Destruction of Syrian antiquity and the government’s plans for restoration (video/photo essay)


(Counterpunch. Axis of Logic,  Saturday, Sep 28, 2013)

By Franklin Lamb (article). Axis of Logic (Photo/video essay)

Updated September 29, 2013

 

Introduction

 

Who can forget the pillaging and destruction of Iraq’s National Museum of Antiquities in 2003. We remember well watching the U.S. Marines on television, guarding and protecting the attack on the museum, turning blind eyes from the thieves. We remember how under their watch, some grand statues could only be loaded with cranes onto tractor trailers before being hauled off by the barbaric invaders. At that time Dr. Afnan Hussein Fatani, Professor of Stylistics at King Abdul Aziz University wrote:

 

 

“The Iraqis have accused the US of the most organized cultural ‘crime of the century’. And rightly so. US archaeologists have even suggested that the failure to protect Iraqi antiquities could amount to a war crime under the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property. According to initial estimates, a total of 170,000 statues, clay tablets, pieces of pottery and jewelry dating back more than 5,000 years to the first dawn of civilization simply vanished. Is this possible? Is it conceivable that a 5,000-year-old Sumerian alabaster vase known as the warka vase, which weighs 300 kilograms and would need several people to remove it could have been so easily carried away by looters without the connivance of US forces? The same applies to the 5,000-year-old alabaster Uruk Vase, the famous stone sculpture known as the ‘White Lady’, and the world-renowned clay tablets of King Gilgamesh written 2,500 years before Christ. Is it conceivable that the 9,000-year-old Neolithic collection of sculptures or the collection of 80,000 cuneiform tablets comprising the world’s earliest writing, or the spectacular cache of gold artifacts from the burial tombs of Assyrian queens in Nimrod could have been spirited away by petty thieves who simply hated Saddam Hussein? And what about the Babylonians tablets depicting Jews paying homage to the Babylonian king? Could that have been stolen by anyone other than Israeli-organized gangs?

 

This article and photo/video essay tells of the destruction of ancient sites and looting of antiquities in another part of the Cradle of Civilization, Syria. This crime is resulting from the foreign invasion of the terrorists of al-Nusra, al-Queda and other mercenaries injected into the country by the US, France, Israel and Arab puppets of the west such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  Franklin Lamb describes some of the destruction and the Syrian government’s heroic preparations for reconstruction in the midst of war, plans to be initiated by “a new generation of Syrians.”

 

The author also gives evidence of President al-Assad’s encouraging structural changes and introduction of  new leaders in government from all sectors of Syrian society.  For this we can thank al-Assad for his intelligence and courage to open doors to and share power with critics and potential enemies. There can be no doubt that these changes are not a result of US belligerence as Washington and their corporate media would have us believe. This revitalization of Syrian society in the midst of a foreign invasion is also due to the support and wise diplomacy afforded by Russian President Vladimir Putin who has brought new hope to the Middle East and indeed, the world.

 

Following Lamb’s report, Axis of Logic provides a photo/video essay of some of the historic sites that have been damaged or are at risk. The western media consistently and erroneously places blame on shelling and aerial bombing by the Bashar al-Assad government for the devastation. There is no doubt that Syria is at war and President Bashar al-Assad has stated repeatedly that routing the foreign invaders from heavily populated areas tragically results in damage to buildings and civilian injuries and deaths. However, western media depicts “the rebels” as an undergunned, rag-tag bunch of “protestors,” incapable of the level of destruction that is taking place. The photo/video essay below Mr. Lamb’s article shows otherwise and the final video is most telling. Photographs of victims of the war are intentionally omitted out of respect for them and their families.

 

– Les Blough, Editor
Axis of Logic

 


 

Passing the Torch to a New Generation of Syrians
by Franklin Lamb

 

Few, one imagines, in the Syrian Arab Republic these days question the urgency and enormity of the task of reconstruction of their ancient country from war inflicted destruction caused by a carnage already more than half as long as World War I and approaching half as long as World War II.

 

For this ten millennium civilization and its thousands of priceless treasures, many partially destroyed, emergency efforts are needed today to preserve and protect the structures from thieves and war damage. Not many here would disagree with this priority of the Syrian government.

 

Historic sites damages or in danger include several among those listed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List registry including the Ancient City of Aleppo (1986), Ancient City of Bosra (1980), Ancient City of Damascus (1979), Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (2011), Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din (2006) and the Site of Palmyra (1980). Centuries-old markets and archaeological treasures have already been gutted by flames and gunfire in places like Aleppo and Homs.

 

 

 

The ancient city of Aleppo

 

The ancient city of Bosra

 

 

 

The ancient city and capital of Syria, Damascus

 

 

 

Ancient villages of Northern Syria

 

Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din

 

The Site of Palmyra

 

Examining and discussing in Syria and Lebanon, some of the assessments of damage now being painstakingly documented, as well as pursuing some summaries of the data and analysis from on-the-scene government investigators, it is clear that plans for reconstruction at the earliest possible opportunity are being readied. Taking the lead, and poised to help, is the Syrian population as well as officials exhibiting pent up kinesis waiting to be released at the first sign of a credible cease fire so as to begin to rebuild their country.

 

Reconstruction of Syria will be aided by three regime reshuffles since the beginning of the March 2011 uprising, which has infused much ‘new blood’ into the Syrian government. This process includes more than 20 changes at the ministerial level in recent months, in some cases replacing well entrenched and influential, if slightly fossilized, political operatives with overboard government roles from decades past. The bold reformist initiative is designed to reshuffle the corridors of power and have one claimed goal: To push and achieve reform.

 

More than a few officials have advised this observer of their deep convictions and their commitments for reforms which they note are spreading inside as well as outside government. 

 

 

 

“God knows we made serious mistakes and misjudgments and we will be judged by God for our failures. But in the meantime we need to reform for our people, families and for our own self-respect. And we are constructing massive reforms here in Syria which are not yet apparent but that will surprise many and please more. We are Syrians! We know what is right and that changes and reforms are overdue and what our duty is!”

 

Last month’s most recent infusion of 7 Minsters, known for their competence not political pedigree, include several ‘independents’ intended, according to one adviser to Syria’s President Assad, to bring much needed new blood and energy to the leadership. Their mandate is to face the current challenges straight on while eschewing entangling perceived political obligations from the past. These ‘best and the brightest’ are being empowered here to help rebuild Syria, it was explained to this observer by two university professors as being a government priority but without the American best and brightest noblesse oblige arrogance and fascist tendencies of the Bundy brothers and McNamara’s ‘whiz kids’ from the 1960’s.

 

The most recent changes have included bringing in the following gentlemen (why no women!) who are known for their competence rather than simply as stalwarts of the ruling Baath party.

 

  • Qadri Jamil: Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affair
  • Malek Ali: Minister of Higher Education
  • Khodr Orfali: Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade
  • Kamal Eddin Tu’ma: Minister of Industry
  • Samir Izzat Qadi Amin: Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection
  • Bishr Riyad Yazigi: Minister of Tourism
  • Hassib Elias Shammas: Minister of State, replacing Najm Eddin Khreit.

 

One of the “new breed” of Syrian public servants is Bishr Riyad Yazigi, a non-Baathist, independent Member of Parliament, who appears beholden only to his vision of restoring Syria and its vital tourism industry, as part of rebuilding his country, and for which he was appointed Minister on 8/22/13.

 

Minister Yazigi, who I first met up on Mount Quisoun a several weeks ago, is distinctively Kennedyesque in his good looks, charm, vigor, progressive ideas and charisma.

 

A businessman, born in Aleppo in 1972, is currently the youngest member of the Assad Cabinet, land like others, is not a Baath Party member. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Informatics Engineering from Aleppo University (1995) and is an independent member of the People’s Assembly (Syrian Parliament) for Aleppo city. He is married and has three children.

 

Yazigi is reputed to spend these days often working around the clock to rebuild Syria’s tourist industry.

 

 

 

“Not just to help our economy, even though tourism brought in more than $8 billion annually before the crisis two and one half years ago,” one official who admires Yazigi explained, “But the Tourism Ministry is working to reconnect to the World the way we Syrians used to reach out. Syria’s treasures, from the cradle of civilization that we are, fundamentally belong to all of humanity and please accept our promise that we will do our best to repair all damage to the antiquities and will welcome every assistance as we shall welcome every visitor again before long, enshallah (God willing).”

 

 

 

 

 

Bishr Riyad Yazigi, a non-Baathist, independent Member of Parliament and youngest member of the al-Assad cabinet shown with Franklin Lamb

 

Earlier this month, Minister Yaziqui stressed to a gathering of “Loyalty to Syria” members anxious to start rebuilding their country, the importance of NGO’s in revealing the reality of events in Syria to global public opinion and pledged to work with them to present the image of Syria as a tourist destination given its richness with historical and religious monuments. Meeting members of “Loyalty to Syria” Initiative, he pointed out that the Tourism Ministry is working to show the image of Syria as a tourist destination of unparalleled richness of historical and religious monuments and that all Syrian must redouble their efforts to achieve their goals of “boosting the social values and developing national capacity to serve the best interest of Syria.”

 

The Syrian reformers tasks are daunting. Yet so were those, admittedly on a smaller scale, that faced Lebanon following 33 days of near carpeting bombing by the Israeli government employing, as they have done for more than three decades, a vast array of American weapons gifted by American taxpayers with neither their knowledge, consent nor opportunity to object.

 

The cost of rebuilding Syria is perhaps incalculable. The Syrian government announced this week that it has earmarked 50 billion Syrian pounds ($250 million) for reconstruction next year in the war-torn country. For 2013, the figure was 300 billion Syrian pounds. ($ 1.2 billion).

 

But these sums are a drop in the bucket.

 

According to Syrian real estate experts, including Ammar Yussef, if the war in Syria suddenly stopped and reconstruction began today, around $73 billion would be needed to put the country back on track. Yussef, insists that the bombings, fighting and sabotage of infrastructure during the conflict has as of August 30, 2013, partially or completely destroyed 1.5 million dwellings. If the rebuilding were to start today, led by the new ‘reform team’ it would include rebuilding more than 11,000 sites, some being full blocks, requiring 15,000 trucks, 10,000 cement mixers and more than six million skilled workers.

 

A U.S.-educated economist, Abdullah al-Dardari, now working with Beirut-based UN development agency, claims that more than two years of fighting have cost Syria at least $60 billion and caused the vital oil industry to crumble. A quarter of all homes have been destroyed or severely damaged, and much of the medical system is in ruins.

 

Al Dardari’s team estimates the overall damage to Syria’s economy, three years into the conflict, at $60-$80 billion. Syria’s economy has shrunk by about 35 percent, compared to the 6 percent annual growth Syria marked in the five years before the conflict began in March 2011. The economy has lost nearly 40 percent of its GDP, and foreign reserves have been extensively depleted. As noted above, unemployment has shot up from 500,000 before the crisis to at least 2.5 million this year. The fighting has destroyed or damaged 1.2 million homes nationwide, a quarter of all Syrian houses, al-Dardari claims. In addition, around 3,000 schools and 2,000 factories have been destroyed, and almost half of the medical system — including hospitals and health centers — is in ruins. Before the uprising, the oil sector was a pillar of Syria’s economy, with the country producing about 380,000 barrels a day and exports — mostly to Europe — bringing in more than $3 billion in 2010. But the vital industry has buckled as rebels captured many of the country’s oil fields, setting wells aflame and looters scooping up crude. Exports have ground practically to a standstill as production has dwindled.

 

Syria does have vital labor resource to perform high quality reconstruction and her workers are ready to begin today given that the current unemployment in Syria noted above, according to this observers’ interlocutors at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Industry. Syrian workers are perhaps the best and most reliable in the world. Well known for building and maintaining Lebanon and the Levant, even though currently paid one half to one third what less productive nationals receive.

 

Despite the enormous challenges, there appears some light on the horizon if those governments involving themselves in the Syria crisis and wringing their hands at the toll of human misery and destruction, will achieve a permanent ceasefire during the current thaw in serious communications.

 

The new generation of officials entrusted with Syria’s salvation and reconstruction appear to be in place and are anxious to be allowed into the war zones. The politician’s duties are to open their paths without further delays

 

Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (SSSP) in Shatila Camp (www.sssp-lb.com) and is reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com

 

Source: Counterpunch

 

 

 

Axis of Logic Photo/Video Essay

 

At a UNESCO-sponsored workshop in Amman, Jordan, Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of the Syrian government’s antiquities department, warned regional antiquities directors, customs and police officials, and international protection agencies of the smuggling of stolen artifacts. He urged a resolution by the UN Security Council to ban trade in stolen antiquities, specifically from Syria to preserve the nation’s cultural heritage.  Abdulkarim told Associated Press,

 

“We want a united front to stop the destruction. These acts are not only attacks on Syria’s heritage, they are attacks on the world’s heritage.”

Artifacts already stolen from Syria include an 8th century B.C. Aramaic bronze statue with gold overlay taken from the Hama museum and it is now listed by Interpol. Byzantine mosaics from the Roman city of Apamea near Aleppo were also bulldozed and removed. It’s interesting that some of the stolen treasures turned up in Jordan as destination or a transit point to another country. Abdulkarim praised Jordanian police for their recovery of some items which included clay pottery, figurines and other undated artifacts. He asked UNESCO to appeal to Turkey and Iraq to enact stricter measures to prevent the smuggling of artifacts across their borders. He also warned that Syria could become another Iraq, “We don’t want the world to go through the Iraq experience again.”

 

 

The city of Damascus

 

The Church of Saint Simeon Stylites, a historical building northwest of Aleppo is at risk for damage by fighting between the terrorists and the Syrian army. It is the oldest surviving Byzantine church, dating back to the 5th century.

 

A member of Syria’s government points to the partially destroyed entrance of Aleppo’s historical citadel, on September 4, 2012. The citadel is regarded as one of the oldest and largest castles in the world, in use for more than 4,000 years. (photo: Joseph Eid/AFP)

 

The destruction of the ancient Deir ez-Zor al-Souk Al-Moukebi after the terrorists stormed the city.

 

The terrorists burned this section of the historic Umayyad Mosque known as the “Great Mosque” in ancient Aleppo when they were routed by the Syrian Army on October 13, 2012.

 

Antiquities like the Palmyrene sculptures and artifacts shown below are being looted and sold on the international market in the aftermath of battles.

 

The Medieval souk (market place) in Aleppo was destroyed as a result of the terrorists raiding the city. The Syrian forces regained control of the city but the fighting continues.

 

Terrorists caused extensive damage to the historic houses in the ancient city of Bosra in the south, once the capital of the Roman province of Arabia. There are worries about possible damage to the Roman theater at Bosra pictured above

 

The open ruins of Ebla are exposed to looting where government forces have been battling the mercenaries and jihadists.

 

The government-controlled media of the west shows photos of destroyed and damaged buildings, consistently blaming the destruction on shelling and bombing by the Syrian government. Below are some of the heavy arms supplied by US-backed Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other western puppets. One can imagine the indiscriminate shelling done by foreign mercenaries with these arms, not to speak of the damage done as they hole up in these ancient sites, using them as shields against government attacks.

 

 

These Syrian government tanks were captured by the foreign invaders and put to use. In the second photo they are attempting to hide one of them.

 

The terrorists also use barrel bombs and car bombs to kill and destroy. Two days ago a “Syrian rebel bomb attack reduced the army headquarters in Damascus to a smouldering wreck today as world leaders, unable to break the diplomatic deadlock in the conflict, met at the United Nations.” according a report by The Independent (UK). And this 29 second video shows they are in possession of powerful C-4 explosives being supplied to them by other countries:

 

 

 


 

This video was filmed of a convoy of tanks in rural governante of Rif Dimashq outside of Damascus, home to the administrative headquarters of Rif Dimashq. It should be obvious that these tanks were supplied by foreign governments.

 

 

 

 

 

The final video in our report shows the terrorists destroying a historic shrine dedicated to the prophet Abraham declaring it to be a place of heresy and idolatry.

 

Radical Wahhabis Bulldoze Historic Mausoleum of
Prophet Abraham in Syria’s Raqqa Province

 

Eretz Zen writes: From May 16, 2013: A radical Wahhabi group affiliated with al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front) is seen surrounding and then destroying with a bulldozer a historic mausoleum or shrine visited by pilgrims dedicated to the prophet Abraham, who supposedly spent some time with his wife Sarah in the town of Ayn al-Arous where the shrine was built. Ayn al-Arous is located south of Tal Abyad in the Raqqa province in northern Syria.

 

The person filming the scene refers to the shrine as containing heresies and being worshiped besides Allah without specifying who exactly worshiped the edifice.

 

This practice of destroying tombs and shrines is nothing new for the al-Qaeda Salafis, for they are currently practicing the same type of behavior in Tunisia, Mali, Afghanistan, Somalia, etc.

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

The damage and in some cases the destruction of Syria’s ancient buildings, towns, cities and artifacts are directly attritutable to the foreign invasion of the terrorists of al-Nusra and al-Queda and their sponsors in the US, France, Israel and US-backed Arab dictatorships. Responsible governments defend their people with force as al-Assad has done when foreign invaders enter a country and attack civilians, infrastructure, civil institutions, police and the military personnel. It is hopeful and admirable to see the Syrian government simultaneously laying plans to protect their ancient heritage and rebuild the country while driving out the invader. The world may be finally “turning a corner” away from 12 years of US/NATO wars, destruction and human misery. This “turning away” began when one world leader, Vladimir Putin drew his own red line with wise diplomacy, backed by the only force the belligerents understand – an unspoken but known military capability.

Biography, Essays and Poetry by Les Blough

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