As fighting continues to rage in Aleppo, Damascus and other cities across the country, the Syrian people and their cultural heritage face a dire threat. In addition to the estimated 20,000 people who have perished during 17 months of civil unrest, the Syrian rebellion has witnessed the looting of museums, destruction of archaeological ruins and damage to historic monuments, including the crusader-era castle of the Crac des Chevaliers (pictured on the right).
The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) has issued a warning aimed at this imminent threat to Syrian cultural security, focusing on the city of Aleppo, which has been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1986. “ICOMOS is extremely concerned about the risks of any heavy conflict that may threaten the World Heritage site of Aleppo and the other precious cultural heritage of the city.”
The ICOMOS plea follows a similar appeal issued by UNESCO calling for the protection of Aleppo. In a statement issued July 26, 2012, UNESCO voiced its concerns “about the risks of looting and pillaging of cultural property” in Syria’s largest city, and urged the country’s government to adhere to the tenets set forth by the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, of which Syria was a signatory.
The hope for peace in this war-torn nation was dealt an ominous blow with the resignation (effective August 31) of Kofi Annan as United Nations and Arab League envoy following the failure of his peace plan. His replacement has yet to be appointed.
With threats from both President Bashar al Assad and the revolting Free Syrian Army to intensify military actions during the upcoming weeks, Syria faces an ever-increasing threat to the lives of its populace and to its cultural heritage.