As if the dreadful loss in human life and untold misery inflicted upon tens of thousands wasn’t enough the internecine struggle in Syria now rivals the conflict in Iraq for the irreparable damage it has caused to the physical heritage of the Middle East and its many peoples. A thoroughly depressing report from the BBC:
“Syria, graced with thousands of historic sites, is seeing its cultural heritage vandalised, looted and destroyed by war…
In March the Syrian air force bombed the world’s best preserved Crusader Castle, the 12th Century Krak des Chevaliers in Homs province.
In November a mortar shell, fired from rebel-held areas in the north-eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus, struck the priceless mosaics on the facade of the 8th Century Great Mosque – the spiritual heart of the city.
Among the 2,000-year-old remains of the Roman oasis city of Palmyra, to the north-east, the army has dug a road and earth dykes, and installed multiple rocket launchers inside the camp of the emperor Diocletian.
Further north, Aleppo’s Great Mosque, founded in the early 8th Century, has come under heavy fire. Its 50m-tall Seljuk minaret, a masterpiece of elegance dating from 1095, was considered one of the most important monuments of medieval Syria.
The minaret, whose height made it a useful rebel lookout and sniper position, collapsed as a result of shelling in March 2013.
Aleppo’s souks, dating back in parts to the 13th Century, were considered the finest of any in the Middle East, with more than 12km of winding alleys. Not just a major tourist attraction, they represented the beating heart of the commercial city, founded in the 2nd Millennium BC.
Free Syrian Army rebels established a headquarters in a bath-house near the old souk, making it a target for bombardment.
The Old City of Homs suffered more aerial bombardment than any other city in Syria. Many ancient buildings, including several active churches and monasteries, were flattened. Umm Al-Zinnar Church boasted a relic from the belt of the Virgin Mary.
Far to the south, the 2nd Century Roman amphitheatre of Bosra, once the capital of the Roman Province of Arabia, is concealed within a 13th Century fort not far from the Jordanian border. It has been occupied during the current fighting by army snipers and shabiha militia, its windows piled with sandbags, firing at rebel pockets in the Old Town of Bosra.
The famous tells or archaeological mounds of Mesopotamia – rich repositories of man’s earliest history once carefully dug by the likes of Agatha Christie’s archaeologist husband Max Mallowan – are now systematically being plundered with heavy machinery to fill the coffers of Islamist militant group Isis. While some ancient artefacts are traded for weapons or cash, others that represent humans or animal gods are seen by Isis as heretical to Islam and destroyed.
Isis has also bulldozed statues of lions along with Sufi and Shia shrines in the Raqqa province, the militant group’s headquarters.”
Whatever about removing modernist symbols of relatively recent oppression in various nations around the world, Queen Victoria in Ireland, Stalin in Ukraine, Pol Pot in Cambodia, using contemporary political or religious ideology to justify the destruction of ancient monuments indicates the facile nature of those beliefs.