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Statement: The Syrian cultural heritage in Palmyra faces challenges and risks
17/05/2015 - عدد القراءات : 2744

Temple of Bel in Palmyra
With the painful events in Syria escalating at an unprecedented pace leaving their tragic impact on the Syrian scene, our cultural heritage has been battling for about five consecutive years to survive in spite of the massive destruction affecting our historical monuments, buildings and souks in a number of cities, including, first and foremost, the city of Aleppo, which calls to remind us of the horrors of World War II (for instance, almost 140 historical buildings, thousands of shops in the old souks and hundreds of houses in the old city were subject to different levels of damages). Cities of Homs, Daraa and Bosra have witnessed the sabotage of Syria's rich, diverse and unique cultural heritage.

Today, the situation has worsened dramatically, reaching alarming levels in the vicinity of the ancient city of Palmyra with unpredictable consequences following ISIS militants' attack on the city. Our fears, hence, will aggravate if the ancient city falls under ISIS control, which will result in a real tragedy befalling a great civilization worthy of protection by all means. This civilization was once a monumental city located on an important trade route linking the east with the west during the Roman Empire. It was also significant by its buildings, temples, tombs and theaters.

Today, this city is facing an imminent threat to its ruins and its very survival, a threat that may lead to a real disaster towards Syria's history, and wipe out its glorious past. Moreover, we should not forget the damage and destruction that hit our cultural heritage when organized armed groups of antiquities robbers spread all over the ancient city in the summer of 2013 and conducted various acts of illegal excavations, thefts and systematic destruction of tens of archaeological sites, hills and tombs (in addition to what has happened in Dura Europos and Mari in Deir ez-Zor, Hammam al-Turkman in Raqqa, Tell Ajaja in southern Hasaka, Apamea in centre of Syria, Ebla and several sites in the Dead Cities in Aleppo and Idlib, and tens of sites in rural Daraa), which have been classified on UNESCO list of heritage damaged sites, whose great historical importance is irreplaceable.

Thus, it is necessary to remind of UN Resolution 2199 adopted by the Security Council on February 12th, 2015, stating “that countries ensure that their nationals and those in their territories not make assets or economic resources available to ISIL and related terrorist groups” and “Condemning the destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria, particularly by ISIL and the Al-Nusrah Front”. Consequently, we hope this resolution will be followed by immediate actions representing the international intentions in preserving Syria's cultural heritage which is subjected to unprecedented dangers and challenges (i.e. commitment of the neighboring countries to control their borders, stopping organized smuggling operations of Syrian cultural properties across those borders and preventing the systematic damage carried out by extremist and terrorist groups).

Thus, we call upon all Syrians nationwide to unite and come together to stand up and stop members of extremist, terrorist and smuggling groups targeting our history and heritage in brutal and systematic methods. We also urge them to take part in this battle to defend our identity represented by our diverse, rich and incomparable cultural heritage.

We would like to thank the staff members of DGAM all over Syria, who believe in their historical role in safeguarding the Syrian heritage, who are persistent to carry on with this decisive battle by defending our heritage in such fearful conditions and who are confronting all sorts of risks while standing up for their duties.

We would like also to express our sincere gratitude to all those who have supported us in defending our heritage by providing help, expertise, guidance and assistance, both individuals and institutions, at the national and international levels. We first address our gratitude to the Syrian people, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and its regional offices, ICOMOS, ICCROM, ICOM, the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage (ARC-WH) in Bahrain, the ICCROM-ATHAR Regional Conservation Centre in Sharjah, the World Monuments Fund in New York, Associazione Priorità Cultura in Rome, the Interpol, the World Customs Organization and international archaeological institutions working in Syria, whether bodies or individuals.. etc.

Finally, we assure that we will win this battle targeting our existence, history and civilization. In addition, we will spare neither efforts, knowledge nor intentions to protect and safeguard our cultural heritage, which represents an invaluable component of the human heritage.

Damascus, May 16th, 2015

Director-General of
Antiquities and Museums
Prof.Dr. Maamoun Abdulkarim

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