
  • Avaaz has a petition to save Palmyra, stating, ‘We call upon all to protect humanity’s shared cultural heritage in Palmyra from airstrikes, from use of the site for military purposes, and from illegal excavations and looting.the upcoming hours will be a test for humanity, a chance to take action before the crime happens.’ The petition can be found here.
Explosion from tunnel bombs in al Qasab gate and the souq of Jdeidehedit in Aleppo. (Photo source: DGAM)

Severe Damage in Aleppo: New photographs 

    • Alzahrawy/ Zahrawi Madrasa in Aleppo has received damage, shown in an image shared byAleppo Archaeology (May 15 2015) here.


  • Report from Aleppo Archaeology shows the damage to the site of Al Jdadieh/Jdyada (May 12 2015) here.
  • DGAM has posted a wide-ranging set of photographs of historic Aleppo showing extent of damage to sites including the Grand Serail, the Carlton Hotel, and the Souq, here.
  • Photos shared by DGAM show damage to religious buildings throughout Aleppo, including the Umayyad Mosque,Al Dabagah mosque, and Maronite Saint Elias Cathedral here:
  • May 10, 2015: The AjakBash Museum has received some damage from fighting in the city. See here (May 7) and here (May 10) for more details.
  • DGAM reports that the Church of the Forty Martyrs received severe damage from clashes (here), and posted a photograph of the damage here. (April 29, 2015).
  • There was a collapse of some buildings by tunnel bombs by al Qasab gate and the souq of wool product in Jdeideh, DGAM reports here.

The Al-Imam An-Nawawi shrine in Nawa, destroyed by extremists.      (Photo source: DGAM).

Damage in Daraa 

  • The DGAM reports damage at Sharaa in the Daraa countryside on May 11 2015. See here for the brief.
  • The DGAM includes pictures in report of damage to the al-Omari Mosque and the old city at Daraa (Daraa al Baladhere.
  • There has been extensive damage at the town of Nawa, a Byzantine-era site, including illegal excavations and the destruction of Al-Imam An-Nawawi shrine. For details, see here.
Updates on Looting
Some of the artefacts now believed to be stolen from the warehouse in Raqqa.      (Photo copyright: Leiden University)

20+ Years of archaeological work from Tell Sabi Abyad looted 

Storehouses filled with over twenty years of carefully cataloged artefacts of archaeology from Tell Sabi Abyad have been looted and stolen. See the report by Megan Gannon for LiveScience here. Photos of the looted warehouse, piles of boxes and protective packaging strewn about can be found here.

Syrian DGAM recovers looted goods

The Times of Israel reports the seizure of as many as 6,000 articles of stolen goods by the Syrian DGAM here (May 9 2015), and also reported by PressTV here.

Intangible Heritage
Syrians have saved an ancient seed-bank

Syrians save seeds ‘dating back nearly to the dawn of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent’, protecting the invaluable genes and heritage of plant-seeds from the ravages of the war. See the report and photos by Lizzie Wade here.

Reports and Updates from the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums
DGAM publishes English version of damage map

The DGAM has published an English version of their interactive damages map on April 30, 2015, indexed by provinces. For the report and link, see here.

Policy Changes and Updates from Syria
  • None
International Activity
International efforts continue in attempts to protect heritage

  • Ten countries from the Middle East and North Africa have signed a declaration in Cairo to prevent looting across the region. For more information, see here.
  • UNESCO has posted the report of its December 2014 meeting in Paris, “Heritage and Cultural Diversity at Risk in Iraq and Syria” in pdf, here.
  • See the video presentation offered by Markus Hilgert at the Culture in Crisis Conference under the title of “‘Protecting the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria at home: current initiative at the Ancient Near Eastern Museum, Berlin” here.
Shirin initiates archaeological database

Shirin has released a preliminary database of archaeological projects in Syria, which can be ordered by governorate, most recent season, director(s), and damage, with both free access and restricted access files. For full details, see here.

News Updates

(Not covered in other sections)

Looting and destruction of heritage in the news

  • May 13, 2015: The New York Times hosts an article on the UN’s assertion that destroying heritage sites is a ‘War Crime.’
  • The Huffington Post discusses the relationship between culture and the financing of terrorists in the Middle East here (May 12 2015).
  • The Daily Star of Lebanon on May 8 2015 describes Lebanese attempts to ‘wage war on antiquities smuggling.’
  • Further discussions posted on Conflict Antiquities about how much IS may or may not be earning from the  trafficking of antiquities can be found here, which builds on previous discussion here.
  • The Archaeologik blog offers updates on cultural property in Iraq and Syria on May 1 2015 here.
  • Foxnews.com on April 28 2015 covers Interpol’s efforts to recover stolen Syrian and Iraqi art here.
  • On April 29 2015 The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works reported that efforts to protect the famous mosaic museum at Ma’arrat al-Numan have been successful. For more details, see here.
  • The illegal trade of artefacts is discussed by The Independent, in ‘The illicit art trade that is a major source of income for today’s terror groups is nothing new‘ (April 26 2015).
  • The efforts of Syrian archaeologists and culture specialists to protect their heritage is considered in Al-Fanar (April 20 2015) here.

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

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