Syria seems to be on the verge of a civil war, by itself a most frightening and disruptive situation for all parties involved and especially for the civilians who receive the heaviest blows. Nothing has changed in this world over the centuries, unfortunately. Yet beside the human sufferings and losses, there is always the inevitable destruction of our remnants from the past. Buildings, temples, graves, theatres together with precious statues and artefacts sheltered in the museums are now under threat. Testimonies that go back hundreds and thousands of years, which have been meticulously and lovingly restored and returned to their glorious days of eons past are now succumbing to shooting, looting and other destructions.
Places with ringing names like Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are now being damaged by the ongoing internal conflicts. In Palmyra, the Syrian Army has set up a base on the hill just behind the Roman ruins and firing on them from the ancient strategic position of the citadel and there is nothing we or the UNESCO can do about it. A group that goes by the name “Syrian Archaeological Ruins in Danger” has set up a Facebook space for people to share the news and make us aware of the destruction that threatens the cultural heritage of Syria, especially since reports of actual gunfire on the ruins came through.
Looting is another problem, although not a new one but with no strict reinforcement whatsoever, it is easy to smuggle artefacts over the border to antiquities markets in Europe and the United States. Recently a memo written by the Syrian Prime Minister Adel Safar addressed to the ministers of Culture and Finance as well as to the Governor of the Central Bank has leaked. Safar claims that “professional international gangs” have brought “equipment and satellite communication devices for stealing manuscripts and robbing museums, safes, and banks” (cfr Global Heritage Fund). Well, whether international or local communities are at fault or not, repeated looting is unfortunately a fact.
In the same article I read that security in Syria’s 25 antiquities museums is being compromised by the ongoing conflict. Provincial museums are hit the hardest as they are spread all over the country near the pertaining excavation sites. Moving their contents to safer locations seems not to be feasible in the present circumstances. I recall the remote locations along the Euphrates, Rasaffa, Halabia, Deir Ezzor, Dura Europos and most ancient Mari … All so close to the Iraqi border, still looking out over the bare desert from their lonely spot. What a mess!