|International Appeal for the defence and protection of Syria’s archaeological heritage |
For the last two and a half years, the enormous catastrophe that has befallen Syria has also affected its cultural heritage. Armed conflicts have taken place in the middle of archaeological sites and ancient city centres, such as Aleppo and Homs, and have destroyed a large part of Syria’s ancient material culture. Unfortunately, we can do nothing but count and record the occurrences of destruction, day after day.
The dramatic development of the events that are striking the country and the impossibility for cultural institutions and the archaeological authorities to intervene in this context of insecurity mean that the danger for cultural and archaeological sites continues to rise. These sites are subject to regular looting in broad daylight, without any possibility of being prevented. Many looters are paid or protected by armed gangs that profit from the sale of archaeological objects from illicit excavations.
The General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums of Syria (Ministry of Culture) has had the objective, from the beginning of the events that have unfolded in the country, to neutralise the political impact on Syria’s archaeological heritage. The goal is to preserve this heritage from danger and to prevent its exploitation for political ends, which would destroy it.
The General Directorate has asked all those involved in the conflict to keep away from archaeological sites and to respect their historical importance and value for all Syrians and for the world. It has also sought to implicate all Syrians, without exception, in the fight to protect the cultural heritage of Syria, independent of their political opinions. The goal is to defend the shared history of the country, which brings the Syrian people together around its archaeological and cultural heritage.
Driven by this will to come together, the Directorate has been able to protect the unity of its archaeological institution in several domains. It has been able to save many archaeological sites from destruction, to preserve and make secure numerous museums, and to place archaeological objects out of danger. But this effort has not been successful in certain regions, in spite of our admonitions. Quite the contrary, the worst has happened, an increase in destruction due to professional armed gangs has been observed.
Many archaeological sites in the region of Deir el Zor have been subjected to terrible looting and destruction, such asDouraEuropos, Mari, Tell el Sin, Tell Tabous, Alboseira, Tell al Masabih.The archaeological objects thus stolen are sold to local shopkeepers or to foreigners. The archaeological sites in the department of Raqqa have also been subjected to destructive aggression of the archaeological layers, such as the site of Tell al Bey’aaand neighbouring sites. Many archaeological sites in the department of Aleppo have suffered from acts of destruction carried out with heavy levelling machines, as at Tell Qaramel, whose archaeological layers have been deeply scraped and gouged. Satellite photos and reports have exposed the devastation of the site of Apamea in the department of Hama.
Considerable destruction due to illicit excavations and acts of vandalism within the enclosure of the Omari mosque in the city of Deraa has been reported. In addition, many sites along the valley of the Yarmuk in the region of Deraa have been targets of illicit excavation, with wide participation by the inhabitants of the region, covered by armed gangs. This is the case particularly at Tell Alachaari.
According to regular reports from the departemental archaeological Directorates, the attacks carried out on these sites, particularly during the last three months, threaten to destroy them completely. These are sites fundamental to our understanding of the history of Syria and its archaeological heritage.
Following these reports, the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums has multiplied its appeals to international organisations, to members and heads of archaeological missions, to intellectuals around the world to mobilise rapidly to find efficient solutions, in order to bring pressure on those parties implicated in the destruction of Syria’s archaeological sites and in looting and smuggling, in order to stop this haemorrhage.
The General Directorate has already appealed to UNESCO, and renews today its appeal to Syria’s neighbours to reinforce their security measures and efficiently control their frontiers to stop smugglers.
The increase in the risks threatening Syria’s archaeological heritage has become so great that the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums cannot act alone, as its means are insufficient. Only a vigorous reaction from the international community will provide enough impact to stop this devastation.
The international community, the entire world, must remember that the archaeological heritage of Syria is part of the cultural heritage of humanity. The loss of even one of its components is a loss for all of humanity. The time has come to mobilise and to act before it is too late, to save the archaeology of Syria from a catastrophe that concerns us all.
General Director of Antiquities and Museums
Prof. Dr. Maamoun Abdulkarim
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