Archeological sites caught between the fire of war and preservation efforts

While most countries try to preserve their historical ruins and consider them to be an important source of tourism, Syrian archeological sites have often been bombed over the course of the more than five year war.

Volunteers have founded organizations to preserve ruins and to document those that are damaged. These volunteers also educate residents about local ruins that are an important part of the Syrian national identity.

The Idlib Archeological Center is one such organization, run by a group of young academics and archeologists.

The regime’s bombardment of historical sites indicates a lack of interest in their importance and historical value, despite repeated warnings from international organizations. Ruins play an important role in the national economy by driving tourism, which has disappeared in Idlib province as a result of the ongoing conflict.

Idlib province is home to more than 760 ruins, or more than two thirds of Syria’s archeological sites.

“Syrian and Russian warplanes have targeted a number of ruins in Idlib province, including Sarjila, the al-Maara museuhich was hit twice with barrel bombs at the end of last year, and the Idlib Museum, which was bombed after rebels captured Idlib city,” Dr. Hasan Ismael, head of the Documentation and Excavation Office of the Idlib Archeological Center, told the Syrian Voice.

“The Sansharah ruins were also struck more than 10 times recently,” he said.

Dr. Ayman al-Nabu, head of the Idlib Archeological Center, told the Syrian Voice that “the Archeological Center communicates with relevant organizations, like the provincial council, local councils, and free police. There is a plan to sign a memorandum of understanding with those groups in order to draw up future initiatives to protect the ruins.”

“We’re trying to involve the local community by conducting an educational campaign. We expect to implement it soon, and it will encompass all areas of Idlib province,” said Dr. al-Nabu.

“We plan to establish educational centers that deal with ruin preservation in schools and local councils. In the past, we conducted a training course in order to sign new members up with the Idlib Archeological Center.”

“They were trained in how to protect ruins during crises and fighting, and how to prepare reports and deal with archeological jargon, as well as how to document them.”

The Idlib Archeological Center undertook a number of plans to protect ruins including preserving ancient paintings in the Maarat al-Nuaman Museuem, like the Hercules painting.

“We first cleaned up the painting, and covered it with an adhesive, and put a isolating agent on it and strengthened it with cups of sand to protect it from bombardment. This method was effective as the painting was not damaged despite the fact that the museum was hit by a barrel bomb,” said Hassan al-Ismael.

Preserving and protecting ruins is difficult as most local and international organizations do not pay them much attention, adopting the position that “humans are more important than stones.” Civilians are likewise uninterested as they are concerned with staying alive and finding sources of food during a war that has exhausted them for five years.

The Syrian regime, for its part, does not pay interest to archeological sites or their historical value. The regime bombed many of those sites, and participates in wiping out Syria’s ancient history and landmarks and exterminating its historical heritage.

According to the archeology directorate of the Syian Government, 54 archeological sites have been damaged in Idlib during the war, out of a total of 758 damaged across Syria since the war broke out in the Spring of 2011. 


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