Syria’s Archaeological Heritage Endangered By Fighting
In a sign that the civil war in Syria is inciting unrest in the region, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are telling their citizens to leave neighboring Lebanon after more than twenty people including a Saudi, a Turk and several Syrians were kidnapped on Wednesday. A prominent Syrian family, the Mikdad clan, took responsibility for the kidnappings which have stoked fears in Lebanon that it will be drawn into the turmoil that has engulfed Syria since March of 2011.
Fighting between government forces and rebel fighters with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) continues in the capital of Damascus and in Aleppo, the country’s most populated city and a hub of commercial activity. Forces under President Bashar al-Assad have reportedly taken up positions inside the medieval Citadel, whose massive iron doors have been blown up by a missile. In footage filmed by Al-Jazeera, rebel fights spoke of the need to capture the Citadel.
Among the significant archaeological sites endangered is the Temple of the Storm God, which dates from the third to the second millennium B.C. and which Ms. Burnham identified as one of the oldest structures in the world. Never opened to the public, the recently discovered temple and its huge carved reliefs are protected only by sandbags and a flimsy corrugated tin roof, she said.
Aleppo’s labyrinthine streets reveal a microcosm of human history. Beneath the Citadel are remains of Bronze Age friezes and Roman fortresses. The entire walled Old City, with its 12th-century Great Mosque, thousands of pastel-colored medieval courtyard houses, Arab souks and 17th-century stone madrasas, an Ottoman palace and hammams, is recognized as a World Heritage Site by Unesco, the United Nations cultural arm.
Looting could also further damage invaluable archaeological monuments and sites that have stood for centuries. Archaeologists had to cease working on the Temple of Storm God site months ago, as unrest grew in Syria.
A United Nations observer mission is to withdraw from Syria on Sunday when its mandate expires; the UN has said that this will not be renewed as the violence and fighting continue. Russia — which, along with China, has consistently vetoed UN Security Council efforts to impose harsher sanctions on Syria and demand that Assad step down – has said that there will be “serious negative consequences” from the UN pulling out.
2.5 million people in Syria are in need of aid, the UN’s humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, said after a visit to Damascus this week.
Over 23,000 people have reportedly died in the conflict in Syria. Thousands have been injured, thousands displaced and become refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and other countries.
In the New York Times, Ed Husain, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says that Assad’s father, Hafez, did not shrink from bombing mosques in subduing Hama in 1982, in a massacre in which 20,000 — some say 40,000 — perished. Tragically, history in the form of the killing of citizens and the destruction of priceless archaeological treasures is being repeated.
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Photo of Aleppo's Citadel by yeowatzup