Christian Sahner explains how strife in Syria is leading to the destruction of Syria’s major historical sites:
Among the at-risk monuments is the Unesco World Heritage site Crac des Chevaliers, a Crusader fortress of the 12th to 13th centuries, which stands on a hilltop overlooking the plains of Homs. It is regarded as the finest example of medieval castle architecture anywhere in the world. [ . . . ]
Then there is the ancient city of Palmyra, another Unesco World Heritage site, whose ruins lay scattered across a desert oasis 150 miles northeast of Damascus. Looting has been reported throughout the archaeological site, including in the Temple of Bel complex, the stately colonnaded avenue, the Camp of Diocletian, and the Valley of the Tombs.
How can we divert our attention to this problem when human suffering abounds?
The Syrian uprising has caused untold human suffering since it began 18 months ago; at latest count, the death toll has surpassed 23,000. In light of this, one might rightly ask whether the protection of historical sites should be much of a priority, especially when more pressing problems require our attention.
Yet it is a priority. The Syrian revolution will one day end, leaving behind a country divided along sectarian, ethnic and regional lines. It will fall to Syria’s new leaders to repair these divisions, to recover a sense of a united Syria that is stronger than its constituent parts. In this world, Syria’s cultural patrimony can play a crucial role: as a reminder to the country of its diversity and achievements across the ages, as well as a symbol of pride and unity going forward.