“Damage to the heritage of the country is damage to the soul of its people and its identity“, Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO.
War and journalism make for very dangerous partners but in the middle east they are often together. Conflict gives rise to war reporting. War reporting exposes exposes the human life lost in a conflict but under-reports on the cultural heritage lost. A good example of this is the ongoing crisis in Syria in which through the media we are told of the human loss ( more than 100,000 people died) but we are not told about the loss of cultural heritage. Gunfire and falling bombs and is a higher priority for reporters than archaeology. I can appreciate this but we must not forget the heritage.
Syria has a rich historical past with having had influence from people like the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. My mind boggles at the thought of so much history going up in flames. Syria of course is just one example of a war torn country’s lost heritage. Much heritage has been lost in places like Iraq and Afghanistan also rich in history.
Many Syrians are using centuries old castles as hiding places and fortresses from the enemy. The ancient cities of Aleppo and Palmyra are being pounded constantly by tanks. They have suffered enormous damage. Palmyra known as the Bride of the Desert was the most visited tourist site in Syria given its impressive Roman ruins and its previous state of excellent preservation. I still remember seeing it on my television screen back in early 2000 when travel show Getaway was filming a segment there.
The presenter was mesmerized by the city. Fast forward now to 2013 and im certain that presenter would be horrified at what he would see. Apart from ancient cities, museums in Syria are being looted for their treasures. With war comes poverty and unemployment. Many Syrians are trying to sell relics to make money. Their number one goal is survival. UNESCO is doing all it can to protect heritage as much as possible. Often its very difficult for them as they risk death entering a war zone.
I have great admiration for Balázs Major, an archaeology professor from Hungary’s Pázmány Péter Catholic University. He has been researching in Syria for 15 years. He has made it a mission of his to do what he can to preserve its heritage.
Currently amongst the chaos he is exploring the site of Margat, one of the biggest Crusader castles in the Middle East. Earlier this year Euronews journalists caught up with him to find about his work. He started excavating this castle in 2006 and is still involved in its excavation. Before the war he had a team of volunteers with him, mostly Hungarian and Syrian students. Now he is a solo worker. He hopes that one day they return when its safe.
http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1073 – UNESCO Red alert list of 6 heritage Syrian Sites in Danger.