Cultural Heritage

Syria: Red List and Protection of Cultural Heritage

Syria is ravaged by an internal conflict with thousands dead, millions as refugees, over a million children under the age of 11 as refugees and destroyed and looted cultural heritage sites. This is a tragedy in epic proportions. How does a generation of over a million children overcome this loss of family, home and heritage.

In an effort to protect Syrian heritage, UNESCO has created a Save Syria’s History portal for legal and cultural information and to follow the latest developments in the crisis.

In addition, the International Council of Musuems (ICOM) has just released an Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk identifying the type of artifacts that could be looted and traded on the black-market. Included are tablets with ancient writings in Cuneiform, Aramaic, Syriac, Greek, Latin and Arabic. Figurines, representing prehistory to the Islamic era. Also included on the list are vessels either natural or glazed terra-cotta or made of bronze, stone or glass. Also included are architectural elements from antiquity to the Ottoman Empire. The Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk is an effort to alert the public, museum officials, heritage professionals and law enforcement to Syrian cultural heritage items that most likely will appear on the market to be illegally traded or sold and yet are protected by international law.

Worldwide UNESCO has 44 historical sites in danger. In Syria alone, UNESCO has identified six ancient cities in danger including these ancient cities of Aleppo, Bosra, Damascus, the ancient villages of Northern Syria, Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din and the site of Palmyra with 12 more sites nominated for protection.

Cultural heritage sites are monuments of a society’s achievements. Imagine the depth of history in Syria. The city of Bosra is where a Christian monk declared that Mohammed was a prophet. Or, Aleppo is where numerous ancient cultures mixed and traded along the legendary trade routes. Or being in the Syrian desert and seeing in the distance a mirage of the ancient city of Palmyra appear demonstrating the merging of Greek, Roman and Persian architecture. And that the legendary Crusades are not a myth, the crusaders left strong fortified castles in Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El Din. Syrian cultural heritage represents layer upon layer of world civilizations and knowledge.

These ancient cities and sites reveal the history of the area from as early as the 2nd millennium B.C. to the time of the Ottoman Empire; the transition of the Roman Empire paganism to the Christian Byzantium Empire; and the interaction between major faiths of the world including Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

Aleppo, the largest city in modern day Syria, was the meeting point of historical trade routes of ancient civilizations and architectural monuments left by successive cultures including the Hittite, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ayyubid represents a diverse cultural, religious and economic history.

Bosra is known for being the capital of the Roman province of Arabia and was an important city along the caravan route to Mecca. Linking the royals of Pharaohs, the Phoenician and Amorite kingdoms, Bosra appears in ancient texts, including the Tell el-Amarna tablets in Egypt. It is in Bosra, the prophet Mohammad visited twice and according to historical texts, Christian Monk Bahira recognized Mohammad would be a prophet.

Damascus, the capital of Syria today was founded in the 3rd millennium B.C. and is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. Damascus represents the vast history, layers of cultures and traditions that have evolved through time.

Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El Din bring alive the legends of the Crusades with the best fortified castles.

Then standing tall in the desert of Palmyra are the architectural remains of temples and arches representing the architectural finesse of the Greeks, Romand and Persians.

As this crisis in Syria continues, protecting and preventing the plunder of Syrian cultural heritage should be of utmost importance.

It should be in everyone’s interest to ensure that

  1.  cultural heritage sites are protected during any military campaigns;
  2. anyone working in the region does not damage or remove any “souvenirs”;
  3. no one sells or purchases any artifacts that only encourage the further destruction of cultural heritage to fuel a market demand; and,
  4. any cultural heritage items discovered on the market are returned to Syria.

A generation of children must have their cultural heritage of human accomplishments intact for their own future and for the future of world knowledge.

By Keri Douglas, writer/photographer, Washington, DC. (Please abide by 9 Muses News copyright use policy.)

Note: Syrian Antiquity Law as passed in Legislative Decree # 222 of October 26, 1963 With All its Amendments

UPDATE: Annual Report 2014 Syrian Arab Republic Ministry of Culture Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums by Diane Fitzpatrick

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