The Impact of War on Syria's Archaeological Sites and Damage Prevention Efforts
Syria has been home to some of the most ancient civilizations in the world. Its richness is now in danger because of the crisis that has been raging in the country for over three years.
The archaeological sites are witnessing the most violent and dangerous attacks because of the increase of illegal excavation carried out by armed gangs of looters with the cooperation of hundreds of people hired within Syria and from neighboring countries, who threaten residents by force of arms.
As a direct impact of war, some archaeological sites have been transformed into battlefields.
Human representations in art are being destroyed by extremist groups.
People who were displaced due to the clashes have taken refuge within archaeological sites.
The six World Heritage sites were officially listed as being in danger of damage or destruction in June 2013.
The damage assessment is still unclear because of the limited access to these sites located in the conflict areas.
As for museums, those in Deir Atieh and Raqqa have suffered greatly; a few objects were stolen from Maarat al-Numan Museum and the Folk Museum at Aleppo, and the museums in Hama.
Apamia Museum witnessed the theft of only one object. Otherwise, the collections in all other museums have been brought to safety before any damage could be done to them.
Our vision during this crisis depends on five main goals.
First: raising awareness. We attempt to unify the visions of all Syrians concerning their cultural history and to urge them to take responsibility for safeguarding the archaeological heritage against theft, damage, and obliteration.
Second: the cohesiveness of the staff at all levels. Thanks to its inherited vision, the DGAM's performance has been professional, scientific, and effective, its cadres have remained united in all governorates, and their efforts have resulted in success in many cases and regions.
Protecting the holdings of all museums in Syria and transferring them to safe locations was our priority; another important priority is the positive results attained by cooperating with members of the local communities in protecting and safeguarding archaeological sites.
Third: professionalism. The DGAM has done this by attempting to avoid using the issue of antiquities for political agendas, which might affect them. Accordingly, the DGAM appeals to avoid and respect the archaeological sites. It also stresses Syria's international commitment to the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict.
Fourth: damage prevention and control. From the very inception of the problems, we have developed an aggressive proactive campaign to protect sites and museums.
We responded immediately to the very earliest emergence of a threat, and set things in motion from the very beginning.
Moreover, we did this by maintaining at full level the cadre of functionaries and guards, who have been, and are being, paid their salaries without intermission.
The immediate removal, at the start of the troubles, of museum collections to safe storage has meant that none of our precious objects has been lost, in contrast with what has happened in other cases we were unable to prevent massive looting, because of the violence in the area.
Fifth: openness to the international dimension. The Directorate General has maintained the most active cooperation with all international agencies concerned with the protection of antiquities.
On the one hand, this has meant contributing to keeping up-to-date the inventory of damages, and on the other, it has meant collaborating with agencies in the task of stopping illicit traffic.
Another important aspect of our commitment to international cooperation has been the upholding of our longstanding tradition vis-à-vis foreign expeditions. Syria has one of the largest number of such expeditions, and we have, throughout the crisis, labored hard to maintain all the concessions operative to the best of our abilities.
Causing damage to the heritage of any country is harmful to the spirit and identity of its people. Unfortunately, Syria is lamenting its people and history today, and its antiquities are entrusted to us in order to protect a civilization worthy of life and respect, without which the world will unquestionably grow gloomier.
I feel proud of being the director of this institution, which has managed to mobilize all energies despite all risks. In addition, I am proud of my colleagues who never hesitate to report for duty every morning to protect the antiquities of their country at a time when a simple step can be too dangerous to take.
This is one of the moments that unveils the greatness of our country. Although the dangers besetting Syrian archaeological heritage are growing beyond our capabilities and limited resources, they cannot by any means defeat our will.
The current events in Syria today invite all of us to do our best together to put an end to this damage besetting our shared cultural heritage.
In spite of the bad circumstances experienced by Syria, we are not going to give up, and our participation today comes because of our faith in our ability as Syrians who love Syria as well as its great history to save our culture.