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Late archeologist Khalid Al-Asaad, great lover of Palmyra and defender of Syria's civilization

Five years have passed since Khaled Al-Asaad, the renowned Syrian archeologist and head of the antiquities of the historical Syrian city of Palmyra, was brutally and publicly beheaded on August 18, 2015 at the age of 81 by Daesh terrorist organization and his body was put on display.

 Al-Asaad was known for being a great lover and defender of Syrian  history. He dedicated 50 years of his lifetime to taking care of the valuable antiquities of his beloved Palmyra. His decision not to leave Palmyra or to hand over the cultural heritage of the city and reveal the location of precious hidden antiquities to the terrorists and gangs of Daesh cost him his life. 

With the passing away of this highly prestigious Syrian archeologist, Syrian and international scientific and cultural arenas have lost an icon that presented the world with many archeological research works and discoveries.

 Khaled Al-Asaad was born in 1934 to a noble Palmyrene family. He held a BA in history in 1956 from Damascus University. During his study,  he participated in large-scale excavations in Palmyra conducted by the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM). He then obtained a diploma in education. In 1961, he became the head of the Excavations Department at the DGAM. He was named Director of the Antiquities and the Museum of Palmyra in 1963, a position he held until 2003. During that period, he actively took part in all the excavations, restorations and research work in and around Palmyra with the help of Syrian, Polish, German, French and American archeological expeditions.

Achievements

Al-Asaad wasn't only an archeologist, rather, he was a historical researcher and a discoverer of many important ancient sculptures and burials.  One of Al-Asaad's  most important archeological discoveries was the sculpture of a beautiful woman from Palmyra.  The artifact was classified according to  international archeological standards as one of the most wonderful and most beautiful archeological sculptures ever discovered. He also translated ancient Palmyrian Aramaic texts and manuscripts.

His greatest achievement that impressed the entire world and made tourists and archeologists from all over the world visit Palmyra, was  the "Palmyra Development Project" between 1962 and 1966 during which he unearthed the largest part of the Great Colonnade, the Great Tetrapylon of Palmyra and a number of Byzantine cemeteries, caves and tombs. He worked relentlessly to restore the columns scattered in the destroyed ancient city of Palmyra and to erect them as in the days of Queen Zenobia.

Among Al-Asaad's important finds was also the discovery of 700 silver coins that date back to the seventh century AD.  

However, the major point in his career was the inclusion of Palmyra on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980, for which he had worked tirelessly.

The late archeologist has many research contributions that have served as a reference for other researchers and experts who have been interested in the history of Palmyra and the region. Dozens of his research works and studies, including "Welcome to Palmyra", were published in different languages with the cooperation of some researchers in the foreign archeological missions. 

Awards and honoring events

 The chief archeologist deserved being awarded the Order of Merit of his country Syria as well as the Order of Merit of Poland and Tunisia for his achievements. 

In Italy on October 17, 2015, the Italian President inaugurated the rehabilitated Arsenali della Repubblica in Pisa which was renamed after the Syrian chief archeologist Khaled Al-Asaad.

 To commemorate the anniversary of the martyrdom of Al-Asaad, the Italian museums fly their flags at half-mast every year. Last month, Italy planted an olive tree in the park of the Valley of the Temples in the city of Agrigento in Sicily to honor and glorify the valuable achievements of Al-Asaad. A phrase written on a panel placed beside the tree says: "Khaled Al-Asaad, a renowned world archaeologist, teaches us that the sacred value of a human being is embodied in how much he works for the good of humanity."

Moreover, since his martyrdom, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched a competition titled “Khaled Al-Asaad International Prize for Archaeological Discoveries to express the world's gratitude over the major achievements of this Syrian archeologist.

Al-Asaad's studies and research works have formed a key and  are a rich source of information about Palmyra's history, ancient language and civilization. His book, Zenobia, the Queen of Palmyra and the Orient" talks about the story of Queen Zenobia and her family and about Zenobia's political, trade and military relations, her way of ruling the city and establishing the strong city of Palmyra, her wars against the Romans and the end of her rule. He also wrote a book on the languages that prevailed in Palmyra and were used in writing religious, economic, political, commercial and war texts, international treaties as well as scientific and agricultural texts. The book was published in English.

Former Director General of antiquities and Museums Maamoun Abdulkarim said that when Daesh seized Palmyra he asked martyr Khaled al-Assad to leave the city, but Al-Asaad said bravely: “I was born in Palmyra and I will stay in Palmyra and I will not leave, even if it costs me my blood.” And it did.

Martyr Khaled Al-Asaad will forever be alive in the conscience and hearts of mankind for his courage and steadfastness in defense of civilization.

Hamda Mustafa

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