Monday, May 25, 2015

SYRIA - Robbing History, Culture at Risk

"How war has robbed Syria of its history" PBS NewsHour 5/19/2015


SUMMARY:  There’s a battle being waged for Syria’s history, where four years of war have devastated cultural heritage sites and looting occurs by all sides of the conflict.  Special correspondent Marcia Biggs reports on the flagrant destruction of relics, the big business of smuggling antiquities and what’s being done to stop it.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The United Nations Cultural Agency recently expressed alarm over one of the Middle East’s most treasured historical sites.  They reported that the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria, home of 2,000-year-old ruins and a U.N. World Heritage Site, is currently under threat, as Islamic State forces move in, fighting against government troops in the area.

At this point, the militants have been held at bay, but the destruction and looting of antiquities is one of the turmoil’s many casualties.

NewsHour special correspondent Marcia Biggs reports tonight on the fight to save them.  It’s part of our series on Culture at Risk.

MARCIA BIGGS, Special Correspondent:  It’s as stark as night and day, this satellite photo before the war began and after.

Both are from the ancient city of Apamea, founded in 300 B.C.  It was a hub of commerce and culture in the Roman era.  And it boasted one of the largest theaters of the ancient world.  Today, it is pockmarked with craters, evidence of massive looting on an industrial scale.

Syria’s cultural heritage sites have been devastated by four years of war.  Some in the region are battling to save the country’s history, but it’s oftentimes a life-threatening race against the clock.  We traveled to Turkey to meet a Syrian archaeologist who is at the forefront of that fight.  He asked that we not show you his face or use his real name.  So, we will call him Saeed.

Early in the war, Saeed was part of a team called the Syrian Heritage Task Force, which sandbagged historic sites like this museum in Ma’ara, to protect them from Bashar al-Assad’s airstrikes.

SAEED (through interpreter):  It’s not a war on our present.  That’s what I believe.  The war is targeting the human being that is alive now, who is also part of a history of roots.  So we are fighting on more than one front.  I choose to fight on the front that is that of history.

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