By Omar Almuqdad
Morocco World News
Washington, June 16, 2013
Since its beginnings in 2011, armed conflict in Syria has escalated dramatically with major human loss, hundreds of thousands of refugees, and extensive damage to infrastructure and properties. Cultural heritage in all its forms has suffered from the direct and indirect effects of this ongoing conflict. Syria’s World Heritage sites together with numerous cultural properties of national and local significance are at serious risk.
In addition to the Syrian civil war’s horrible human and economic costs, the conflict has also devastated Syria’s cultural heritage. At a February UNESCO conference, the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) called the looting “more damaging” than the fighting that is ravaging mosques, old houses, and Crusader castles.
Only 3 per cent of Syria’s heritage sites remain outside areas of conflict, according to a map released by the United States State Department’s Humanitarian Information Unit. A 2012 Global Heritage Fund report also makes for grim reading: All UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Syria have been affected by the war, from the old cities of Aleppo and Damascus to the Crusader castle Crac des Chevaliers to the Roman city of Bosra.
One theft acknowledged by the Syrian authorities to have taken place involved a golden statue of an Aramaic God from the 8th century BC. The statue was considered one of Syria’s most important symbols. A picture of the statue was put on the Stolen Works of Art Red List published by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), while Interpol and the World Customs Organization were also notified. Despite the fact that the statue has been on Interpol’s most wanted list since last December, it has yet to be recovered.
The Syrian authorities have also reported thefts in the museums of Deir al-Zor, Maarat al-Naman, al-Raqqa and Qalaat Jaabar, and journalists have confirmed that the museums of Homs and Hama were looted months ago. Here, pundits agree that one major drawback is the lack of adequate documentation in place in museum warehouses. With the absence of serial numbers and photographs that confirm items belong to a museum, many artifacts disappear into the market, and there is no real possibility of recovery.
Last year, shelling damaged the walls of the Crac des Chevalier – a magnificent crusader-era castle overlooking the Jebel Libnan ash-Sharqiya (Anti-Lebanon Range) – that Lawrence of Arabia described simply as “the finest castle in the world”.
Museums have also been targeted. In the Maarat al-Numan Museum in Northern Syria that once housed the largest collection of mosaics in the Middle East, everything moveable has been stolen. Of what remains, the destruction from ongoing air raids is heart breaking.
When I asked one of the smuggler who call himself “Abu Moazz” in turkey : who brings these items from Syria, he said it is not the Free Syrian Army, the main armed opposition group in Syria, but rather individuals or small gangs often claiming to be fighters who secure the items and smuggle them across the river into Turkey.
Life’s been taken away, buildings been destroyed, million and half people became refugees, and history for sale. Welcome to the new devastated Syria.
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