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It's Not Too Late to Save Syria's Cultural Heritage

By       Message Franklin P. Lamb     Permalink
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"if we can muster the will, It's Not Too Late to Save Syria's Cultural Heritage

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Inside the restored Omayyad Mosque, Old City of Damascus

As Marcus Aurelius instructs us: "Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future too."

By definition, our shared global heritage, which has been in the custody of the Syrian people for ten millennia, belongs to all of us and for this reason each of us must work to preserve it for our progeny.

The people of Syria are petitioning the United Nations, regional powers, archeologists and our wider global community to, reject, as they themselves do, the rationale of ' unavoidable war-time collateral damage' in their conflict which today is severely assaulting archeological treasures in their beloved country. Over the past century, scientific excavations and study of our global heritage in Syria have barely scratched the surface so rich as concentrated are archeological artifacts from a score of empires that have inhabited this land. Syrians, like the international public are horrified and sickened by the continuing and in some areas, accelerating desecration, illegal excavations, looting and hateful destruction of irreplaceable antiquities.

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This observer does not wish to gloss over the alarming media reports on this subject. Nor my own on-site field investigations over the past nearly three years chronicling and photographing damaged archeological sites across much of Syria. The research project has been part of a volume to be published next month in Arabic and English entitled, Syria's Endangered Heritage, an International Responsibility to Preserve and Protect, parts of which reveal bleak picture.

But all is not lost.

Indeed much is being done inside Syria, among citizens including students, officials, among them the Ministries of Culture and Tourism, the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) and even to some degree 'repentant' former rebels having physical access to archeological sites and valuing their heritage. Many projects are underway today at archeological sites not under the control of fighters on either side of this horrific internecine conflict out of a felt urgent duty to preserve, protect, and even in some instances to reconstruct our endangered global heritage.

Three examples of Syrian archeological sites that were badly damaged since the start of the continuing crisis which began in March of 2011, with details of the damage at these sites reported in the main stream media as well as in some scholarly publications, are the Omayyad Mosque in the Old City of Damascus, the medieval fortress of Crac des Chevaliers near Homs, and the Church of the Holy Belt in the Old City of Homs. This observer first visited and chronicled damages at these three sites months ago as soon as local fighting ceased and security conditions allowed and having revisited them just recently bears witness to the fact that each is now in the final stages of being repaired/rebuilt and are safe and ready to receive visitors.

The remarkable achievements of wartime Syrian antiquities reconstruction are continuing because of leadership from committed officials such as Dr. Maamoun Abdulkarim of DGAM, noted above, and Syria's indefatigable Bachir Yazigi, Minister of Tourism and member of Parliament, among many others supported by their dedicated staffs. Partners also in restoration of culture sites are students from Damascus and other Universities and institutes such as Directorate of Archaeological Scientific and Reconstructive Laboratories and citizen volunteers as well as some patriotic business people across the social and political spectrum here. This observer visited the Damascus Citadel and witnessed the student's painstaking restoration of a large irreplaceable Mosaic, tesserae (half inch square stone chip) by tesserae. In the course of visiting damaged archeological sites in Syria, this observer has spent time with skilled teams of artifact restoration students repairing antiquities from artwork in Homs to stone arches at Palmyra. Syrian volunteers share a common deep love of their ancient country and they appear to accept a personal obligation to preserve, protect and restore their and our common global cultural heritage. Repair and reconstruction is expanding today at several other archeological sites.

Local Community seeking protection of Syria's cultural heritage

In Syria today, within government controlled areas scores of community groups are working to preserve our global heritage. One example is a citizen's national campaign to inform the general public about the value of protecting archeological sites by placing large posters showing endangered treasures.

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Below are some examples of current posters being posted in public gathering areas:


Public Information posters put up in government controlled areas over the summer
(Image by Franklin Lamb)
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Since 2013, Professor Franklin P. Lamb has traveled extensively throughout Syria. His primary focus has been to document, photograph, research and hopefully help preserve the vast and irreplaceable archaeological sites and artifacts in (more...)
 

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