‘Destroying Palmyra is cultural cleansing of Syrian people’ – UNESCO
Palmyra has symbolic importance in terms of cultural diversity and Syrian history, and that gave ISIS motivation to destroy more and more sites in the ancient city, said Nada Al Hassan, the chief of the Arab States Unit at UNESCO.
More priceless artifacts have been destroyed by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Syria's ancient city of Palmyra, including part of a Roman amphitheater and the four-column ‘Tetra-pylon’ structure.
ISIS retook Palmyra in December after Syrian government forces backed by Russian airpower liberated the city last March.
Nada Al Hassan, the chief of the Arab States Unit at UNESCO, commented on the destruction of the part of a Roman amphitheater in Palmyra.
“This theater is from the... second century of our era and it had a beautiful scene. They destroyed the Roman scene which was at the back of any performance taking place in the theater. It was very well preserved. And it was used by ISIS... as a scene for public executions,” Nada Al Hassan said.
“I think that when the attention of the international community was so intense with regards to Palmyra because of its historical and symbolic importance in terms of cultural diversity and the history of Syria, this gave them the motivation to destroy more and more of it as soon as they got it back,” she said.
Nada Al Hassan cited the words of UNESCO Director–General Irina Bokova, who said that “this is yet another act of cultural cleansing and another annihilation of the Syrian people.”
“Reconstruction or restoration of cultural heritage is part of reconstruction of societies and humanitarian response. It is not an isolated issue; it is really part of a whole,” Al Hassan said.
“And what UNESCO believes in is that fully including cultural heritage in recovery plans, recovery funding and recovery concepts will help in fostering dialogue, in relieving people from the collective trauma that they were subjected to, and in bringing people together with the sense of strength to rebuild their countries again."
“So here I would like to stress that addressing the cultural heritage [issue] is not a mere luxury where we deal with cultural heritage despite the humanitarian needs and the terrible suffering of the people. We deal with cultural heritage as an integral part of reconstruction and recovery of the society that was heavily hit by war and that suffered war,” Al Hassan added.
“It is a tragedy” that the world community is not joining efforts and setting differences aside to save Palmyra now, says Peter Galbraith, former US Ambassador to Syria.
“This is hardly the first time that cultural heritage has been a target of war,” he added.
“In the Croatia war, the Serbian forces attacked the city of Dubrovnik, a world heritage site; they destroyed the library in Sarajevo. This course goes back; in WWI the Germans destroyed the medieval library in Belgium. Culture is a target of war.”
French MP Nicolas Dhuicq said the “War in Syria is a war for civilization. The Syrian Arab Army is confronted by people who…want to destroy everything which is civilization.”
He hopes that now Aleppo has been freed, the Syrian Army will “free Deir ez-Zor which is besieged by ISIS and then turn to Palmyra again. What should be done is what Russia is doing: providing air support and weaponry to the brave Syrian Army which is fighting really for freedom of all the people on Earth because we are the next on the list, we, the Europeans, if the Syrian Army and Bashar Assad fall in Syria.”
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