The Syrian Expatriates Organisation (SEO) is bringing attention to the destruction being caused to Syria’s ancient sites and antiquities by the continuing conflict. For more than a year the battle for a free Syria has raged, an estimated 10,000 have died and the humanitarian situation is said to be dire. While this gets much attention – and rightly so – the damage being caused to the country’s heritage doesn’t get a lot of publicity in the mainstream media.
In the press release, SEO bring attention to the ancient Qa’laat al Madeeq Citadel near the city of Hama. The citadel there dates back to 4th millennium BCE and YouTube footage from Al-Jazeera shows the southern wall of the Citadel coming under fire from the Assad regime, leaving it with extensive structural damage. It is also reported that Assad’s army are using Syria’s archaeological sites as military bases.
The ancient city of Palmyra, a tourist attraction and a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, has also come under bombardment from Assad’s forces. SEO are urging UNESCO to issue a statement condemning the destruction of Syria’s ancient sites and its failure to protect Syria’s ancient artifacts.
In an email, Rasha Othman of SEO said: “We have recorded many incidents. The press release cites the Madiq Citadel, which you can clearly see in the video is being subjected to military assault. Recently, we have been made of aware of damages to Mosque Oumer Al-Nebhani in Bab Tadmur, Homs. It has been almost reduced to rubble.
Also of concern is the safety of the Syrian Museums. These are home to valuable artifacts pertaining to the region of the country where they were found and because of the poor security situation currently in place in Syria, there is a fear that these precious items could be targeted by thieves.
A ceasefire came into force on 12 April as part of Kofi Annan’s peace plan and the UN has recently approved the sending of 300 unarmed observers to see that the ceasefire is being implemented. Some were hopeful for the peace plan, many more were cynical. I took the opportunity to ask Rasha Othman about the ceasefire. I was told:
“As for the UN ceasefire under Kofi Annan: From the evidence we have seen, it appears as though the ceasefire is not holding. Yesterday, UN observers were fired upon while they were in Homs. Today, we have seen videos of tear gas and nail bombs being used to disperse protesters in Douma, where the UN observers are at the moment. There have also been reports that over 35 people were killed in Hama today.”