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Save Syria's Threatened Heritage Sites

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Syria, Arts & Culture, History, Politics, Protest, War & Conflict

This post is part of our special coverage Syria Protests 2011/12 [1].

Alongside the mounting death toll, a massacre is being perpetrated against Syria's heritage. Little is being said about this issue in both mainstream and social media.

Did you know for instance that six sites in the country are on the UNESCO [2]World Heritage List? They are the Ancient City of Aleppo, Ancient City of Bosra, Ancient City of Damascus, Ancient Villages of Northern Syria, Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din Site of Palmyra. Also, another 12 historic sites are also on a tentative list.

Since March 30, 2012, UNESCO has been appealing to the world to save Syria's monuments. Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General said [3]:

Damage to the heritage of the country is damage to the soul of its people and its identity.

The city of Aleppo, in particular, has been caught in the crossfire between the rebels and the regime's army. This has prompted once more the UN institution [4] and its affiliate, the World Heritage Committee [4]to raise the alarm.

Destruction, pillaging, looting and illicit trafficking … this is the fate of a treasure which has survived for thousands of years.

In order to document the damage targeting Syria's history,  a Facebook [5] page and YouTube [6] account have been created on under the title ‘The Syrian archaeological heritage under threat’, with information available in Arabic, French, English and Spanish.

No information is available on the real identity of those behind that page but it seems they are a group of Syrian or expatriate archeologists, who have worked in the country.

In one of the notes we can read this plea [7]:

There is not much we can do to help them out of this situation, besides sending them our most sincere wishes of peace. However, there is something we can do. Syrians are witnessing how their cultural heritage is in danger, and how it is suffering important damages. A part of their collective cultural richness could be dramatically lost. Here is what we can do to contribute to the effort of protecting this heritage: We have all sent the archaeological material from our excavations to the local museums, or have left it in our missions’ houses. Much of this material can disappear due to the uncertain situation in many parts of the country. So, dear colleagues, let’s have our archives, inventories and catalogues ready, to help trace the material, should it disappear. When the time comes, this action will contribute to better outline the situation of the excavated archaeological material prior to the troubles.

Here is for instance an example of the destruction at the Historic district of Bab Al Dreib in Homs [8]:


The historical district of Bab Al Dreib in the city of Homs destroyed


This is Bab al Turkman [10] in Homs:


Another historical part of Homs destroyed

And this is the famous Aleppo Citadel, before [12] and after [13]:


The once very famous Citadel of Aleppo


A block of stones, this is what the the Famous Aleppo Citadel is becoming

The ancient souk in Midan [14] also suffered damage:


This is how the old souk in Midan District in Damascus has become

On YouTube, a number of videos show the extent of the damage of some historic sites. Here is a sample:

This is the Mosque of Abu Ubeida al Jarrah in Tell Bysse being bombed:

The state of the old town of Aleppo

Monastery of Saidnaya hit by a shell:

Qalaat Al Madiq Bombing-Apamea Castle

A petition [16] to save Syria's cultural heritage is also available on Avaaz.

Note: All the photographs were taken from ‘The Syrian archaeological heritage under threat’ Facebook page or YouTube.

This post is part of our special coverage Syria Protests 2011/12 [1].