Syria is rav­aging its own her­itage, UN says

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By KARIM TALBI in Paris Agence France-presse

The United Na­tion’s cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tion on Thurs­day urged Syria’s govern­ment and rebels to spare multi-mil­len­nial her­itage that is be­ing rav­aged by shelling, theft and il­le­gal digs.

“I urge all par­ties to take the nec­es­sary mea­sures to pre­vent fur­ther dam­age to this her­itage, which is among the most pre­cious in the Is­lamic world,” UNESCO chief Irina Bokova said.

“The pro­tec­tion of her­itage is not a po­lit­i­cal is­sue,” she told re­porters af­ter a meet­ing of ex­perts held in Paris and at­tended by UN spe­cial en­voy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.

The meet­ing took place as Western pow­ers were mulling mil­i­tary ac­tion against the Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad over al­leged chem­i­cal weapons use in deadly at­tacks last week.

More than two and a half years af­ter Syria’s cri­sis erupted, the UN body says it has a fairly clear pic­ture of the ex­tent of the dam­age in­flicted to the coun­try’s many his­tor­i­cal sites.

In June, it had listed Syria’s World Her­itage sites as be­ing in dan­ger, in a bid to “mo­bi­lize all pos­si­ble sup­port for the safe­guard­ing of th­ese properties which are rec­og­nized by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity as be­ing of out­stand­ing univer­sal value for hu­man­ity as a whole”.

The sites are the an­cient cities of Da­m­as­cus, Aleppo, Bosra, the “dead cities” of north­ern Syria as well as the Crac des Che­va­liers and Salah El- Din cas­tles and Palmyra oasis.

Da­m­as­cus and Aleppo are among the world’s old­est con­tin­u­ously in­hab­ited cities and the Crac des Che­va­liers is con­sid­ered the best-pre­served Crusader cas­tle.

Be­yond the dam­age in­flicted to Syria’s his­tor­i­cal sites by air raids, shelling and gun­fire, the UN cul­tural body ex­pressed con­cern over wide­spread theft of ar­ti­facts and rogue ex­ca­va­tions.

“The traf­fick­ing is or­ga­nized by pow­er­ful groups. We’re talk­ing about or­ga­nized crime,” UNESCO ex­pert Francesco Ban­darin said.

“You can al­ready find stolen ar­ti­facts in Beirut. On some mar­kets, there is a real in­flux,” he said, adding that there had been re­cent prece­dents dur­ing the con­flicts in Iraq, Libya and Mali.

Ar­ti­facts that have been dug up in il­le­gal ex­ca­va­tions are of par­tic­u­lar con­cern be­cause, un­like items dis­played in mu­se­ums, they have never been ref­er­enced.

“In such cases the dam­age is ir­repara­ble,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port sub­mit­ted to UNESCO by Syria’s an­tiq­ui­ties chief Maa­mun Ab­dulka­rim, dozens of sites have been af­fected, par­tic­u­larly in the re­gions of Aleppo, Idlib, Apamea, Deir Ez­zor, Raqqa and Deraa.

Ab­dulka­rim, a Syr­ian of­fi­cial whose depart­ment is part of the Syr­ian min­istry of cul­ture, said “the mu­se­ums of Aleppo, Deir Ez­zor, Ha­mas, Homs and Maaret al-Nu­man were tar­geted dur­ing the fight­ing”.

Some of the main stolen ar­ti­facts he listed were an Ara­maic gold-plated bronze statue dat­ing to the 8th cen­tury BC, pot­tery from the Jaabar citadel in the cen­tral Raqqa re­gion, dag­gers and other items from the Aleppo mu­seum.

GRE­GO­RIO BOR­GIA / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Syr­ian refugees greet each other at the Cil­ve­g­ozu bor­der gate be­tween Turkey and Syria on Fri­day, as the United States was pre­par­ing for a pos­si­ble puni­tive strike against Syria’s govern­ment.

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