A strategy to Protect Syrian Cultural Heritage

DAMASCUS, (ST)_ The General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums in cooperation with the United Nations Education, Scientific  and Cultural organization UNESCO  will organize on October 24th  in al-Chameyah hall of  the National Museum in Damascus  a technical workshop on Emergency Protection of Syrian Cultural Heritage to have an overview of experiences available in this field, and to strengthen and develop the skills of those working in the directorate as to how to protect movable and immovable cultural property in critical times.

According to Dr. Mamoun Abdulkarim, the Director General of Antiquities and Museums, in an exclusive interview with Syria Times reporter, Butheina al-Nounou, some 35 directorate personnel, and other three senior officials, on behalf of UNESCO, will take part in the workshop.

Most of  Aleppo 's monuments were under the fire of terrorists and huge material damage was reported when terrorist gangs hit Aleppo National Museum after a Car Explosion in Sa'ad Allah Al Jabri Square and Al Amir Hotel in Bab Jininarea , leaving also two guards and the general secretary of the museum wounded.  The damage included many broken windows in the museum, and the falling apart of the prefabricated ceiling.

Some historical buildings and shops in Aleppo ancient markets have been damaged by fire that erupted due to fierce clashes there. Reports indicated that more than 150 shops have been damaged as fire destroyed their stored goods and their new wooden doors. The damage occurred in Souk Al Zerb; Souk Al Ebi, Souk Al Atmeh; Souk Al Atareen; Souk Al Niswan; Souk Al Souf; Souk Al Sagha. Further damage was reported in many other markets that was impossible to assess due to the difficulty for persons  concerned at the Directorate of Aleppo Antiquities to reach the area for estimating and assessment of the extent of this damage.

While deploring the destruction of Aleppo 's treasury, one has to recall that Aleppo Ancient Markets bears witness to one of the most significant pages in the history of Aleppo during the Islamic Ages, with its khans, inns and shops that exceed 1500 in number constituting 39 markets that are ones of the longest covered markets in the entire world.

Nevertheless, the extent of the damage to Syrian cultural heritage can be seen as limited until now, thanks to the cooperation of the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museum and all the parties concerned along with the local communities. What has been reported by the media outlets is exaggerated and lacks objectivity and accuracy.

The General Directorate has always been committed to report any damage that may hit the historical sites in Syria with credibility and transparency. For this reason, the Directorate issues a periodic report that includes all information concerning the latest development on the ground, based on data that is regularly updated to assess and document any damage and looting that might occur to museums and archeological sites.

It can be said that all Syrian museums have been well secured, and their artifacts are safe. The most precious and rare pieces have been secured in safer places. Since the beginning of the crisis, looting has been limited to only two artifacts that are not rare pieces: a small golden statue that dates back to the Aramaic period from Hamah Museum, and a marble sculptured piece that is not of a rare archeological value.

Nevertheless,  the distant archeological sites have suffered most due to shortage of guards and the difficulty of providing the necessary protection for them, not to mention the secret excavation by looters of artifacts, a matter that is difficult to control due to the extensively rich heritage that Syria owns.  It is extremely difficult to protect more than 10000 historical sites without mobilizing and engaging the local communities, the thing which the General Directorate really relies on.

Among the sites damaged are: Andreen historical site; Busra (limited damage has hit some archeological buildings); Aphamia (it suffered random excavations, but the site is safe now); the residence of the archeological mission in Tal Saka (limited material damage); Dora Europos; Palmyra (some secret excavations were conducted, but things are under control now); Ebla (secret excavations have been contained, due to the cooperation of the local community).

Excavations in some areas are suspended currently due to the events. International sanctions have greatly affected the presence of foreign archeological missions, though heads of missions have been in constant contact with the General Directorate providing their moral support and good will in advocating the protection of Syrian cultural heritage. Some national missions, however, have been active recently in safe areas (Old Damascus, Tartous, Lattakia, Suweida) and have even discovered new artifacts and antiquities.

To eliminate damages, a strategy was set since the beginning of the crisis, the Ministry of Culture, with the Directorate and other concerned bodies, along with the local communities took many measures to provide protection to all archeological sites. Precautionary steps were taken to contain any acts of trespassing and looting of the cultural heritage, and to repair what was damaged. Rare artifacts were secured in safe places; alarm systems were installed in museums and citadels; the number of archeological guards has been increased, and the role of archeological police has been activated; and the local communities were mobilized to protect heritage in their areas, cities and villages. The more the local communities cooperate, the more protection can be provided against the looters of the invaluable Syrian cultural heritage.

 Butheina Alnounou                                                                                               This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.