Damaged Historical Sites and Stolen Antiquities Fray Syria’s Links to the Origins of Civilization

At the Independent, Robert Fisk writes:

“The destruction of Iraq’s heritage in the anarchic aftermath of the Anglo-American invasion of 2003 – the looting of the national museum, the burning of the Koranic library and the wiping out of ancient Sumerian cities – may now be repeated in Syria.

“… The priceless treasures of Syria’s history – of Crusader castles, ancient mosques and churches, Roman mosaics, the renowned “Dead Cities” of the north and museums stuffed with antiquities – have fallen prey to looters and destruction by armed rebels and government militias as fighting envelops the country. While the monuments and museums of the two great cities of Damascus and Aleppo have so far largely been spared, reports from across Syria tell of irreparable damage to heritage sites that have no equal in the Middle East.”

Three things are going on at once: concern for historical sites is trampled by the hostilities; looting; and even ethnic cleansing. Fisk again.

In Croatia and Bosnia in the early 1990s, I saw the same thing. The pulverisation of mosques and Catholic and Orthodox churches, the smashing of gravestones – even the bulldozing of graveyards – were a form of cultural cleansing that reached its apogee in the burning of the old Sarajevo library.

The souls of Iraq and Syria are irreparably damaged when their link to their heritage as the cradle of civilization is frayed. Indeed, the world is much the worse for it. “This is why it is so important,” writes Fisk, “to have an inventory of the treasures of national museums and ancient cities. Emma Cunliffe, a PhD researcher at Durham University, published the first detailed account of the state of Syrian archeological sites in her Damage to the Soul of Syria: Syria’s Cultural Heritage in Conflict, listing the causes of destruction, the use of sites as military positions and what can only be called merciless looting.”

Ms. Cunliffe’s report, issued in May of this year, can be viewed or downloaded free at the Global Heritage Network in May of this year.