ASOR Undertakes Humanitarian Heritage Work in Idlib Governorate

ASOR Undertakes Humanitarian Heritage Work in Idlib Governorate 

Work Has Begun with Half of the Funding Secured—$5,000 in Matching Funds Sought

 

Idlib Governorate has been particularly hard-hit over the last six years of the Syrian conflict, and the region and its people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Basic humanitarian assistance in the form of food, housing, and medical supplies is of course critical, but humanitarian assistance in the form of cultural heritage support is also needed as part of collective relief efforts. Such cultural aid not only demonstrates the concern and compassion of the international community towards the Syrian people and their collective cultural identity, but also provides much-needed jobs and income to people whose former livelihoods have become unsuitable during this conflict.

Aerial bombardment campaigns by both Syrian regime and Russian forces have devastated dozens of towns and villages throughout the province. Most recently, the town of Khan Sheikhoun was targeted in a chemical weapons attack that killed 92 people, including civilians and 30 children. ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives has also gathered information on 116 cultural heritage sites in Idlib Governorate that have been damaged as a direct result of instability and ongoing fighting in the area. As the conflict continues local Syrians have fought to protect and preserve the countries multitudes of heritage sites. 

 

The Project

The Al Ma'ara Museum (aka Murad Pasha Caravansary) is comprised of four sections with cross beamed ceilings connected by arched hallways to service facilities. A mosque and a restaurant are found in the center, and a marketplace, a bathhouse, a bakery, grains storage area, and a water station that supplies the whole facility are on the west side. The caravansary was converted into a museum to preserve and display the historically significant collections of mosaics from dead cities.

The museum sustained heavy damage after being targeted with airstrikes in June 2015 and May 2016. The heaviest damage was in the bathhouse area of the caravansary and in what is known as the ‘fourth wing’ on the west side of the site. Site monitors from the Heritage Preservation Center, in conjunction with The Day After - Heritage Protection Initiative (TDA-HPI), conducted a physical assessment of the site and documented structural damage. Site monitors noted that the right/east wall of the hallway leading to the lavatories (modern era) had deviated by 32cm. Severe damage due to weather erosion and heavy snow fall was also noted. As a result of the site visit, the Heritage Preservation Center and TDA-HPI recommended that urgent repairs take place. 

Damage to the Al Ma'ara Museum

The Al Ma'ara Museum has been repeatedly damaged during the almost six-year long conflict. On March 1, 2014 DGAM released a report on the site. According to the report, opposition forces were using the site as a military settlement. That occupation caused minor damage to the site. In August 2014, the Smithsonian Newsroom published a photograph showing gunfire damage to a 6th century CE mosaic located in the museum.

On June 16, 2015 ASOR CHI sources reported that a Syrian regime helicopter dropped a barrel bomb onto the museum on the evening of June 15, 2015, causing massive destruction. The damage included collapsed domes, ceilings, and walls.

Then on May 9, 2016 ASOR CHI sources again reported that Syrian regime airstrikes had struck the museum for a second time. This second strike caused severe damage, particularly in the bathhouse area. Mosaics covered in previous preservation efforts were covered in rubble. The exterior of the northwestern wall, which separated the Khan from the bathhouse, collapsed into the narrow corridor.

(USA Today; 2015)

(TDA-HPI; 2016)

Upcoming Rebuilding Efforts

Due to the most recent airstrikes on the site in May 2016, the right/east wall of the fourth wing on the west side of the caravansary bathhouse deviated by 32cm. In an emergency effort to prevent further damage, the wall was temporarily reinforced with beams. The stones damaged on the wall were numbered for future reconstruction. With the first grant of $5,000, restoration work is set to begin in May 2017. 

Wall prior to deviation

Deviated wall with temporary reinforcement

Previous Safeguarding Preservation Efforts

In March 2016, efforts were undertaken to protect the thousands of square meters of mosaics  located at the Murad Pasha Caravansary. On March 1, 2016 volunteers began to remove debris from the wings of the museum; volunteers used a trained eye to sort between debris and antiquities.  Archaeologists from the Syrian Heritage Center aided in the collecting of pieces of pottery left in the debris. The pottery was later moved to the second wing of the museum for preservation. Mosaics damaged by the airstrike were moved to the first wing and sandbagged for protection. Column capitals were also relocated into the wings of the museum. The rest of the antiquities on display in the museum halls were moved inside the wings of the site.

The mosque and takia, located within the caravansary, were thoroughly cleaned, the religious books located within sorted and stored. In addition, the roof, courtyards, takia, and the rest of the caravansary were swept in anticipation for the next phase of work.

Protecting Cultural Heritage for Syria

Unfortunately, as long as this conflict in Syria continues, cultural heritage will be under threat. It may feel like a hopeless situation, but there are organizations like ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives that are working hard to document cultural heritage damage and help Syrians and Iraqis to protect and preserve their heritage. The loss of these cultural sites is a symptom of the humanitarian crisis. This conflict is not only displacing and endangering populations, but, through the loss of cultural heritage, it is taking away an important part of their identity from before the war as well as their connection with the generations that have long gone.

Any transition process that aims to bring Syrians together and assist them in working towards ending the bloodshed and rebuilding their shattered country, needs to identify where common denominators exist between the opposing sides and provide mechanisms that will help them work towards consensus. With that in mind, ASOR and TDA-HDI believe that cultural heritage has a critical role in enhancing this Syrian identity and helping steer Syria on its path towards post conflict stabilization and reconciliation.

Once the current violence ends, the people of Syria will need to find ways to reconnect with the symbols that once united them across religious and political lines. The importance of this cultural heritage is nowhere more demonstrable than when it comes to the issue of national identity and what makes a Syrian a Syrian. Syria has a resilient sense of identity based on the concept of a shared citizenship around a common history and supported by a long and rich cultural heritage. The country’s ancient past as represented in this rich cultural heritage will be key to this. Protecting and preserving Syria’s history and heritage therefore is about safeguarding its future too. 

Courtyard of the Sultanhanı caravansary (13th century) Kayseri, Tur (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

What is a Caravansary?

A caravansary (caravanserai) is a site at which caravans would have lodged during their journeys. The caravansaries or inns were generally rectangular in form with an open courtyard central to the inn. Lodgings surrounded the open courtyard where animals, including between 300 and 400 camels, were housed; camels, as load-bearing animals, were critical to traveling caravans. Such sites were critical for trade routes that crisscrossed Asia, North Africa, and parts of Europe and were widely utilized along the former Silk Road, and ancient Royal Road. Caravansarys were often located on the outskirts of towns and villages.

Donate to our Efforts

ASOR in partnership with TDA-HPI is currently raising funds for emergency mitigation efforts to occur at the Khan As'ad Pacha (ca. 1753), a museum complex located near the Al Ma'ara Museum. Ongoing aerial bombardment over the course of the Syrian conflict has heavily damaged the the site. TDA-HPI plans to develop an emergency intervention study to assess the damage. Using that study, and similar methodology featured in rehabilitation efforts at Al Ma'ara Museum, TDA-HPI hopes to restore the Khan As'ad Pacha. You can help support these efforts by clicking on the 'Donate Here' button seen below. Your generous contribution will help to restore this historic site for future generations of Syrians.


 

Other ways you can donate:

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SPECIAL REPORT: Nimrud and the Islamic State Deliberate Destructions: An Update

ASOR CULTURAL HERITAGE INITIATIVES

By Michael Danti

Academic Director, ASOR CHI
December 2016

 

Damage to Northwest Palace at Nimrud. Courtesy of Max Delaney, AFP; November 15, 2016.

The world has witnessed a seemingly unending succession of destructions of cultural heritage in the Middle East since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011 and the ISIL (so-called Islamic State) seizure of territories in northern Iraq and Syria starting in June 2014. The challenges are not confined to this particular conflict zone, with other notable hotspots for heritage at risk in Libya, Yemen, Egypt, and Ukraine. Many factors are contributing to the crisis in Syria and Iraq, including combat damage, deliberate targeting, looting, militarization, vandalism, diminished cultural infrastructure, and neglect. Since August 2014, The American Schools of Oriental Research Cultural Heritage Initiatives (ASOR CHI) has been conducting monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding on the crisis for the U.S. Department of State, as well as engaging in public outreach initiatives and the planning and implementation of emergency response efforts. Looking back over the last two years, perhaps some of the most significant and widely publicized heritage incidents that we have analyzed were the deliberate destructions of monuments by ISIL at the famous Neoassyrian royal capital of Nimrud in northern Iraq, including the attacks on the Northwest Palace, the Nabu Temple, and the Ziggurat. The Iraqi military recently liberated the ancient archaeological mounds of Nimrud (see Timeline below), but this does not ensure the site’s safety. The Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage urgently needs international assistance to safeguard Nimrud and other newly liberated sites, and as ISIL’s recent recapture of Palmyra from Assad’s forces in Syria has shown, the threats posed by radical non-state actors remain far from neutralized.

Ancient Kalhu

DigitalGlobe satellite imagery from November 4, 2016 showing heavy machinery tracks in the Temple of Ishtar at Nimrud. Taken from ASOR CHI Facebook Site.

Nimrud (ancient Assyrian Kalhu, the Biblical Calah) rose toprominence during the reign of the Neoassyrian king Assurnasirpal II (883–859 BC), becoming the new royal capital of the early Neoassyrian Empire. The older capital, Assur, remained the religious capital of Assyria until the downfall of the empire in the late 7th century. Under Assurnasirpal, many resplendent monumental buildings were commissioned at Nimrud. These ambitious construction campaigns continued under his successors Shalmaneser III (858–824 BC), Adad-Nirari III (810–783 BC), and Tiglath-Pileser III (744–727 BC). King Sargon II (721–705 BC) moved the Assyrian royal capital to Khorsabad, which may never have been occupied due to this ruler’s sudden death in battle. Sargon’s successor Sennacherib moved the royal capital to Nineveh, on the outskirts of modern Mosul, abandoning Khorsabad and relegating Nimrud to the role of a provincial center, although royal building activity continued, albeit sporadically. The Medes destroyed Nimrud in 614–612 BC in the twilight years of the Neoassyrian Empire.

Today the mounds of Nimrud cover 360 hectares. The most prominent part of the site is its high mound representing the remains of the city’s citadel. In antiquity, this citadel or acropolis area formed the city’s religious, political, and administrative core and contained a number of impressive monumental buildings, including palaces, temples, and a large ziggurat (stepped tower). The citadel was bordered on its east by the Tigris River and was surrounded by a mud-brick fortification wall. The extensive low mound presumably comprised the residential neighborhoods of the outer town, although this area has not been explored to any significant degree by archaeologists. A 7.5 km-long mud-brick fortification wall protected the lower city, and an impressive military complex, called Fort Shalmaneser, was situated in the outer city’s southeast corner — conspicuously far from the royal residence on the citadel — and consisted of an arsenal and a review palace for the ruler to conduct the business of commander-in-chief of the highly militaristic Assyrian state.

Detail of DigitalGlobe satellite imagery from November 4, 2016 showing the destruction of the Ziggurat and heavy machinery tracks in the Temple of Ishtar at Nimrud. Taken from ASOR CHI Facebook Site.

Nabu Temple looking towards the Nabu Shrine. Courtesy of Max Delaney, AFP; November 15, 2016.

Most explorers and archaeologists who have excavated over the last 170 years (see Timeline below) have focused their attention on the citadel’s many monumental buildings. The most significant and impressive structure is the so-called Northwest Palace commissioned by King Assurnasirpal as his new royal residence. The main gates of the palace were flanked by colossal stone sculptures of human-headed, winged lions and bulls, and the walls of the more important rooms of the palace were elaborately decorated with painted stone bas-reliefs with cuneiform inscriptions, frescoes, and glazed tiles. The city’s main temple, dedicated to the war-god Ninurta, lay at the north end of the citadel between the Northwest Palace and the Ninurta Temple’s ziggurat. Other temples known to have been located in this area were dedicated to Ishtar Šarrat-niphi and Kidmurri. The southeastern citadel was taken up by the Nabu Temple (a god of wisdom) and his divine consort Tašmetum. This temple contained a royal reception suite for state functions, an attestation of the important religious role of the Assyrian ruler. Construction of the massive complex was started in the reign of Assurnasirpal II, but major portions of the building were completed during the reign of Adad-Nirari III.

ISIL Deliberate Destructions

Northwest Palace at Nimrud showing a standing relief, but missing Lamassu and reliefs along the other wall. Al Harith Al Shwely; November 15, 2016.

During the ISIL occupation, militants have vandalized and destroyed many of the sculptures of Nimrud and have allegedly stolen antiquities from the site. ISIL detonated a series of highly destructive barrel bombs in the reconstructed Northwest Palace and Nabu Temple, and just prior to their expulsion from the site this year, ISIL leveled the Ziggurat using heavy machinery. ISIL orchestrates such deliberate and performative (planned, propagandistic) destructions of heritage for many reasons, including securing media coverage, diverting attention from military setbacks, fomenting ethnosectarian violence, and conducting campaigns of cultural cleansing and genocide.

Nimrud presents a revealing case study for understanding the ISIL ideology. While we are not always certain why ISIL commits a particular deliberate destruction, in the case of Nimrud members of the organization have often been quite explicit and verbose in communicating their motives in propagandistic social media. They have also been cavalier in showing themselves on camera and when recording their war crimes, which may prove to be important evidence in future legal actions, as was the case in the 2016 prosecution and conviction of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi at the International Criminal Court for perpetrating deliberate attacks on religious and historical buildings in 2012 at Timbuktu, Mali.

On the surface, ISIL’s radical ideology maintains that ancient monuments and artifacts promote idolatry and undermine the unity of Islam. Below this thin veneer of attempted religious justification lie more earthly concerns with power and greed. The organization contradicts its own ideology by pilfering and trafficking antiquities and other cultural property, and it regularly destroys nonreligious cultural heritage out of ignorance or sheer malice. In attacking the monuments of Nimrud, ISIL not only targeted ancient monuments that they construe as idolatrous, but also lashed out against modern notions of Iraqi identity that connect to the pre-Islamic past. The extremists also implicated a “western colonial conspiracy” that they argue has labored to unearth idolatrous relics in an attempt to undermine Islam. Ultimately, the attacks on Nimrud and other cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria are driven by ISIL’s obsession with cultural cleansing. They seek to erase cultural memory, manipulate cultural identity, and stamp out cultural diversity. Nimrud afforded ISIL famous targets with photogenic, scrupulously reconstructed ancient remains evoking western orientalism, the birth of the modern Iraqi state and national identity, and a long record of international scholarly collaboration. Although Nimrud and other heritage sites (viz. Khorsabad) have been liberated from ISIL occupation, we are still faced with great challenges in our efforts to assist Iraqis in preserving and protecting cultural heritage. During the post-conflict reconstruction, cultural heritage should play a key role in unifying the Iraqi people, and we hope that sustainable, community-based approaches will provide a model for the future.

Nimrud Timeline

883–859 BC

Nimrud becomes the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire under Assurnasirpal II.

721–705 BC

King Sargon II moves the Assyrian royal capital to Khorsabad.

614–612 BC

The Medes sack Nimrud. There are post-Assyrian, Achaemenid, and Hellenistic occupations, and possibly Parthian and Sasanian settlements, following which the site is abandoned.

401 BC

Xenophon travels past the site, calling in Larissa.

1844

Site first excavated by G. P. Badger.

1845–47

Austen Henry Layard’s first series of excavations.

1849–51

Layard’s second series of excavations

1852

Captain Felix Jones produces a plan of Nimrud.

1854–55

William Kennett Loftus excavations.

1873

George Smith excavations.

1877–79

Hormuzd Rassam excavations.

1949–58

M. E. L. Mallowan excavations.

1956-60

Restoration work by the Iraq Department of Antiquities.

1959–62

David Oates excavations.

1963

Jeffrey Orchard excavations.

1969–78

Restoration work by the Iraq Department of Antiquities.

1974–76

Janusz Meuszynski excavations.

1975

Muyasser Sa’id excavations.

1989–92

Restoration work by the Iraq Department of Antiquities.

1987–89

Paolo Fiorina excavations.

1988–90

Muzahim Mahmud excavations.

1989

John Curtis and Dominique Collon excavations.

2003–11

Iraq War — widespread damage and deterioration of cultural heritage sites, decay of cultural infrastructure, rampant looting.

2014

In June the site falls under ISIL control.

October 11 ISIL allegedly conducts acts of vandalism in the Northwest Palace. This attack goes unreported for a significant period of time.

2015

January 25 photos posted on Facebook reveal the damage to sculptures in the Northwest Palace.

March 5 the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities releases a statement confirming a deliberate attack on Nimrud. Numerous unsubstantiated reports of “bulldozing” and other destruction emerge in media and other open-source reporting, as well as rebuttals of these claims.

In late March, analysis of satellite imagery dating to early March reveals evidence of the first stages of intentional destruction of sculptures in the Northwest Palace, later confirmed to be caused by ISIL militants using heavy machinery and various hand tools.

On or after April 1 — likely on April 2 — ISIL detonates barrel bombs in the Northwest Palace as part of a performative deliberate destruction of the structure.

April 11 ISIL releases a video of the deliberate destruction of relief sculpture and standing architecture in the Northwest Palace.

DigitalGlobe satellite imagery dating to April 17 shows the damage to the Northwest Palace.

2016

In early June, ISIL releases a video of a performative deliberate destruction targeting the Nabu Temple at Nimrud. DigitalGlobe satellite imagery from June 3 confirms the damage to the temple’s main entrance and the nearby dig house. Imagery from February 13 shows no damage.

Sometime in November earth moving equipment levels the ziggurat and damages the Ishtar Temple, probably as part of an ISIL deliberate destruction.

November 13 Iraqi forces liberate the site from ISIL occupation.

Additional Images

The Northwest Palace (Al Harith Al Shwely; November 15, 2016)

Recent photo of Nimrud after recapture from ISIL probably Northwest Palace (Al Harith Al Shwely; November 15, 2016)

Damage to stone reliefs at Nimrud from the Northwest Palace

Damage to stone reliefs at Nimrud from the Northwest Palace (Al Harith Al Shwely; November 15, 2016)

 


Special Section on Palmyra

ASOR CHI Weekly Report 93-94 Special Section on Palmyra

Michael D. Danti, Allison Cuneo, Susan Penacho, Bijan Rouhani, Amr Al‐Azm, Marina Gabriel, Kyra Kaercher, Jamie O’Connell
May 11, 2016

 

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[embeddoc url="http://www.asor-syrianheritage.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/WR-93–94-Palmyra-Base-EN-and-AR.pdf" viewer="google"]

Special Report: Update from Palmyra

DigitalGlobe satellite imagery shows the construction of a military base within the protected zone of the UNESCO World Heritage Site

Allison Cuneo, Susan Penacho, Michael Danti, Marina Gabriel
May 11, 2016

 

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[embeddoc url="http://www.asor-syrianheritage.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ASOR-CHI-Palmyra-Military-Base-Report-r.pdf" viewer="google"]

SPECIAL REPORT: The Recapture of Palmyra

ASOR CULTURAL HERITAGE INITIATIVES

Allison Cuneo, Susan Penacho, Michael Danti, Marina Gabriel, Jamie O’Connell

With contributions from Bisher al Issa, Bijan Rouhani, and Kyra Kaercher
March 2016

Download the Report

 

Figure 1. Map of Palmyra (DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016)

Figure 1. Map of Palmyra (DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016)

The region of Palmyra and modern Tadmor was taken from ISIL militants by a coalition of Syrian, Russian, and Iranian military forces on March 24, 2016. This report will provide a summary of what is known to have taken place in the area since September 2015, including a synopsis of the humanitarian and military situation since then and the effects the conflict has had on the cultural heritage of ancient and modern Palmyra. This report is a preliminary analysis of a rapidly developing event, and initial findings may be subject to change as further information is revealed. For a more complete summary of the situation in Palmyra, please refer to the upcoming Weekly Report 85–86 (reporting period ending March 29, 2016) and Weekly Report 87–88 (reporting period ending April 12, 2016).

For more detailed information on the heritage and history of the ancient city, please review ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiative’s Special Report on the Significance of Palmyra from June 2015. Additionally, please refer to ASOR CHI’s second special report Update on the Situation in Palmyra from September 2015 for details on the intentional destruction of multiple heritage sites. Please also refer to Palmyra: Heritage Adrift, published June 2015 by Cheikhmous Ali, for a summary of the collateral damage to the cultural heritage in and around Palmyra.

Summary of the Current Situation in Palmyra

On March 27, 2016 Syrian Arab Republic Government (SARG) forces with heavy support from Russia, Iran, and other foreign forces captured Palmyra and the Palmyra Airport in Homs Governorate after ISIL militants withdrew from the area.[1] Local residents of the city reported that ISIL militants planted hundreds of mines in the surrounding palm groves of the oasis city and in the archaeological site as they retreated.[2] These mines slowed the SARG advancement into the city and into the archaeological site. The Syrian regime and its allies began clearing operations and were reinforced by a team of Russian experts who arrived from Moscow on March 31.[3] Syrian Directorate General for Antiquities and Museum (DGAM) personnel have been able to reach the site, though their access has been limited due to the placement of the mines.[4] On April 1 a mass grave was found amongst the ruins. Independent reports indicate the grave contains the bodies of soldiers and civilians, including children executed by ISIL.[5]

Following the expulsion of ISIL militants from the region, video footage and photographs of the World Heritage Site have circulated widely, providing some of the clearest and most detailed images released since September 2015. To produce this report, ASOR CHI has analyzed the new photographic evidence, newly released DigitalGlobe satellite imagery, and recent open-source information pertaining to the ancient monuments — primarily the reports of the DGAM, military personnel, and journalists who have gained access to Palmyra. The ground-level photography focuses on the most well known monuments in the ancient city; at the time of publication no on-site photographs or footage were available for the Valley of the Tombs or the three Necropoli. ASOR CHI acquired DigitalGlobe satellite imagery released on March 30, 2016 that covers the ancient site, including these inaccessible areas. This imagery revealed previously undocumented damage to multiple tombs in the Valley of the Tombs, the Northwestern Necropolis, and the Southeastern Necropolis. This damage occurred between September 3, 2015 (previously the most recent images) and March 30, 201 (the most recent image).

Humanitarian Situation Since September 2015

The humanitarian situation in Palmyra has deteriorated rapidly since ISIL took control of eastern Homs Governorate in May 2015, and SARG forces have been actively waging a campaign to expel the group from the area. On September 30, 2015 Russia began its aerial campaign in Syria, and reports surfaced almost immediately of Russian airstrikes targeting opposition-held areas, including alleged civilian targets, and not areas held by ISIL, their purported objective. Syrian and international activist groups began reporting, with increasing frequency, the strikes hitting civilian sites such as hospitals and residential areas, which often inflicted high civilian casualties.[6]

Figure 2. The main square in the city of Palmyra shows the impact inflicted by airstrikes and combat on the modern city (BBC; March 31, 2016)

Figure 2. The main square in the city of Palmyra shows the impact inflicted by airstrikes and combat on the modern city (BBC; March 31, 2016)

On March 10, 2016 the local activist group Palmyra Coordination released an urgent message via their Facebook page that detailed the destruction of the modern city of Tadmor/Palmyra as a result of the ongoing Russian and SARG airstrikes. The group labeled the city as a “Disaster Area”. The Palmyra Coordination also reported that since the start of 2016, Russian airstrikes had “destroyed at least half of the city’s neighborhoods” as well as the “two local medical points in the city….most of [the] infrastructure and public buildings including schools, mosques, [and] the only church in the city.”[7] In addition, the group reported that as of March 20, 2016 only a quarter of the city’s original residents, approximately 15,000 people out of the original 50,000 inhabitants, remained in the city.[8] In the lead-up to the SARG offensive to retake Palmyra, Palmyra Coordination increasingly reported on Russian airstrikes occurring in residential areas.[9]

On March 23, 2016, ISIL militants reportedly urged Tadmor’s remaining residents to flee the city as the fighting edged closer.[10] Few civilians were reported to be in the city when SARG-affiliated forces entered the urban area.[11] In a departure from typical ISIL defensive tactics, the militants apparently did not use the residents as human shields.

Since SARG and allied forces recaptured Palmyra, the Palmyra Coordination has reported instances of violence against some remaining residents perpetrated by SARG and its affiliates. Theft has also been recorded with instances of SARG and SARG-affiliated forces entering homes, stealing items, and reselling them to outside merchants.[12] SARG frequently accuses civilians residing in areas recaptured from ISIL of sympathizing or collaborating with ISIL, which is almost certainly linked to such retributory theft and violence. Reports of such retributory acts occurred in both Syria and Iraq. As a result, these individuals often face harsh treatment by the group that has recaptured the city. Despite this treatment, the Palmyra Coordination reported that the regime had issued orders for all evacuated citizens to return to the city on penalty of arrest in order to provide an image of security for an upcoming visit by government officials.[13]

Military Developments

In October 2015, Russia deployed attack helicopters and artillery to the SARG front in Palmyra.[14] The move by Russia came shortly after it began its aerial campaign on September 30, 2015. On October 6, 2015, Russia denied that its airstrikes had struck the city of Palmyra after the state-run Syrian News Agency (SANA) announced that “20 vehicles and 3 weapons depots” had been struck.[15] Almost one month later, on November 2, 2015 activists in Palmyra reported at least eight airstrikes on the western outskirts of the ISIL-held city, sending smoke rising out of an area that includes the historic citadel.[16] The same day, Moscow’s Defense Ministry stated that a Russian “Su-25 jet hit a fortified Isis position in the [Palmyra] area of Homs province.” Russia did not explicitly say when the strikes took place.[17] On November 5, 2015 the Russian Air Force announced a series of airstrikes on ISIL militants in Palmyra.[18]

In January 2016, Syrian activists reported that Russia had deployed military advisers to the west of Palmyra.[19] The presence of such advisors became clear in the weeks leading up to the recapture of Palmyra as Russian special forces were reported to be calling in airstrikes for the Russian Air Force, as well as providing assistance to SARG forces and allied groups.[20]

In the first three weeks of March 2016, SARG forces and pro-regime allies, backed by SARG and Russian airstrikes, began their offensive to reclaim Palmyra from ISIL.[21] During the subsequent ground operations and unprecedented frequency of Syrian and Russian airstrikes, significant damage was inflicted upon the modern city of Palmyra as well as the archaeological site. SARG and pro-regime allies were reported to be within two miles of the city on March 23, 2016, having captured several strategic hilltops from ISIL.[22] On March 27, SARG forces and pro-regime allies, backed by heavy Russian and SARG airstrikes, recaptured the city of Palmyra.[23]

Airstrike Damage to Cultural Sites in Tadmor

As recently released footage details, both residential areas and the archaeological site in the city of Palmyra have suffered extensive damage caused by Russian and SARG airstrikes. The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has reported nine airstrikes by SARG forces that targeted mosques in the city of Palmyra. Eight of the nine airstrikes on the mosques occurred after the Russian intervention in Syria that began on September 30, 2015.[24] The local activist group Palmyra Coordination also documented several incidents of Russian and SARG airstrikes that struck the archaeological site of Palmyra as well as residential areas in the city.[25] Palmyra Coordination also reported that along with the mosques that had been damaged or destroyed in the city, the only church had also been damaged in airstrikes.[26] The following places of worship have been reported as damaged or destroyed in airstrikes since September 2015:

  • Uthman bin Affan Mosque, severely damaged by a series of Russian airstrikes March 16, 2016.[27]
  • Bilal Mosque, damaged by Russian airstrikes March 16, 2016 and by SARG airstrikes December 9, 2015.[28]
  • Al Sayeda Khadija Mosque, partially damaged and rendered inoperable by SARG airstrikes March 9, 2016.[29]
  • Al Souq Mosque, partially destroyed and rendered inoperable by SARG airstrikes February 16, 2016.[30]
  • Al Sadeiq Mosque, partially damaged by SARG airstrikes February 2, 2016.[31]
  • Abi Thar Al Ghafari Mosque, damaged by SARG airstrikes December 19, 2015.[32]
  • Al Furqan Mosque, damaged by SARG airstrikes December 8, 2015.[33]
  • El Eman Mosque, damaged by SARG or Russian airstrikes November 22, November 29, and December 6, 2015.[34]
A general view inside Palmyra city after forces loyal to Syria's President Figure 3: Destruction to residential areas and the Uthman bin Affan Mosque in Palmyra (SANA Handout via Reuters; March 27, 2016)

A general view inside Palmyra city after forces loyal to Syria's President Figure 3: Destruction to residential areas and the Uthman bin Affan Mosque in Palmyra (SANA Handout via Reuters; March 27, 2016)

In the lead up to the recapture of Palmyra, local activist groups reported a dramatic increase in airstrikes on both the archeological site and the modern city of Palmyra.[35] Video footage released by several media sources showing military airplanes overhead and clear instances of airstrike explosions corroborated these claims.[36] In just one day during the offensive to retake Palmyra, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that at least “200 shells and rockets, in addition to 80 airstrikes” struck the city amid ongoing clashes between SARG forces and ISIL militants.[37] Palmyra Coordination released fourteen videos via their Facebook and YouTube accounts during this reporting period, which show the damage caused by aerial bombardments of the city.[38]

The airstrikes by Russian forces have been well documented by media coverage, local sources, and the Russian Ministry of Defense.[39] According to one Russian official, Russian forces carried out 2,000 airstrikes over the city from March 7 to March 27, 2016.[40] Airstrikes by SARG forces have been overwhelmingly documented by local activists, who like many other activists across the country, have become adept at identifying the culprit of each airstrike based on the aircraft used and the size of the subsequent explosion. Russia is known to use jets rather than helicopters and to possess heavier firepower, causing larger explosions. The Syrian Air Force is often characterized by helicopters, flying at a lower altitude, and dropping barrel bombs or firing missiles at close range. Although the aircraft can often be identified as either Syrian or Russian it is almost impossible to determine who is piloting the aircraft, and often the same airstrike has been attributed to both Russian and SARG forces. It is estimated 50 to 70 percent of total damage across the relatively small city is the result of airstrikes.[41]

It should be noted that the US-led coalition has reported previous airstrikes that targeted ISIL ‘near Palmyra’. However, there have been no reports of these airstrikes causing any damage to the modern city or the archaeological site itself. Only one airstrike was reported during the recapture of the city. [42]

Figure 4. Airstrike damage attributed to Russian forces (Palmyra Coordination; March 25, 2016, March 20, 2016).

Figure 4. Airstrike damage attributed to Russian forces (Palmyra Coordination; March 25, 2016, March 20, 2016).

Figure 5. Airstrike damage attributed to Russian forces (Palmyra Coordination; March 25, 2016, March 20, 2016).

Figure 5. Airstrike damage attributed to Russian forces (Palmyra Coordination; March 25, 2016, March 20, 2016).

Status of Monuments in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra

Figure 6. Reported damage to the Palmyra area since 2014. Larger circles indicate more recent events. Events are color coded based on type of damage. Map compiled by Susan Penacho (DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016)

Figure 6. Reported damage to the Palmyra area since 2014. Larger circles indicate more recent events. Events are color coded based on type of damage. Map compiled by Susan Penacho (DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016)

It has been difficult to monitor the condition of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palmyra as the Syrian war escalated. Over the course of the conflict ASOR CHI has documented the extensive damage to Palmyra due to looting,[43] deliberate destruction,[44] execution,[45] military occupation,[46] and collateral combat damage.[47] After ISIL took control of the region in May 2015, little corroborated information on the condition of the archaeological site has emerged given the lack of media presence in the area and the mass evacuation of civilians. As a result, we have had access to no visual evidence to verify and assess the extent of the damage as a result of these incidents until now. ASOR CHI has analyzed the photographs and video footage made available and has undertaken a preliminary status report on the ancient monuments recorded by the DGAM, military personnel, and journalists who now have gained access to Palmyra. These images focus on the most well known monuments in the ancient city, so for some monuments there was no visual evidence available at the time of publication. Additionally, ASOR CHI acquired DigitalGlobe satellite imagery released on March 30, 2016 that covers the ancient site. This imagery revealed previously undocumented damage to multiple tombs in the Valley of the Tombs, the Northwestern Necropolis, and the Southeastern Necropolis. This damage took place at some point between September 3, 2015 and March 30, 2016. The preliminary assessment of Palmyra is as follows:

Triumphal Arch — Poor-quality video footage released November 2015 appeared to show that the arches of the monument had fallen.[48] Images published by the DGAM on March 27, 2016[49] and March 30, 2016[50] confirm that the Triumphal Arch had been damaged. Reports suggest that ISIL militants detonated explosives around the monument in October 2015, causing major damage to the central and south gateways of the three-gate arch.[51]

Figure 7. Triumphal Arch (DGAM; January 15, 2013)

Figure 7. Triumphal Arch (DGAM; January 15, 2013)

Figure 8. Triumphal Arch after it was detonated by ISIL militants on October 4, 2015 (DGAM; March 27, 2016)

Figure 8. Triumphal Arch after it was detonated by ISIL militants on October 4, 2015 (DGAM; March 27, 2016)

Valley of the Tombs — The Tower Tombs of Julius Aurelius Bolma, the Banai Family, Iamliku, and No. 71 were damaged or destroyed prior to September 2015.[52] The DigitalGlobe satellite imagery from March 30, 2016 shows no new damage to these tower tombs, though there is additional damage to other tombs in the western necropolis. The Tower Tombs of Elasa, Bene Ba’a, Hairan Belsuri, and No. 65, all located on the northern slopes of the Umm al-Belqis, appeared undamaged in the September 2015 imagery that revealed the destruction of the other four tombs. DigitalGlobe satellite imagery released March 30, 2016, however, shows these previously untouched tombs to be severely damaged. The tomb of Elasa appears to still be standing without damage, while the three to the east have all sustained various degrees of damage. Some walls are still standing but the large rubble piles at their bases illustrate some destruction from unknown causes. These do not appear to have been intentionally destroyed with large amounts of explosives in the same manner as other tower tombs in the area.

Figure 9. Satellite imagery of Tower Tombs. No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015).

Figure 9. Satellite imagery of Tower Tombs. No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015).

Figure 10. Visible damage to Tomb of Iamliku and Tomb of the Banai Family (DigitalGlobe; August 27, 2015).

Figure 10. Visible damage to Tomb of Iamliku and Tomb of the Banai Family (DigitalGlobe; August 27, 2015).

Figure 11. Visible damage to Tomb of Julius Aurelius Bolma and Tomb No. 71 (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015).

Figure 11. Visible damage to Tomb of Julius Aurelius Bolma and Tomb No. 71 (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015).

Figure 12. Visible damage to Tomb of Bene Ba’a, Hairan Belsuri, and No. 65 (DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016).

Figure 12. Visible damage to Tomb of Bene Ba’a, Hairan Belsuri, and No. 65 (DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016).

Western Necropolis - Atenaten, Elahbel, Kithoth, and Tower Tomb No. 22 ­— The tombs of Atenaten, Elahbel, and Kithoth were all damaged prior to September 2, 2015. Tomb No. 22 is located in the western necropolis close to the previously destroyed tombs of Atenaten and Elahbel. In the March 30, 2016 DigitalGlobe satellite imagery, the tomb has been reduced to a pile of rubble, which indicates it was intentionally destroyed. No standing architecture is visible.

Figure 13. No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015).

Figure 13. No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015).

Figure 14. Visible destruction of the Tomb of Atenaten (DigitalGlobe; August 27, 2015)

Figure 14. Visible destruction of the Tomb of Atenaten (DigitalGlobe; August 27, 2015)

Figure 15. Visible damage to Tomb of Elahbel. Tomb No. 22 remains intact (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015).

Figure 15. Visible damage to Tomb of Elahbel. Tomb No. 22 remains intact (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015).

Figure 16. Visible damage to Tomb No. 22 (DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016)

Figure 16. Visible damage to Tomb No. 22 (DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016)

Figure 17. Satellite imagery of Tomb of Kithoth. No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015).

Figure 17. Satellite imagery of Tomb of Kithoth. No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015).

Figure 18. Satellite imagery of Tomb of Kithoth. Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015).

Figure 18. Satellite imagery of Tomb of Kithoth. Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015).

Southeast Necropolis — Previous reports of illegal excavation were detailed in August and November 2014, as well as March 2015.[53] This included specific theft and vandalism from the Tombs of Taibul and Artaban located in the Southeast Necropolis. The area had also been militarized between 2012 and 2013 with additional embankments and berms constructed within the necropolis. Recent DigitalGlobe satellite imagery from March 30, 2016 shows additional small looting pits within the necropolis since September 2, 2015. Funerary Temple S103 has also been destroyed since September 2015, apparently using explosives as only a few areas of exterior walls are still intact while the interior is reduced to rubble.

Figure 19. Southeast Necropolis with military berms built around the area. (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015)

Figure 19. Southeast Necropolis with military berms built around the area. (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015)

Figure 20. Southeast Necropolis with illegal excavation areas highlighted with dotted ovals and the destroyed Funerary Temple S103 outlined. (DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016)

Figure 20. Southeast Necropolis with illegal excavation areas highlighted with dotted ovals and the destroyed Funerary Temple S103 outlined.
(DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016)

Figure 21. Funerary Temple S103. After destruction (DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016)

Figure 21. Funerary Temple S103. After destruction (DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016)

Figure 22. Funerary Temple S103. After destruction (DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016)

Figure 22. Funerary Temple S103. After destruction (DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016)

Qalaat Shirkuh — Russia 24 published a drone video of the exterior of Qalaat Shirkuh on March 25, 2016[54] and Syrian News Channel published a video of SARG soldiers at the fortress on March 26.[55] Qalaat Shirkuh appears largely intact, although we have identified clear evidence of damage from airstrikes and other explosives to the fortification’s curtain walls and interior, and there are several places where the battlements at the top of the walls have partially collapsed. ISIL allegedly detonated explosives around the main entrance of the fortress after abandoning the site, completely destroying the entranceway staircase.[56] DGAM photos indicate the northeastern curtain wall has suffered a major collapse.[57]

Figure 23. Eastern side of Qalaat Shirkuh (DGAM; undated photo)

Figure 23. Eastern side of Qalaat Shirkuh (DGAM; undated photo)

Figure 24. Airstrike close to Qalaat Shirkuh (Qasioun News; March 26, 2016)

Figure 24. Airstrike close to Qalaat Shirkuh (Qasioun News; March 26, 2016)

Figure 25. Airstrike damage to western walls of Qalaat Shirkuh (Valery Sharifulin/TASS; March 28, 2016)

Figure 25. Airstrike damage to western walls of Qalaat Shirkuh (Valery Sharifulin/TASS; March 28, 2016)

Figure 26. Collapse of a portion of northeastern wall (CNN; March 27, 2016)

Figure 26. Collapse of a portion of northeastern wall (CNN; March 27, 2016)

Temple of Bel — In February 2016 SNHR reported that the temple had been struck by SARG airstrikes.[58] The Russia 24 drone video confirms the complete destruction of the cella of the Temple of Bel on August 30, 2015 by ISIL.[59] Several columns on the south side of the temple temenos appear to have collapsed since the destruction of the cella. The modern wall on the west side of the temenos to the right of the temple’s monumental gateway has partially collapsed.[60] An image provided by Maher Al Mounes shows graffiti within the temple complex.[61] No new damage is seen in recent DigitalGlobe imagery.

Figure 27: The cella of the Temple of Bel before its destruction (DGAM; January 15, 2015)

Figure 27: The cella of the Temple of Bel before its destruction (DGAM; January 15, 2015)

Figure 28: The gateway of the Temple of Bel cella, surrounded by rubble (DGAM; March 30, 2016)

Figure 28: The gateway of the Temple of Bel cella, surrounded by rubble (DGAM; March 30, 2016)

Figure 29. Rubble of the cella with graffiti (Maher Al Mounes/AFP/Yahoo; March 27, 2016)

Figure 29. Rubble of the cella with graffiti (Maher Al Mounes/AFP/Yahoo; March 27, 2016)

Figure 30. The collapse of section of western wall of Temple of Bel compound (DGAM; March 27, 2016)

Figure 30. The collapse of section of western wall of Temple of Bel compound (DGAM; March 27, 2016)

Figure 31. Satellite imagery of the Temple of Bel. No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015).

Figure 31. Satellite imagery of the Temple of Bel. No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015).

Figure 32. Satellite imagery of the Temple of Bel. Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015).

Figure 32. Satellite imagery of the Temple of Bel. Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015).

Baalshamin Temple — No new information has been released at the time of publication. ASOR CHI will continue to monitor the situation. Recent DigitalGlobe imagery from March 30, 2016 shows no change.

Figure 33. Baalshamin Temple before its destruction (DGAM; August 24, 2015)

Figure 33. Baalshamin Temple before its destruction (DGAM; August 24, 2015)

Figure 34. Baalshamin Temple after ISIL militants detonated explosives in the structure on August 23, 2015 (DGAM; August 24, 2015)

Figure 34. Baalshamin Temple after ISIL militants detonated explosives in the structure on August 23, 2015 (DGAM; August 24, 2015)

Figure 35. Satellite imagery of the Baalshamin Temple. With no visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015).

Figure 35. Satellite imagery of the Baalshamin Temple. With no visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015).

Figure 36. Satellite imagery of the Baalshamin Temple. Visible damage (DigitalGlobe: August 27, 2015).

Figure 36. Satellite imagery of the Baalshamin Temple. Visible damage (DigitalGlobe: August 27, 2015).

Tetrapylon — The Russia 24 and AP drone videos include footage of the Tetrapylon.[62] Photographers Maher Al Mounes and Valery Sharifulin also provided images of the monument.[63] No damage is readily apparent at this time.

Figure 37. The Tetrapylon facing east (DGAM; January 15, 2013)

Figure 37. The Tetrapylon facing east (DGAM; January 15, 2013)

Figure 38. The Tetrapylon facing west (Valery Sharifulin/TASS; March 28, 2016)

Figure 38. The Tetrapylon facing west (Valery Sharifulin/TASS; March 28, 2016)

Theater — The Russia 24 and AP drone videos include footage of the Theater.[64] Images published by photographers Maher Al Mounes and Valery Sharifulin show a moderate amount of vegetation overgrowth on the Theater seats, orchestra, and stage.[65] No major new damage is apparent.[66] ISIL previously executed SARG soldiers in the Theater in May 2015 and released a propaganda video later in July 2015.[67]

Figure 39. The Roman Theater (Michael Danti; 2010)

Figure 39. The Roman Theater (Michael Danti; 2010)

Figure 40. The Theater suffers from vegetation overgrowth and was used by ISIL to stage executions (Valery Sharifulin/TASS; March 28, 2016)

Figure 40. The Theater suffers from vegetation overgrowth and was used by ISIL to stage executions (Valery Sharifulin/TASS; March 28, 2016)

Agora — On March 25, 2016 the news agency Russia 24 released a video taken by drone of the archaeological site of Palmyra.[68] The video shows the present state of several of the main monuments of the western section of ancient Palmyra, including the Agora. No major damage is apparent.

Figure 41. The Agora via satellite imagery (DigitalGlobe; March 1, 2015)

Figure 41. The Agora via satellite imagery (DigitalGlobe; March 1, 2015)

Figure 42. Drone footage of the Agora (facing north) (Russia 24; March 25, 2016)

Figure 42. Drone footage of the Agora (facing north) (Russia 24; March 25, 2016)

Baths of Diocletian — The Russia 24 drone video shows the present state of several of the main monuments of the western section of ancient Palmyra, including the Baths of Diocletian.[69] No major damage is apparent, though a DGAM photo shows some vegetation overgrowth at the site.[70]

Figure 43. Entrance to Baths of Diocletian (facing northwest) (Michael Danti; 2010)

Figure 43. Entrance to Baths of Diocletian (facing northwest) (Michael Danti; 2010)

Figure 44. Baths of Diocletian (facing southwest) (DGAM; March 20, 2016)

Figure 44. Baths of Diocletian (facing southwest) (DGAM; March 20, 2016)

Decumanus — Drone footage published on March 25[71] by Russia 24 and March 27, 2016[72] by the Associated Press shows a large amount of debris on the Decumanus, probably from the collapse of the columns and entablature of the colonnade. This is confirmed by DGAM photos published March 30, 2016, which also show vegetation overgrowth.[73]

Figure 45. Colonnaded Decumanus (facing west) (Michael Danti; 2010)

Figure 45. Colonnaded Decumanus (facing west) (Michael Danti; 2010)

Figure 46. Vegetation overgrowth and other minor damage to Decumanus (Valery Sharifulin/TASS; March 28, 2016)

Figure 46. Vegetation overgrowth and other minor damage to Decumanus (Valery Sharifulin/TASS; March 28, 2016)

Funerary Temple — Drone footage published by the Associated Press on March 27, 2016 indicates there is no damage to the Funerary Temple.[74]

Figure 47. Funerary Temple (facing northeast) (Wikimedia Commons; October 5, 2007)

Figure 47. Funerary Temple (facing northeast) (Wikimedia Commons; October 5, 2007)

Figure 48. Drone footage of the Funerary Temple (facing north) (Associated Press; March 27, 2016)

Figure 48. Drone footage of the Funerary Temple (facing north) (Associated Press; March 27, 2016)

Senate — The Russia 24 drone video includes footage of the Senate.[75] On March 27, 2016 photographer Maher Al Mounes published images of the Senate. No major damage is apparent, although there is some vegetation overgrowth.[76]

Figure 49. Senate building (facing west) (Roberto Piperno; July 2011)

Figure 49. Senate building (facing west) (Roberto Piperno; July 2011)

Figure 50. Drone footage of Senate (facing northwest, bottom right) (Russia 24; March 25; 2016)

Figure 50. Drone footage of Senate (facing northwest, bottom right) (Russia 24; March 25; 2016)

Tariff Court — The Russia 24 drone video includes footage of the Tariff Court.[77] No damage is apparent.

Figure 51. The Tariff Court via satellite imagery (DigitalGlobe; March 1, 2015)

Figure 51. The Tariff Court via satellite imagery (DigitalGlobe; March 1, 2015)

Figure 52. Drone footage of the Tariff House (facing north) (Russia 24; March 25; 2016)

Figure 52. Drone footage of the Tariff House (facing north) (Russia 24; March 25; 2016)

Temple of Nabu — The Russia 24 drone video includes footage of the Temple of Nabu. No damage is apparent.[78]

Figure 53. The Temple of Nabu via satellite imagery (DigitalGlobe; September 19, 2009)

Figure 53. The Temple of Nabu via satellite imagery (DigitalGlobe; September 19, 2009)

Figure 54. Drone footage of Temple of Nabu (facing northeast, far right) (Russia 24; March 25; 2016)

Figure 54. Drone footage of Temple of Nabu (facing northeast, far right) (Russia 24; March 25; 2016)

Camp of Diocletian - RT reports claiming that the Camp was razed to the ground are incorrect.[79] DigitalGlobe satellite imagery dating to March 30, 2016 shows no visible change in status to the area.

Figure 55. Satellite imagery of the Camp of Diocletian. No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015).

Figure 55. Satellite imagery of the Camp of Diocletian. No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015).

Figure 56. Satellite imagery of the Camp of Diocletian. No status change (DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016).

Figure 56. Satellite imagery of the Camp of Diocletian. No status change (DigitalGlobe; March 30, 2016).

These findings add to a growing list of damage to Palmyra. Over the course of the war the Palmyra Museum, eight mosques, and Islamic cemetery, a church, two Shia shrines, the Baalshamin Temple, the Temple to Bel, the Triumphal Arch, Qalaat Shirkuh, Funerary Temple S103, and twelve Tower Tombs have all been damaged or destroyed. Undoubtedly more damage will be uncovered as preservation experts assess the site in the future.

Preliminary Assessment of the Museum and Its Collection

On March 27, 2016 Russia Today released video footage of the interior of the Palmyra Museum after the area was captured by SARG and pro-regime allies.[80] The video and subsequent photographs released by other media outlets show that the Palmyra Museum suffered heavy damage since ISIL’s takeover of the city.

ISIL militants posted photographs of the site and a visitor center in a propaganda piece released on May 28, 2015 that allegedly showed the museum unharmed.[81] However, since ISIL took control of the area, the Palmyra Museum has been hit by airstrikes on multiple occasions.[82] ASOR CHI sources report that the Palmyra Museum had been hit by mortar shells as ISIL militants took control of Palmyra.[83] No photographs of the interior of the museum were available until now.

Figure 57. Temple of Bel Guest house (labeled as the “Welcome Center”) under ISIL control (ISIL propaganda; May 27, 2015).

Figure 57. Temple of Bel Guest house (labeled as the “Welcome Center”) under ISIL control (ISIL propaganda; May 27, 2015).

Figure 58. Temple of Bel Guest house (labeled as the “Welcome Center”) under ISIL control (ISIL propaganda; May 27, 2015).

Figure 58. Temple of Bel Guest house (labeled as the “Welcome Center”) under ISIL control (ISIL propaganda; May 27, 2015).

Figure 59. Museum of Palmyra exterior damage following airstrike (DGAM; July 29, 2015).

Figure 59. Museum of Palmyra exterior damage following airstrike (DGAM; July 29, 2015).

Figure 60. Museum of Palmyra exterior damage following airstrike (DGAM; July 29, 2015).

Figure 60. Museum of Palmyra exterior damage following airstrike (DGAM; July 29, 2015).

Figure 61. Exterior damage to museum following expulsion of ISIL (posted by DGAM; March 28, 2016).

Figure 61. Exterior damage to museum following expulsion of ISIL (posted by DGAM; March 28, 2016).

Figure 62. Exterior damage to museum following expulsion of ISIL (posted by DGAM; March 28, 2016).

Figure 62. Exterior damage to museum following expulsion of ISIL (posted by DGAM; March 28, 2016).

Figure 63. Damage inside gallery (posted by DGAM; March 28, 2016)

Figure 63. Damage inside gallery (posted by DGAM; March 28, 2016)

Figure 64. Damage inside gallery (Sputnik; March 28, 2016)

Figure 64. Damage inside gallery (Sputnik; March 28, 2016)

These recent photographs indicate that a substantial amount of the damage, particularly to the structure of the building, is a result of heavy and light weaponry, and some damage to the museum objects is the result of iconoclastic vandalism. Several damaged museum artifacts show indications of intentional defacement. This evidence strongly suggests ISIL militants engaged in iconoclastic activity while controlling the museum. The group has engaged in similar iconoclasm in other areas it has seized, including in the Mosul Museum, but no propagandistic media depicting an attack on the Palmyra Museum have been publicly released at the time of publication.

Figure 65. Funerary Monument for a Priest from the Tower Tombs seen in 2008 (SANA/ALAMY/Reuters, Published by WSJ; March 29, 2016).

Figure 65. Funerary Monument for a Priest from the Tower Tombs seen in 2008 (SANA/ALAMY/Reuters, Published by WSJ; March 29, 2016).

Figure 66. Funerary Monument for a Priest in 2016 (SANA/ALAMY/Reuters, Published by WSJ; March 29, 2016).

Figure 66. Funerary Monument for a Priest in 2016 (SANA/ALAMY/Reuters, Published by WSJ; March 29, 2016).

Figure 67. Funerary Monument in 2007 (Brian McMorrow/WSJ Published March 29, 2016).

Figure 67. Funerary Monument in 2007 (Brian McMorrow/WSJ Published March 29, 2016).

Figure 68. Funerary Monument in 2016 (Sputnik Media; March 28, 2016).

Figure 68. Funerary Monument in 2016 (Sputnik Media; March 28, 2016).

The Statue of Athena appears in images shared via online media sources. The head of the statue has been removed as has the right raised arm. The exact cause of the damage remains unknown but two scenarios seem likely. The first is that ISIL militants intentionally removed the head of the statue as well as the arm in an act of iconoclasm. The second scenario is that fallen ceiling panels, seen in additional photographs and video footage of the site, and likely caused by some sort of explosion, struck the statue and caused the damage to the head and arm. ASOR CHI will continue to investigate the damage to the statue of Athena.

Figure 69. The statue of Athena prior to damage (Livuis.org; Date Unknown).

Figure 69. The statue of Athena prior to damage (Livuis.org; Date Unknown).

Figure 70. The statue as it stands today (BBC, March 31, 2016),

Figure 70. The statue as it stands today (BBC, March 31, 2016),

Another well-known sculpture located at the Palmyra Museum is the Lion of al-Lāt. The lion was reported to have been destroyed by ISIL in July 2015.[84] Recent photographs show that the al-Lāt Lion was not destroyed but that it had been significantly damaged.[85] As the Lion of al-Lāt once stood in a pre-Arab/pre-Islamic temple dedicated to the goddess known as al-Lāt, its imagery is seen as idolatrous to ISIL. DGAM Director Maamoun Abdulkarim reported that prior to ISIL’s capture of Palmyra, the Lion of al-Lāt had been “encased...inside a large metal box” for safekeeping as the object was too heavy to be moved.[86] However, the metal box was later pried open by ISIL militants and the lion inside was then intentionally damaged,[87] and it appears that the sculpture was forcefully toppled.

Figure 71. The Lion of al-Lāt in 2010 (Michael Danti; 2010).

Figure 71. The Lion of al-Lāt in 2010 (Michael Danti; 2010).

Figure 72. ISIL-inflicted damage to the Lion of al-Lāt (DGAM; March 28, 2016)

Figure 72. ISIL-inflicted damage to the Lion of al-Lāt (DGAM; March 28, 2016)

There are still a number of unanswered questions regarding the objects reportedly removed from the museum prior to the ISIL takeover of Palmyra. Prior to ISIL’s takeover of the city of Palmyra, there were reports that Syrian officials had previously removed hundreds of artifacts from the museum and delivered them to an unknown location.[88] As ISIL entered the area in May 2015, DGAM officials declared that the office was “transfering [sic] the museum objects to more secure places,”[89] and that “hundreds of ‪‎Palmyrene statues and ‪‎museum objects have been transferred out from ‪‎Palmyra to safe locations outside the city.”[90] DGAM Director Maamoun Abdulkarim stated that “most” objects in the museum had been removed with the exception of many large items that were too heavy to move.[91]

Activists added that “officials in Palmyra had removed the smaller artifacts from the state antiquities museum.”[92] Days later on May 23, 2015 this same activist reported that “militants smashed a statue in the museum's foyer — a replica that depicts ancient residents of Palmyra,” but Maamoun Abdulkarim, the head of the Antiquities and Museums Department in Damascus, countered that ISIL militants had entered the museum on Friday afternoon, locked the doors, and left their own guards in the premises. Abdulkarim stated the the museum artifacts had been previously moved to safety.[93]

Figure 73. The prehistory diorama before (Michael Danti; 2010).

Figure 73. The prehistory diorama before (Michael Danti; 2010).

Figure 74. Vandalism of the exhibit (DGAM; March 28, 2016)

Figure 74. Vandalism of the exhibit (DGAM; March 28, 2016)

In a later interview in August 2015 with CNN, Abdulkarim offered the number of approximately 4,000 busts and statues that had been evacuated from Palmyra.[94] Shortly after the recapturing of the city of Palmyra, the Associated Press put the number of previously rescued artifacts at 400, again citing an interview with Abdulkarim.[95] Furthermore, in a press conference on March 28, 2016 Maamoun Abdulkarim claim that the DGAM was “... working with 45 to 50 people inside the city in order to convince Daesh, with public pressure, not to destroy everything... Daesh saw that there would be a popular uprising against it if it destroyed everything. It didn't steal and it didn't destroy everything," raising even more questions as to which, if any, artifacts benefited from this effort and the identity of these DGAM mediators.[96]

When the DGAM released photographs on March 28, 2016 from the Palmyra Museum, they made the following statement regarding the statues and artifacts in the museum: “[The DGAM] could evacuate (sic) about 400 statues or heads of statues, in addition to hundreds of exhibits at the museum, i.e. artifacts, transportable statues, storage boxes. The sudden invasion of terrorist militants of ISIS in May 2015 made it difficult to evacuate the larger statues and a few exhibited heads of statues fixed on the walls of the museum halls.”[97] It is unclear as to whether the DGAM is stating that it now intends to relocate these artifacts for restoration or the more likely scenario which is that they had already “evacuated” those 400 artifacts prior to ISIL’s entrance into the city.

To date, ASOR CHI has not been able to confirm the number of artifacts that were either removed, protected, or remained in the museum at the time of ISIL’s capture of Palmyra. ASOR CHI will continue to analyze the destruction to the Palmyra Museum in an attempt to confirm what artifacts remained in the museum at the time of ISIL’s takeover and which of those items have now been damaged.[98]

Consequences of Retaking Palmyra

The capture of the city of Palmyra is a strategic victory for the Syrian regime.[99] Following the capture of the city, the Syrian army announced that they would use the city as "a launchpad to expand military operations" against ISIL in Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor.[100] Palmyra’s strategic location opens access to the ISIL-held northern town of as-Sukhnah and the southern town al-Qariatayn, likely the next objectives for the regime.[101] In addition the city of Palmyra lies on the road between the capital of Damascus and the city of Deir ez-Zor, where SARG has been battling ISIL militants.[102] The Palmyra Airport, now under SARG control, may again provide a new airbase for both SARG and Russian air campaigns against ISIL in Deir ez-Zor. As of March 28, 2016 the airport was reported to be “open to air traffic.”[103]

The capture of Palmyra may be considered to be the first definitive victory for the Assad regime in the five-year conflict, and President Assad has cited this event as proof to the international community that his forces are able to combat terrorism in Syria.[104] Prior to the Russian intervention in Syria, the Assad regime had lost the majority of its territory, and SARG appeared to be on the verge of collapse.[105] Assad has now been able to reach out to the international community for congratulations on this victory and for assistance in rebuilding the ancient site of Palmyra.[106] Russia has also capitalized on this victory, restating its key role in the operation and publicly congratulating President Assad,[107] as well as offering its full assistance in rebuilding Palmyra,[108] with President Putin going so far as to discuss Russia’s involvement in protecting the site with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.[109]

Residents of Palmyra and critics of the Assad regime, however, may remember how in May 2015, ISIL militants entered the city relatively unchallenged by SARG forces.[110] As the group moved into Palmyra, the Assad regime chose to maintain its focus on opposition-held areas.[111] Prior to ISIL’s takeover of the city, many Syrians were imprisoned and tortured by regime forces during the first uprisings in Syria. The city of Palmyra was also well known among Syrians for its notorious Tadmor Prison, where “thousands of critics” had been held in the four decades of combined rule of the current president and his late father, Hafez al-Assad.[112] The prison was later ransacked and destroyed by ISIL militants shortly after they captured the city.[113] A first-hand account describes the swift crackdown of protests by police officers that killed tens of the city’s residents.[114] In addition, reports surfaced of SARG forces causing damage to the archaeological site through militarization at least two years before ISIL entered the city.[115] Photographs also circulated online of SARG forces stealing artifacts from the archaeological site and the museum.[116] This prior record raises concerns regarding SARG’s future treatment of Palmyra’s residents and its stewardship over the area’s cultural assets, particularly in light of its eagerness to reopen the site to the public as soon as possible.[117] However, the regime’s victory in Palmyra now places it in a more comfortable position for the next round of peace talks scheduled to begin in early April, 2016 in Geneva.[118] If SARG forces are able to capture more ground in the coming weeks from their new base in Palmyra then their ability to negotiate becomes even stronger.

In contrast, ISIL has largely been on the defensive in Syria over the last several months, Palmyra being only one of the key areas that ISIL has lost in Syria. In February 2016, ISIL lost the town of Shaddadi as well as over 2,000 square kilometers to Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) backed by US-led coalition airstrikes.[119] Following the intervention by Russia, SARG forces have consolidated their hold on much of Damascus. Kurdish People’s Protection Units (PKK) have pushed ISIL militants out of much of northern Aleppo Governorate as well as portions of eastern Hasakah Governorate.[120] ISIL also continues to lose ground in Iraq, having been driven out of Sinjar, Ramadi, and surrounding areas. As of January 2016, the group had reportedly lost 40% of the territory it once held in Iraq.[121] As several of ISIL’s key leaders have reportedly been killed by US-coalition airstrikes and US special forces over the past month, the loss of Palmyra may also prove to be a psychological blow for the group, particularly when added to major financial setbacks resulting in precipitous drops in pay (up to 50%) for ISIL militants. Already reports have surfaced from the ISIL-strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa of executions by the group of their own members charged with desertion.[122] Offensive operations are now underway to retake the city of Mosul, and ISIL has already lost several villages en route to their stronghold.[123] Should ISIL continue to lose territory in Iraq and Syria, its ability to recruit and maintain members will be compromised.

Conclusion: Palmyra Transformed

The capture of Palmyra from ISIL militants does not necessarily safeguard the region’s heritage. Palmyra suffered significant damage while previously under SARG military control, prior to ISIL’s capture of the site in May 2015, and subsequently was subject to an extended aerial bombardment campaign by SARG and Russian forces to expel ISIL militants. The World Heritage Site and surrounding area are still occupied by armed forces actively engaged in combat, which continues to pose a significant threat to the region’s heritage.

Over the longer term, the greatest threat to Palmyra is mismanagement stemming from prioritizing immediate and highly visible results, ultimately grounded in larger political objectives, and not guided by conservation best practices, community-based heritage management, and sustainability. The immediate (and politically expedient) reconstruction of the demolished Baalshamin Temple and Temple of Bel is currently an active topic of discussion amongst some scholars, politicians, and pundits. This not only poses an unfeasible and misguided heritage management solution, but it also fails to address the greatest threats to ancient Palmyra, let alone the needs of the modern community. The negative impacts of aerial bombardment, heavy weaponry, and light weaponry cannot easily be seen from a distance or may result in sub-surface, invisible structural damage. While it is tempting to immediately respond to the most glaring damage, a better use of resources would involve the implementation of a coherent emergency response plan and triage that prioritizes the intact monuments in need of repair and maintenance. The full extent of the damage will not be known until heritage experts are allowed full access to the site to completed a thorough and detailed assessment.

By contrast, at this point very little discussion has been devoted to what will become of modern Palmyra. The Syrian regime is eager to reopen the site to the visitors and residents, but this begs the question to what end if there are no residents to enjoy the site once again. Instead the conversation of reconstruction should focus on modern Palmyra. The modern city’s population has been forced to flee and continues to be traumatized by the war. The most important priority is to assist with the rebuilding of housing, hospitals, houses of worship, schools, and other infrastructure, so that these civilians have an opportunity to eventually return to their community.

Finally, to the people of Palmyra the ancient site will be remembered as a place where their neighbors and family members were executed and buried. The restoration of ancient and modern Palmyra presents an opportunity to heal the local community, and so current and future managers are challenged to consider how to address Palmyra’s difficult and painful modern associations. Palmyra remains, but its legacy is forever transformed.

For further details about the site of Palmyra and the loss of cultural heritage at the site during the conflict, see the following ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives Weekly Reports and Special Reports:

Weekly Report 41 (pp. 2–5, 8, 29–37)
Weekly Report 42–43 (pp. 1–5, 18–37)
Weekly Report 44 (pp. 1–5)
Weekly Report 45 (pp. 23–25)
Weekly Report 46 (pp. 1–2, 63–75)
Weekly Report 47–48 (pp. 1–9, 14–25, 41–43)
Weekly Report 49 (pp. 2–4)
Weekly Report 50 (pp. 1–4, 6–30)
Weekly Report 51–52 (pp. 4, 27–28)
Weekly Report 53–54 (pp. 1–4, 27)
Weekly Report 55–56 (pp. 1–12, 43–57, 63, 69–73, 89–91)
Weekly Report 57–58 (pp. 1–6, 9, 11, 26–57)
Weekly Report 59–60 (pp. 1–7, 33–38)
Weekly Report 61–62 (pp. 1–8, 11, 23, 48–51)
Weekly Report 63–64 (pp. 1–5, 26–27)
Weekly Report 65–66 (pp. 1–12, 26–28)
Weekly Report 67–68 (pp. 1–7, 10–11)
Weekly Report 69–70 (pp. 1–6, 55–57)
Weekly Report 71–72 (pp. 2–5, 8, 25–26)
Weekly Report 73–74 (pp. 4–9)
Special Report on the Importance of Palmyra
Palmyra: Heritage Adrift A Special Report from APSA



 

Footnotes

[1]http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-syrian-iranian-coalition-seizes-isis-held-palmyra

[2] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35888723 ; http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/25/world/middleeast/syria-palmyra-isis.html ; http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/30/world/middleeast/isis-fighters-laid-mines-around-palmyras-ancient-ruins-before-retreating-syrians-say.html

[3] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-russia-syria-sappers-idUSKCN0WX0IX

[4] http://www.dgam.gov.sy/?d=314&id=1962 ; http://www.dgam.gov.sy/index.php?d=177&id=1961 ; http://dgam.gov.sy/?d=314&id=1957

[5] http://sana.sy/en/?p=73453 ; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35950517 ; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/palmyra-mass-grave-containing-bodies-of-beheaded-women-and-children-found-after-isis-driven-out-of-a6964856.html ; https://www.rt.com/news/338101-palmyra-isis-mass-grave/ https://www.yahoo.com/news/mass-grave-victims-found-syrias-palmyra-army-source-100142952.html

[6] http://airwars.org/russia-dec2015/ ; http://airwars.org/russia-nov2015/ ; http://airwars.org/russia-oct2015/ ; http://airwars.org/russia-sept2015/ ; http://airwars.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Reckless-Disregard.pdf ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9o3v2JVUtAo ; http://sn4hr.org/blog/2016/02/07/18073/ ; http://sn4hr.org/blog/2016/01/17/16586/ ; http://sn4hr.org/blog/2015/12/17/15667/ ; http://sn4hr.org/blog/2015/11/10/14411/ ; http://sn4hr.org/blog/2015/10/09/13014/

[7]https://www.facebook.com/revo.palmyra3/photos/pcb.483939675064310/483939621730982/

[8] https://www.facebook.com/revo.palmyra3/photos/pb.410518082406470.-2207520000.1459261934./483939621730982/ ; http://www.ibtimes.com/watch-syrian-troops-close-palmyra-isis-tells-civilians-flee-video-2342564 ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jFwtq97dIA

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mDLwS5iKa0 ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXHpy4xdVmA ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aAkadE4vTU ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuSVsqFDvIc ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fO7vbJKWy_8 ; https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=485136234944654 ; https://www.facebook.com/revo.palmyra3/videos?fref=photo ; http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=45048

[10] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/syrian-army-seizes-hills-overlooking-is-held-town-of-palmyra/2016/03/23/8e152a78-f0e1-11e5-a2a3-d4e9697917d1_story.html ; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35888723 ; http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=45372& ; http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/25/world/middleeast/syria-palmyra-isis.html

[11] http://www.wsj.com/articles/syrian-government-regains-control-of-palmyra-from-islamic-state-1459096448 ; https://www.facebook.com/rferl/videos/10154144961534575/?pnref=story

[12] https://www.facebook.com/revo.palmyra3/?fref=nf

[13] https://www.facebook.com/revo.palmyra3/posts/491661327625478

[14] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/russia-strikes-palmyra-syria-isis_us_56139b39e4b022a4ce5f50a6

[15] http://tass.ru/en/defense/826656 ; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/russia-strikes-palmyra-syria-isis_us_56139b39e4b022a4ce5f50a6

[16] http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/11/02/world/middleeast/ap-ml-islamic-state.html ; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34705128 ; http://www.huffpostarabi.com/2015/11/02/story_n_8453954.html

[17] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/02/russias-air-force-bomb-isis-base-near-palmyra

[18] http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2015/Nov-05/321811-russia-bombs-palmyra-eastern-syria-military.ashx

[19] https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566448-russia-deploying-advisors-near-palmyra-rebel-media

[20] http://news.yahoo.com/capture-palmyra-shows-russian-forces-still-key-syria-163646487.html

[21] http://iswresearch.blogspot.com/2016/03/russian-syrian-iranian-coalition-seizes.html

[22] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/syrian-army-seizes-hills-overlooking-is-held-town-of-palmyra/2016/03/23/8e152a78-f0e1-11e5-a2a3-d4e9697917d1_story.html

[23] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-palmyra-idUSKCN0WT04R

[24] For additional reporting on SARG and Russian airstrikes on mosques in the city of Palmyra after September 30, 2016 see ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 15-0155 in Weekly Report 69-70, SHI 15-0160 in Weekly Report 71-72, SHI 16-0020 in Weekly Report 79-80, SHI 16-0029 in Weekly Report 81-82, SHI 15-0160 in Weekly Report 83-84, SHI 16-0035 in Weekly Report 83-84. For additional information on the mosque targeted prior to September 30, 2016 see http://sn4hr.org/blog/2015/08/16/government-forces-shelling-targeted-a-mosque-in-palmyra-in-august-16/.

[25] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mDLwS5iKa0 ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXHpy4xdVmA ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aAkadE4vTU ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuSVsqFDvIc ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fO7vbJKWy_8 ; https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=485136234944654 ; https://www.facebook.com/revo.palmyra3/videos?fref=photo ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOOQHUMacV0

[26] https://www.facebook.com/revo.palmyra3/photos/pcb.483939675064310/483939621730982/

[27] New incident to be published in Weekly Report 85-86.

[28] ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 15-0160 in Weekly Report 71-72; new incident to be published in Weekly Report 85-86.

[29] ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 16-0035 in Weekly Report 83-84

[30] ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 16-0029 in Weekly Report 81-82

[31] ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 16-0020 in Weekly Report 79-80

[32] ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 15-0160 in Weekly Report 71-72; SHI 15-0160 in Weekly Report 83-84

[33] ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 15-0155 in Weekly Report 69-70

[34] ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 15-0155 in Weekly Report 69-70

[35]http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-palmyra-idUSKCN0WC26G ; http://slnnews.co/?p=41297 ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aAkadE4vTU ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uc6lGcbEC3s ; https://twitter.com/mod_russia/status/706780565870092288 ; http://www.globalpost.com/article/6744609/2016/03/10/syria-russia-strikes-kill-20-jihadists-palmyra ; http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-palmyra-idUSKCN0WD1GN

[36] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEE4vCIwEnk ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZBQHpYXXtg

[37] http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=45048

[38] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcl6K4hzP7wAHlQczdoYdIA ; https://www.facebook.com/revo.palmyra3/videos

[39] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-palmyra-idUSKCN0WT04R ;

[40] http://tass.ru/en/defense/866318

[41] https://www.gconew.com/world/273052/3d-printing-palmyra-what-it-means-to-recreate-a-city-destroyed-by-isis.html ; https://www.facebook.com/revo.palmyra3/photos/pb.410518082406470.-2207520000.1459520073./483939621730982/

[42] http://www.defense.gov/News-Article-View/Article/703953/coalition-strikes-target-isil-terrorists-in-syria-iraq

[43]For looting by SARG forces and civilians, see: ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 14-0023 in Weekly Report 4; SHI 14-0027 in Weekly Report 6; SHI 14-0073 in Weekly Report 13; SHI 14-0086 in Weekly Report 16-17; SHI 15-0103 in Weekly Report 20; SHI 15-0058 in Weekly Report 34.

[44] For deliberate ISIL destruction, see: ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 15-0086 in Weekly Report 42-43; SHI 15-0101 in Weekly Report 46; SHI 15-0104 in Weekly Report 47-48; SHI 15-0124 in Weekly Report 55-56; SHI 15-0124 in Weekly Report 57-58; SHI 15-0127 in Weekly Report 57-58; SHI 15-0128 in Weekly Report 57-58; SHI 15-0138 in Weekly Report 61-62; SHI 15-0142 in Weekly Report 63-64.

[45] For executions carried out by ISIL, see: ASOR CHI Incident Report 15-0104 in Weekly Report 47-48; SHI 15-0142 in Weekly Report 63-64.

[46] For SARG occupation, see: ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 14-0019 in Weekly Report 3; SHI 14-0027 in Weekly Report 6; SHI 14-0103 in Weekly Report 20; SHI 15-0055 in Weekly Report 33. For ISIL occupation, see: SHI 15-0058 UPDATE in Weekly Report 34; SHI 15-0086 in Weekly Report 41; SHI 15-0101 in Weekly Report 46; SHI 15-0104 in Weekly Report 47-48; SHI 15-0142 in Weekly Report 63-64.

[47] For damage from aerial bombardment, see: ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 15-0055 in Weekly Report 33; SHI 15-0086 Update in Weekly Report 42-43; SHI 15-0096 in Weekly Report 45; SHI 15-0114 in Weekly Report 51-52; SHI 15-0116 in Weekly Report 53-54; SHI 15-0134 in Weekly Report 59-60; SHI 15-0145 in Weekly Report 65-66; SHI 16-0016 in Weekly Report 77–78; SHI 16-0026 in Weekly Report 79-80; SHI 16-0035 in Weekly Report 83-84.
For damage from shelling and other gunfire/light weaponry by ISIL and SARG forces see: SHI 15-0086 in Weekly Report 41; SHI 15-0116 in Weekly Report 53-54; SHI 15-0134 in Weekly Report 59-60.

[48] http://www.huffpostarabi.com/2015/11/02/story_n_8453954.html

[49] http://www.dgam.gov.sy/?d=314&id=1955

[50] http://dgam.gov.sy/index.php?d=314&id=1962

[51] http://dgam.gov.sy/index.php?d=314&id=1823 ; For additional information on the destruction of the Triumphal Arch since September 3, 2015 see ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 15-0138 in Weekly Report 61-62.

[52] http://www.asor-syrianheritage.org/special-report-update-on-the-situation-in-palmyra/

[53] For additional information on the previous reports of illegal excavation and theft see ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 14-0023 in Weekly Report 4; SHI 14-0073 in Weekly Report 13; SHI 14-0086 in Weekly Report 16-17; SHI 15-0058 in Weekly Report 34.

[54] http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x403jkp_drone-footage-shows-ongoing-battle-for-palmyra_news

[55] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ms3KtTurcak

[56] http://web.archive.org/web/20160327133431/http://sana.sy/en/?p=72903

[57] http://dgam.gov.sy/index.php?d=314&id=1962

[58] http://sn4hr.org/blog/2016/02/11/18241/ ; ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 16-0026 in Weekly Report 79-80

[59] https://www.youtube.com/embed/zFHcIm9F41w

[60] http://www.dgam.gov.sy/index.php?d=314&id=1955

[61] http://finance.yahoo.com/photos/graffiti-stone-near-remains-entrance-iconic-temple-bel-photo-195612346.html ; http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/205719-syria-troops-press-advance-after-blow-to-is-in-palmyra

[62] https://www.youtube.com/embed/zFHcIm9F41w ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y53thid5DqQ&feature=youtu.be

[63] http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/general-view-taken-on-march-27-2016-shows-part-of-the-news-photo/517773934 ; http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/ruins-in-the-ancient-city-of-palmyra-a-unesco-world-news-photo/517857878

[64] https://www.youtube.com/embed/zFHcIm9F41w ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y53thid5DqQ

[65] http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/general-view-taken-on-march-27-2016-shows-the-theatre-in-news-photo/517773942 ; http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/view-of-the-roman-theatre-in-the-ancient-city-of-palmyra-a-news-photo/517858020

[66] ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 16-0026 in Weekly Report 79-80

[67] http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2015/07/04/ISIS-teens-execute-25-soldiers-in-Syria-s-Palmyra-.html

[68] https://www.youtube.com/embed/zFHcIm9F41w

[69] https://www.youtube.com/embed/zFHcIm9F41w

[70] http://dgam.gov.sy/index.php?d=314&id=1962

[71] https://www.youtube.com/embed/zFHcIm9F41w

[72] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y53thid5DqQ&feature=youtu.be

[73] http://dgam.gov.sy/index.php?d=314&id=1962

[74] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y53thid5DqQ&feature=youtu.be

[75] https://www.youtube.com/embed/zFHcIm9F41w

[76] http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/general-view-taken-on-march-27-2016-shows-part-of-the-news-photo/517773930

[77] https://www.youtube.com/embed/zFHcIm9F41w

[78] https://www.youtube.com/embed/zFHcIm9F41w

[79] https://www.rt.com/news/337381-palmyra-liberated-first-photos/

[80] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q16IRoWln9o

[81] http://www.aljazeera.net/photo/72049728-637f-4e03-b97c-65e107219785 (The photographs provided are likely a guest house behind the Temple of Bel.)

[82] For additional information regarding damage to the Palmyra Museum, see: ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 15-0086 in Weekly Report 41; SHI 15-0086 in Weekly Report 42-43; SHI 15-0114 in Weekly Report 51-52, SHI 15-0116 in Weekly Report 53-54.

[83] ASOR CHI Incident Report SHI 15-0086 in Weekly Report 41 (mid-May 2015); https://twitter.com/PalmyraPioneer/status/664217837838458881/photo/1 (November 2015).

[84] http://www.dgam.gov.sy/?d=314&id=1725 ; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/02; /isis-militants-destroy-palmyra-stone-lion-al-lat

[85] http://dgam.gov.sy/?d=314&id=1957

[86] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/07/150710-palmyra-syria-isis-looting-museum-archaeology/

[87] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/07/150710-palmyra-syria-isis-looting-museum-archaeology/

[88] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/15/world/middleeast/ancient-ruins-at-palmyra-are-endangered-by-isis-advance-in-syria.html ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jFwtq97dIA

[89] http://www.dgam.gov.sy/?d=314&id=1696

[90] http://www.dgam.gov.sy/?d=314&id=1704

[91] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/05/isil-enters-palmyra-museum-150523124654003.html

[92] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/15/world/middleeast/ancient-ruins-at-palmyra-are-endangered-by-isis-advance-in-syria.html

[93] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/05/isil-enters-palmyra-museum-150523124654003.html

[94] http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/19/middleeast/syria-antiquities-damascus/index.html

[95] http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/syria-troops-recapture-ancient-city-palmyra-blow-37970886

[96] https://www.yahoo.com/news/syrias-palmyra-restored-five-years-112751440.html

[97] http://www.dgam.gov.sy/index.php?d=314&id=1957

[98] For a more complete summary of the situation in the Palmyra Museum, please refer to the upcoming Weekly Report 85–86.

[99] http://iswresearch.blogspot.com/2016/03/russian-syrian-iranian-coalition-seizes.html

[100] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-palmyra-idUSKCN0WT04R ; http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-idUSKCN0WW1YO

[101] http://dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2016/Mar-29/344546-syria-govt-forces-advance-on-isis-town-near-palmyra-activists.ashx

[102]> http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35906568

[103] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/03/syria-army-palmyra-launchpad-isil-160328113142725.html

[104] http://iswresearch.blogspot.com/2016/03/russian-syrian-iranian-coalition-seizes.html

[105] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/correction-islamic-state-story/2016/03/29/5cf319e6-f58c-11e5-958d-d038dac6e718_story.html ; http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2016/03/27/Heavy-Russian-airstrikes-as-Syrian-army-fights-ISIS-in-Palmyra.html ; http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-idUSKCN0WW1YO ; http://www.wsj.com/articles/syrian-government-regains-control-of-palmyra-from-islamic-state-1459096448

[106] http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2016/04/01/Experts-Palmyra-s-dynamited-temple-can-be-restored.html

[107] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-putin-assad-idUSKCN0WT0HA ; http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/03/30/putins-attack-helicopters-and-mercenaries-are-winning-the-war-for-assad/

[108] http://tass.ru/en/society/851691 ; https://www.rt.com/news/337497-palmyra-damage-restoration-challenge/ ; http://rbth.com/multimedia/history/2015/12/16/state-hermitage-gathering-materials-to-help-reconstruct-palmyra_551503

[109] http://www.unesco.org/new/en/media-services/single-view/news/unesco_director_general_and_president_vladimir_

[110] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jFwtq97dIA ; http://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/islamic-state-group-fighters-seize-ancient-town-in-syria/

[111] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35906568

[112] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-palmyra-civil-war-unesco-world-heritage-site-assad-a6948706.html ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lErkZ9axHxo

[113] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/05/isil-syria-palmyra-prison-150530233411592.html

[114] http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/im-from-palmyra-and-i-can-tell-you-after-what-ive-seen-that-the-assad-regime-is-no-better-than-isis-a6961681.html

[115] http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/dont-pretend-assad-will-save-palmyra-when-he-has-destroyed-rest-syria-1552279 ; https://conflictantiquities.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/palmyra-looting-rebels-regime-islamic-state-propaganda/

[116] https://conflictantiquities.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/palmyra-looting-rebels-regime-islamic-state-propaganda/ ; http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2014/10/27/how-the-west-buys-conflict-antiquities-from-iraq-and-syria-and-funds-terror/ ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yq1G9hUaPs ; http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/about-us/who-we-are/director-general/news-and-activities/photo-galleries/events/photo-gallery-syria-palmyra/

[117] http://www.dgam.gov.sy/index.php?d=314&id=1950

[118] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/assad-buoyed-by-a-win-over-the-islamic-state-dismisses-oppositions-demands/2016/03/30/bf6e81f6-f68a-11e5-958d-d038dac6e718_story.html

[119] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/01/world/middleeast/after-gains-against-isis-american-focus-is-turning-to-mosul.html

[120] http://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/isis-sanctuary-map-march-31-2016

[121] http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2016/03/20/ISIS-suffers-blows-in-Iraq-Syria-still-fighting.html ; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/isis-sanctuary-map-march-31-2016

[122] http://aranews.net/2016/03/isis-removes-local-leaders-power-iraqi-mosul/

[123] http://bigstory.ap.org/article/4ff55a9a1e3942a8af9799bb47f11f13/iraq-says-its-launched-offensive-recapture-held-mosul ; http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2016/03/24/Iraqi-army-starts-offensive-in-region-around-Mosul.html ; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35889937 ; http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iraq/24032016 ; http://post.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/iraq-situation-report-march-22-28-2016

 


[embeddoc url="http://www.asor-syrianheritage.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/NEW2_PalmyraSpecialReport3-FINAL.pdf" viewer="google"]

Special Report: Update on the Situation in Palmyra

ASOR CULTURAL HERITAGE INITIATIVES

Allison Cuneo, Susan Penacho, and LeeAnn Barnes Gordon

With contributions by Michael Danti, Cheikhmous Ali, Kyra Kaercher, Kathryn Franklin, Tate Paulette, David Elitzer, and Erin van Gessel
September 3, 2015

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Since its capture by ISIL militants in May 2015, the region around the ancient city of Palmyra (modern Tadmor) has been in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, which has escalated dramatically in recent weeks. This report will provide a summary of the current situation in Palmyra and the effects of the conflict on its people and cultural heritage. Atrocities include attacks on civilians and mass abductions. Intentional damage to the cultural materials of the local populations is widespread, including the destruction of Islamic and Christian religious sites, as well as severe damage to the architectural remains within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palmyra. Confirmed damage at this archaeological site includes the destruction of the Baalshamin Temple, the Temple of Bel, and at least seven tower tombs within the Valley of the Tombs. For more detailed information on the heritage and history of the ancient city, please review the ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiative’s Special Report on the Significance of Palmyra.

Figure 1: DigitalGlobe satellite imagery depicting multiple destroyed Islamic tombs and ancient architectural features in the Tadmor and Palmyra areas (Digital Globe; September 2, 2015)

Figure 1: DigitalGlobe satellite imagery depicting multiple destroyed Islamic tombs and ancient architectural
features in the Tadmor and Palmyra areas (Digital Globe; September 2, 2015)

Attacks on Civilian Populations

ISIL began its invasion of Palmyra on May 12, 2015, quickly gaining control of the area in a few days and taking over entirely by May 21. This region is seen as strategically important for multiple reasons, namely for its access to the highway connecting the city of Deir ez-Zor to the cities of Homs and Damascus, as well as its proximity to numerous oil fields and an important military base.[1] The notorious Tadmor Prison, reopened in 2011 to detain and interrogate anti-government protesters,[2] was also located in this area.[3]

Throughout the conflict, both ISIL militants and regime forces suffered heavy casualties. More disturbing, however, has been the targeting of civilian populations by ISIL militants. Dozens of regime supporters and civilians have been kidnapped and executed in the Palmyra region,[4] and housing complexes without military advantage have been attacked by both ISIL and regime forces.[5] Civilians are especially vulnerable given Tadmor’s high resident population and its internally displaced population, which has markedly increased in recent years as Syrians have fled to its relative safety to escape violence elsewhere.[6]

Within days after seizing the area, reports emerged that ISIL militants had executed regime forces and allied militiamen in the Roman theater located within the boundaries of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.  On July 4, 2015 ISIL-affiliated social media accounts released a video showing 25 men in military uniforms being executed in the Roman theater of the archaeological site of Palmyra.  The public execution was conducted by young boys dressed in military fatigues standing in front of an ISIL flag before a crowd of civilian men and children. This execution occurred May 27, 2015, and the video was released weeks later.[7]

The use of a well known heritage site as the backdrop for this horrific act has numerous ramifications regarding ISIL’s use of heritage in propaganda and the future perceptions of this heritage site and its intangible associations. The use of a cultural heritage site as a stage for the execution of military prisoners in front of civilians is a violation of numerous international humanitarian laws and the laws of war. Out of respect for the victims and their families, ASOR CHI will not republish images of the execution in this report.  On August 18, 2015 Khaled al-Asa’ad (82), former Director of Palmyra Antiquities, was publically executed in Tadmor by ISIL militants.[8] Al-Asa’ad was famous for his life-long study of Palmyra (Tadmor) and service to the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM).

Trafficking of Antiquities

The trafficking and sale of illicit cultural property, especially antiquities, have affected all of Syria and are a byproduct of the civil unrest stemming from the ongoing armed conflict. Museum staff in Palmyra have worked tirelessly to protect artifacts housed at the site,[9] but many of the architectural features around the ancient site have been looted, and stolen Palmyrene objects have appeared in other parts of the country and abroad.[10] On July 2, 2015 ISIL militants in the northern town of Manbij, located in Aleppo governorate, intercepted an individual or multiple individuals transporting Palmyrene funerary sculptures. These fragments were most likely removed from tombs at the archaeological site and/or possibly taken from the collections of the Tadmor Museum.

Figure 2: Destruction of Palmyrene statuary in Manbij, Aleppo governorate (ISIL social media; July 3, 2015)

Figure 2: Destruction of Palmyrene statuary in Manbij, Aleppo governorate (ISIL social media; July 3, 2015)

ISIL social media accounts released photographs depicting militants destroying funerary busts from the archaeological site of Palmyra (Figure 2). Militants are shown displaying the statues to a crowd gathered in the central town square and then breaking the statues with sledgehammers. ISIL later released a video of these acts on social media sites.[11] Some sources allege that the statues were being smuggled by an antiquities trafficker, who was caught by ISIL militants.[12] Other sources suggest that it was an activist smuggling the busts to safety.[13] Both accounts state that the person caught possessing the statues received a public lashing as punishment.[14] Allegedly an “archaeological administration” was established by ISIL in the town of Manbij, located near the Turkish border, to manage the trafficking and sale of artifacts.[15]

Combat Damage

Militarization and incidental combat damage have significantly affected the ancient site of Palmyra throughout the conflict.  The site of Palmyra and, specifically, defensive positions such as the Bel Temple, were fortified by SARG in efforts to defend this area and its transport hub.[16] Ground conflict and air strikes have encroached onto the site, causing impact damage to many of the ancient monuments, including the Baalshamin Temple and the Temple of Bel, as well as the Palmyra Museum, which also suffered numerous episodes of combat damage.[17] For a thorough documentation of the collateral damage to the cultural heritage in and around Palmyra, please see Palmyra: Heritage Adrift A Special Report from the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology (APSA) by ASOR CHI Co-Investigator Cheikhmous Ali.[18]

Intentional Destructions

Throughout the conflict, attacks on civilian populations are often conducted in conjunction with, or followed by, the intentional destruction of tangible cultural heritage of significance to the vulnerable population. The situation in Palmyra is no different — ISIL has repeatedly targeted  Islamic and Christian places of worship, as well as ancient sites.

Figure 3: Graves in historic Palmyra being destroyed (ISIL social media; June 15, 2015)

Figure 3: Graves in historic Palmyra being destroyed (ISIL social media; June 15, 2015)

On June 15, 2015 Twitter accounts associated with ISIL published images showing the destruction of a relatively modern Islamic cemetery.[19] The images currently circulating include photos of men breaking gravestones in the historical city of Palmyra (Figure 3).

On June 22, 2015 ISIL published photos depicting the destruction of Islamic shrines near the settlement of Tadmor.[20] The Shiite Shrine of Sheikh Mohammad ibn ‘Ali was demolished between March 1, 2015 and May 22, 2015 based on observations of DigitalGlobe satellite imagery (Figures 4 and 6). ISIL destroyed the Sufi Tomb of Shagaf/Nizar Abu Behaeddine between June 15, 2015 and June 26, 2015 based on DigitalGlobe satellite imagery (Figures 5 and 7).[21]

Figure 4: Shrine of Sheikh Mohammad b. ‘Ali (ISIL social media; June 22, 2015)

Figure 4: Shrine of Sheikh Mohammad b. ‘Ali (ISIL social media; June 22, 2015)

Figure 5: Sufi shrine and tomb of Shagaf/Nizar Abu Behaeddine (ISIL social media; June 22, 2015)

Figure 5: Sufi shrine and tomb of Shagaf/Nizar Abu Behaeddine (ISIL social media; June 22, 2015)

Figure 6: Satellite imagery showing Shrine of Sheikh Mohammad b. ‘Ali. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; March 1, 2015), Center: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; May 28, 2015), Right: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015)

Figure 6: Satellite imagery showing Shrine of Sheikh Mohammad b. ‘Ali. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; March 1, 2015), Center: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; May 28, 2015), Right: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015)

Figure 7: Satellite imagery showing Shagaf/Nizar Abu Behaeddine. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 16, 2015), Right: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015)

Figure 7: Satellite imagery showing Shagaf/Nizar Abu Behaeddine. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 16, 2015), Right: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015)

Additionally, seven tower tombs located just outside the ancient city of Palmyra have been severely damaged or destroyed since the end of June (Figures 8–11). DigitalGlobe satellite imagery acquired by ASOR CHI shows this damage took place in two phases. Between June 26, 2015 and August 27, 2015 the Tomb of Iamliku was destroyed and the Tomb of the Banai family directly to its east was badly damaged. In addition the Tomb of Atenaten in the northwestern part of the site was destroyed. Within a second phase of destruction, between August 27, 2015 and September 2, 2015, more tower tombs were destroyed. This included the Tomb of Elahbel, the Tomb of Kithoth in the northern part of the necropolis, and Tomb of Julius Aurelius Bolma and Tomb #71 near the Tomb of Iamliku. Collectively, the damage to these tombs is not confined to a single area within the Valley of the Tombs, but instead it is distributed throughout various locations, leaving some towers destroyed and others still standing. The reasoning for this differentiation is unknown. Further investigation will be published in the upcoming Weekly Report 57–58.

Figure 8: Satellite imagery of tower tombs in Tadmor. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015), Center: Visible damage to the Tomb of Iamliku and the Tomb of the Banai family (DigitalGlobe; August 27, 2015), Right: Visible damage to the Tomb of Julius Aurelius Bolma and Tomb #71 (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015)

Figure 8: Satellite imagery of tower tombs in Tadmor. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015), Center: Visible damage to the Tomb of Iamliku and the Tomb of the Banai family (DigitalGlobe; August 27, 2015), Right: Visible damage to the Tomb of Julius Aurelius Bolma and Tomb #71 (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015)

Figure 9: Satellite imagery of the Tower Tomb of Kithoth Tomasu. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015), Right: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015)

Figure 9: Satellite imagery of the Tower Tomb of Kithoth Tomasu. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015), Right: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015)

Figure 10: Satellite imagery of the Tower Tomb of Atenatan. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015), Right: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; August 27, 2015)

Figure 10: Satellite imagery of the Tower Tomb of Atenatan. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015), Right: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; August 27, 2015)

Figure 11: Satellite imagery of the Tower Tomb of Elahbel. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015), Center: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; August 27, 2015), Right: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015)

Figure 11: Satellite imagery of the Tower Tomb of Elahbel. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015), Center: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; August 27, 2015), Right: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015)

In late July 2015, ISIL militants took control of al-Qaryatain, a neighboring village of Palmyra, from the Syrian government. On August 7, 2015, militants abducted hundreds of local Christians from the village and demolished its ancient monastery of Mar Elian (Figure 13), which was constructed during the Byzantine period and continued to be used as a Christian place of worship in the area.[22] DigitalGlobe satellite imagery of this site corresponding to the time of destruction was not available at the time of this report.

Figure 12: Mar Elian being prepared for destruction (ISIL social media; August 21, 2015)

Figure 12: Mar Elian being prepared for destruction (ISIL social media; August 21, 2015)

Until recently the conflict had only inflicted minor damage to Palmyra’s Greco-Roman monuments, but within a span of seven days both the Baalshamin Temple and the Temple of Bel were intentionally destroyed by ISIL.

Since May, ISIL militants have repeatedly posted photographs of the Baalshamin Temple and the Temple of Bel.[23] At the end of June 2015, reports emerged that ISIL militants placed explosive devices within the ancient site of Palmyra, although it was unclear at the time if the mines were laid in order to destroy the ruins or as a deterrent to regime encroachment into the ancient site.[24] As of June 23, 2015 ASOR CHI sources in Palmyra confirmed that local people had seen members of ISIL place “large mines/bombs in the ruins of many buildings in Palmyra” and told residents of their intent to destroy the ruins.

Figure 13: Baalshamin Temple (Michael Danti; 2010)

Figure 13: Baalshamin Temple (Michael Danti; 2010)

Figure 14: Destruction of the Baalshamin Temple (ISIL social media; August 24, 2015)

Figure 14: Destruction of the Baalshamin Temple (ISIL social media; August 24, 2015)

On August 23, 2015 reports surfaced concerning the destruction of the Baalshamin Temple.[25] Baalshamin was the Lord of the Heavens in the pre-Islamic Semitic pantheon. According to Ross Burns, the earliest architectural remains date to 17 CE, though the majority of the structure dates to the early 2nd century CE. The Egyptian motifs that characterize the style of the small temple make it unique in Roman Syria.[26] Following the destruction, photographs released by ISIL depicted the inner and outer walls of the temple lined with bottles and barrels of explosives, which were subsequently detonated.[27]  DigitalGlobe satellite imagery taken on August 27, 2015 acquired by ASOR CHI has confirmed this destruction (Figure 15).

Figure 15: Satellite imagery of the Baalshamin Temple. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015), Right: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe: August 27, 2015)

Figure 15: Satellite imagery of the Baalshamin Temple. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; June 26, 2015), Right: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe: August 27, 2015)

Figure 16: Temple of Bel (Michael Danti; 2010)

Figure 16: Temple of Bel (Michael Danti; 2010)

On August 30, 2015 it was reported that ISIL destroyed parts of the Temple of Bel with allegedly 30 tons of explosives.[28] DigitalGlobe satellite imagery confirms severe damage to the temple with only the front gateway of the inner cella left standing (Figure 17). Additionally, the temple colonnades, main entrance, and surrounding wall appear to be intact.

Figure 17: Satellite imagery of the Temple of Bel. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; taken June 26, 2015), Right: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015)

Figure 17: Satellite imagery of the Temple of Bel. Left: No visible damage (DigitalGlobe; taken June 26, 2015), Right: Visible damage (DigitalGlobe; September 2, 2015)

Conclusion

Given its rich and diverse cultural heritage, ASOR CHI is monitoring the condition of the Tadmor region and condemns in the strongest terms the murder of academics such as Khalid al-Asaad and other innocent civilians.

For further details about the site of Palmyra and the loss of cultural heritage at the site during the conflict, see the following ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives Weekly Reports and Special Reports:

Weekly Report 41 (pp. 8, 29–37)
Weekly Report 42–43 (pp. 18–37)
Weekly Report 44 (pp. 1–5)
Weekly Report 45 (pp. 23–25)
Weekly Report 46 (pp. 1–2, 63–75
Weekly Report 47–48  (pp. 14–25)
Weekly Report 50 (pp. 6–30)
Special Report on the Importance of Palmyra
Palmyra: Heritage Adrift A Special Report from APSA



 

Footnotes


[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-32772894 ; http://news.yahoo.com/rockets-kill-five-syrias-palmyra-104729402.html

[2] http://www.intelligencequarterly.com/2011/07/syria-mukhabarat-and-the-desert-prison/

[3] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/05/30/us-mideast-crisis-syria-prison-idUSKBN0OF0SD20150530

[4] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/syria-isis-ousted-palmyra-unesco-world-heritage/ ; http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/05/25/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-idUSKBN0O908J20150525 ; http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/05/16/mideast-crisis-syria-idUSL5N0Y705U20150516 ; http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/05/22/world/middleeast/ap-ml-islamic-state.html ; http://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2015/08/07/dans-al-qaryatayn-fraichement-conquise-l-ei-cible-les chretiens-et-les-sunnites_4715758_3210.html

[5] http://news.yahoo.com/rockets-kill-five-syrias-palmyra-104729402.html ; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33216305 ; http://www.syriadeeply.org/articles/2015/07/7741/bombs-beheadings-palmyra-isis-takeover/

[6] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-32820857http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2015/08/06/islamic-state-group-seizes-central-syrian-town

[7] http://www.syriahr.com/en/2015/05/for-the-first-time-the-the-roman-archaeological-theater-witnesses-executions-carried-out-by-is-against-20-members-of-the-regime-forces-and-allied-militiamen/

[8] http://www.dgam.gov.sy/index.php?d=314&id=1773

[9] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/07/150710-palmyra-syria-isis-looting-museum-archaeology/

[10] http://www.asor-syrianheritage.org/special-report-on-the-importance-of-palmyra/ ; http://www.asor-syrianheritage.org/palmyra-heritage-adrift/

[11] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/04/world/middleeast/isis-destroys-artifacts-palmyra-syria-iraq.html ; http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/miranda/la-et-cam-islamic-militants-smash-palmyra-statues-20150703-column.html  http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/02/world/isis-syrian-artifacts/

[12] http://apsa2011.com/apsanew/palmyra-arrest-of-a-dealer-of-archaeological-objects-from-palmyra-and-acts-of-vandalism-by-isis-in-minbej/ ; http://www.shrc.org/en/?p=25317

[13] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3147298/ISIS-sledgehammer-civilization-Islamist-group-capture-activists-trying-smuggle-ancient-statues-safety-force-destroy-lashing-baying-crowd.html#ixzz3elSvVCUC

[14] http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/02/world/isis-syrian-artifacts/ ; http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/04/world/middleeast/isis-destroys-artifacts-palmyra-syria-iraq.html

[15] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-06-28/isis-has-new-cash-cow-art-loot-it-s-peddling-on-ebay-facebook

[16] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-_N1LssEEA

[17] http://www.asor-syrianheritage.org/special-report-on-the-importance-of-palmyra/ ; http://www.asor-syrianheritage.org/palmyra-heritage-adrift/

[18] http://www.asor-syrianheritage.org/palmyra-heritage-adrift/

[19] http://www.ibtimes.co.in/palmyra-isis-fighters-destroy-tombs-Tadmor-photos-635923

[20] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33234648 ; http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/25/world/middleeast/islamic-state-isis-destroys-palmyra-tombs.html ; http://www.dgam.gov.sy/index.php?d=314&id=1727

[21] http://www.asor-syrianheritage.org/syrian-heritage-initiative-weekly-report-46-june-23-2015/

[22] http://www.dgam.gov.sy/?d=314&id=1777 ; http://apsa2011.com/apsanew/homs-countryside-isis-destroy-5th-century-mar-ellian-monastery/  ; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34016809 ; https://uk.news.yahoo.com/isis-syria-1-500-old-073858453.html#c1MEX5B

[23] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHCAcFD0pOY ; http://apsa2011.com/apsanew/palmyra-pictures-of-the-citadel-posted-by-isis-on-15-07-2015/

[24] http://www.syriahr.com/en/2015/06/islamic-state-mines-the-ancient-city-of-palmyra/http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/06/21/uk-syria-crisis-palmyra-idUKKBN0P10FU20150621http://www.dgam.gov.sy/?d=314&id=1725 ; http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/06/isil-plants-mines-ancient-syrian-city-palmyra-150622025527317.html

[25] http://dgam.gov.sy/?d=314&id=1783

[26] Burns, Ross (2010) The Monuments of Syria: A Guide. I.B. Tauris: London.

[27] http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-islamic-state-syria-ancient-ruins-palmyra-20150824-story.html

[28] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34107395 ; http://dgam.gov.sy/index.php?d=314&id=1792 ; http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/08/isil-blows-part-bel-temple-syria-palmyra-150830195420900.html


Read More Special Reports

Palmyra: Heritage Adrift | Read the Report

This special report by Cheikhmous Ali (Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology) provides a detailed account of damage done to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palmyra between February 2012 and June 2015.



Special Report on the Importance of Palmyra | Read the Report

The ancient city of Palmyra stands out as one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Syria and, indeed, the world. Following the takeover of the site and the adjacent town of Tadmor by ISIL, Palmyra has been in the news daily. The purpose of this report is to provide a concise introduction to the site and its importance so that the international community can better understand why it should be saved.



Report on the Destruction of the NW Palace at Nimrud | Read the Report

A video released by ISIL on April 11, 2015, provided vivid and shocking documentation of the deliberate destruction of relief sculpture and standing architecture at the famous archaeological site of Nimrud, located in northern Iraq near the city of Mosul. The video documents ISIL militants vandalizing, smashing, and piling up relief slabs using hand tools, power tools, and vehicles; it then shows the detonation of the relief slabs and large parts of the Northwest Palace using a series of barrel bombs. This report provides a brief introduction to the site of Nimrud and summarizes the current state of knowledge regarding the destruction of the Northwest Palace.



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Special Report on the Importance of Palmyra

ASOR CULTURAL HERITAGE INITIATIVES

Michael Danti, Tate Paulette, LeeAnn Barnes Gordon, Abdalrazzaq Moaz, Cheikhmous Ali, Kathryn Franklin, and David Elitzer
June 2, 2015

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The ancient city of Palmyra stands out as one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Syria and, indeed, the world. Following the takeover of the site and the adjacent town of Tadmor by ISIL, Palmyra has been in the news daily. The purpose of this report is to provide a concise introduction to the site and its importance so that the international community can better understand why it should be saved.

Figure 1: Palmyra, agora (foreground), Colonnaded Street and Qalaat Shirkuh (background) (photo by Tate Paulette, 2005)

Figure 1: Palmyra, agora (foreground), Colonnaded Street and Qalaat Shirkuh (background) (photo by Tate Paulette, 2005)

Located in the middle of the Syrian Desert, approximately 146 miles (235 km) northeast of Damascus and 130 miles (210 km) southwest of Deir ez-Zor, the monumental ruins of Palmyra date primarily to the city’s heyday between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE. During this period, Palmyra was an economic powerhouse with privileged access to goods flowing along an east-west trade route that linked the Mediterranean to India and China. It was also a cultural center where influences from the Greco-Roman world to the west met and merged with Persian and Parthian influences from the east. The site is a major tourist attraction that draws visitors from all parts of the globe, and tourism has long formed the backbone of the economy for the nearby town of Tadmor.

In recognition of its historical importance and universal cultural value, Palmyra was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980. As the conflict in Syria escalated and the site came under threat, it was then inscribed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger in 2013. More recently, the site and the adjacent modern town of Tadmor have become a focal point in the conflict between Syrian government forces and ISIL, both intent on controlling this strategic location and associated infrastructure (including weapons depots, oil fields, a military airbase, and a prison). The intense fighting in and around Palmyra has sparked a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of people stranded in their homes or attempting to flee. On May 20, 2015, ISIL expelled government forces from the area and established control over both Tadmor and Palmyra. With ISIL in control and the government conducting regular airstrikes in the area, the archaeological remains of the ancient city are now at high risk of combat-related damage, looting by ISIL, and episodes of deliberate destruction, as witnessed at the sites of Hatra and Nimrud in Iraq. Since the fighting began, numerous individuals and groups have called on the international community to take action to protect the people and the cultural heritage of Palmyra. In support of this broader effort, the current report provides an introduction to the site of Palmyra, a summary of damage incurred at the site during the Syrian conflict, and a recap of recent events.

 

The ancient city of Palmyra

Although located deep in the heart of the Syrian Desert, the city of Palmyra lies alongside a well-watered oasis fed by underground springs. The area was occupied as early as the third millennium BCE, but the settlement rose to prominence during the 1st century CE, when it was incorporated into the Roman Empire. Under Roman rule, Palmyra emerged as a major trading center, uniquely positioned at the midpoint of an important route across the desert, linking the Mediterranean to the Euphrates and beyond. During the 2nd century CE, in particular, wealth flowed into the city and financed the monumental civic construction projects that dominated the urban landscape and that still rise suddenly from the surrounding desert to greet the modern visitor. A meeting point for traders arriving from far-flung regions, Palmyra was a thoroughly cosmopolitan city, and it was inhabited by a multiethnic population of Aramaeans, Arabs, Greeks, and Persians who spoke primarily Greek and Palmyrene (a dialect of Aramaic) and who practiced a variety of different religions, including Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and a cult dedicated to the Semitic god Bel.

During the second half of the 3rd century CE, the long-distance trading system went into decline and ushered in a period of intense political maneuvering. Several efforts to establish Palmyra’s independence from Rome led ultimately to an aggressive campaign of expansion under the leadership of the famous queen Zenobia, who led forces into Egypt and Asia Minor before being taken captive and forced to surrender by the emperor Aurelian. In the aftermath, the city found itself more firmly under the control of Rome and was, for example, fortified and expanded for military purposes by the emperor Diocletian. During the Byzantine and Islamic periods that followed, there was continued occupation and even some major construction work at the site, but the city had reached its high point during the centuries of Roman rule.

Today, a visitor to the site of Palmyra can wander through an extensive landscape of beautifully preserved, standing architectural remains. Some of the most important constructions are labeled on the satellite image shown below and will be described briefly here. The city is surrounded by a wall that was built by the Roman emperor Diocletian (r. 284–305 CE) and later repaired by the Byzantine emperor Justinian (r. 527–565 CE). In the southeastern part of the walled city stands the massive Temple of Bel, a walled compound that was built in a series of stages from the Hellenistic period through the late 2nd century CE and that was later fortified during the 12th century CE. The main shrine (or cella), dedicated to the Semitic god Bel, lies near the center of the compound, flanked by a sacrificial altar and a ritual basin and surrounded by a colonnaded portico. From the Temple of Bel, a Colonnaded Street (the Cardo Maximus) runs to the northwest for approximately 1.2 km; lined on each side with massive columns, many of which are still standing, this street forms the main axis of the city. The street makes a slight bend at two points, in the first case passing through a Monumental Arch and in the second passing through an oval square containing the tetrapylon, a massive stepped platform surmounted by four plinths, each of which supported four columns and, originally, a statue.

Figure 2: Satellite image showing ancient city of Palmyra with key monuments labeled (ASOR CHI; DigitalGlobe, taken October 26, 2014)

Figure 2: Satellite image showing ancient city of Palmyra with key monuments labeled (ASOR CHI; DigitalGlobe, taken October 26, 2014)

To the south of the Colonnaded Street, three structures stand out. The Temple of Nabu, similar to the Temple of Bel but smaller, was built in the later part of the 1st century CE and was dedicated to Nabu, Mesopotamian god of wisdom. To the west of the Temple of Nabu lies a large, semicircular Theater, built during the first half of the 2nd century CE following the layout typical of Roman theaters. To the southwest of the Theater is a large rectangular enclosure that functioned as the agora or marketplace. On the northern side of the Colonnaded Street, two structures can be singled out. As part of a broader series of civic improvements initiated during the period following the defeat of Queen Zenobia, Diocletian built a bathhouse (Baths of Diocletian) near the Temple of Nabu and the Theatre. The Temple of Baal-Shamin is located some distance to the northwest; this relatively small temple, dedicated to the god of rain, was flanked to the north and south by colonnaded courtyards and was built in a series of phases from the 1st century CE through the mid-2nd century CE. At the far western end of the Colonnaded Street lies an area known as Diocletian’s Camp, where the city plan was expanded during the later 3rd century CE to include a military camp to house the Roman legion.

Figure 3: Palmyra, tetrapylon (photo by Tate Paulette, 2005)

Figure 3: Palmyra, tetrapylon (photo by Tate Paulette, 2005)

Outside the walled boundaries of Palmyra are three areas containing tombs built by wealthy residents of the ancient city: the Valley of the Tombs (or Western Necropolis), the Southwest Necropolis (or Southwest Cemetery), and the Southeast Necropolis (or Southeast Cemetery). These cemeteries include a mixture of four different types of tombs: tower tombs, underground chambers (sing. hypogeum; pl. hypogea), combinations of tower tombs and underground chambers, and house or temple tombs. It is also important to mention Qalaat Shirkuh (also known as the Arab Castle, Palmyra Castle, or Palmyra Citadel), a castle built during the Ayyubid period (approximately 1230 CE) and then later reoccupied by the Lebanese Emir Fakhr al-Din during the early 17th century CE, which enjoys a commanding view across the ancient city.

Figure 4: Palmyra, Temple of Bel (foreground) and Qalaat Shirkuh (background) (photo by Tate Paulette, 2005)

Figure 4: Palmyra, Temple of Bel (foreground) and Qalaat Shirkuh (background) (photo by Tate Paulette, 2005)

The Palmyra Archaeological Museum is located to the north of the ancient site at the entrance to the modern town of Tadmor. It features finds from the site and citadel, as well as traditional Bedouin costumes, jewelry, and other ethnographic objects. The museum is best known for its collection of religious and funerary art, as well as a series of mosaics, all exemplifying the unique artistic style that flourished in this cosmopolitan city. Drawing inspiration from both east (Parthian and Sassanian) and west (Hellenistic and Roman), Palmyrene artists and architects created a distinctive, hybrid style that is visible in the architecture of the city and also, especially, in the wall paintings and relief sculpture that adorned the tombs of the elite.

 

Damage to the site

At the outset of the conflict in 2011, the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) took preventive measures to protect the site of Palmyra and the museum. These measures included backfilling exposed tombs, reinforcing gates on-site and at the museum, relocating artifacts from the museum to off-site storage areas, and raising awareness about the importance of heritage within the local community. Limited access to the site has, however, allowed the DGAM few occasions to assess damage or initiate further preventive measures. In 2013, military occupation at the site and the construction of defensive earthworks, roads, and temporary structures reportedly escalated, and clashes resulted in some of the earliest reported combat-related damage to monuments and administrative infrastructure. This included bullet and shelling damage to exterior walls and the collapse of several columns within the Temple of Bel.

Extensive illegal excavations and theft have also been reported in the Valley of the Tombs, the Southwest Necropolis, the Southeast Necropolis, and the Camp of Diocletian. Despite efforts by the DGAM to secure the cemeteries, a large number of funerary sculptures were stolen in 2014 from the following tombs: Tomb n5 (Artaban Tomb), Tomb H (Taibul Tomb), Tomb n7 (Bolha Tomb), and Tomb n9. By late 2014, satellite imagery indicated moderate to severe damage within many of the cemeteries, as well as moderate damage to the Roman Barracks (within the Camp of Diocletian), the Temple of Baal-Shamin, and the Temple of Bel and possible damage to the city wall, the Colonnaded Street, the Monumental Arch, and Qalaat Shirkuh.

 

Recent events

On May 12, 2015, ISIL launched an attack on Palmyra. ISIL forces rapidly overran Syrian government troops on the outskirts of the town of Tadmor and advanced into the town from the north, reaching a point approximately one mile from the ruins of the ancient city, which lie to the southwest of the modern town. By May 17, 2015, Syrian government troops, supported by regime airstrikes, had pushed ISIL out of the northern part of the modern town and regained control of Palmyra. ISIL fighters did not, however, leave the surrounding area, and clashes continued in the following days. On May 20, 2015, Syrian government troops abandoned the area, and ISIL seized complete control of the town of Tadmor and the ancient ruins at Palmyra. In the following days, ISIL fighters reportedly executed a large number of government troops and loyalists, and the Syrian government conducted a series of airstrikes in and around the town. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, coalition aircraft also conducted an airstrike in the area.

ISIL’s advance toward Palmyra and the subsequent seizure of the city have produced a humanitarian crisis. In addition to those killed in battle, hundreds of people – primarily government troops and loyalists – have been executed by ISIL. In addition, thousands have either fled the vicinity or are now struggling to gain access to basic necessities, such as food, water, and electricity.

Figure 5: Recent satellite image showing ancient city of Palmyra, no visible damage, vehicles visible near the Theater (ASOR CHI; DigitalGlobe, taken May 27, 2015)

Figure 5: Recent satellite image showing ancient city of Palmyra, no visible damage, vehicles visible near the Theater (ASOR CHI; DigitalGlobe, taken May 27, 2015)

So far, there have been few confirmed reports of damage to the site of Palmyra. Video footage has documented combat-related damage to the Citadel, and unconfirmed reports suggest that several mortars fell within the Temple of Bel. The DGAM has also reported the destruction of modern plaster statues at the Museum by ISIL, and other reports suggest that at least one government airstrike hit a position within the ancient city. ISIL also posted a video and a series of images online showing various views of the ancient city, including the Temple of Bel, the Colonnaded Street, and the Theater. On May 26, 2015, a purported ISIL representative made a statement claiming that the group plans to destroy “statues” at Palmyra but will not “bulldoze” other historical monuments. Given current uncertainties about the extent of looting at the site and the state of the collection at the Palmyra Archaeological Museum, it is impossible to specify exactly which archaeological materials are most at risk. Some rumors suggest that deliberate destruction of sculptures has already begun – with the Lion of Al-lāt that stands at the entrance to the Bel Temple – but these claims have not been confirmed (and have recently been denied by the DGAM). At the same time, it is unclear whether or not ISIL will in fact refrain from harming other monuments at the site, either deliberately or for looting purposes. A satellite image taken on May 27, 2015, shows several trucks in the vicinity of the Theater but otherwise shows no visible damage; it must emphasized, however, that many types of damage would not necessarily be visible in the satellite imagery.

Whether or not significant damage has already occurred, the site must be considered at high risk of further damage – in light of the ongoing airstrikes in the area, the potential for renewed conflict on the ground, and the possibility of looting and deliberate destruction by ISIL. The summary provided above has shown that Palmyra is a site of significant cultural and historical importance. As part of the broader, humanitarian response to the current crisis, the international community should do whatever it can to save Palmyra.

 

Selected Bibliography (from which the information in this report has been drawn)

Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology. 2015. Palmyra. APSA2011: Protect Syrian Heritage. http://www.apsa2011.com/index.php/en/provinces/homs/palmyra.html.

Ball, Warwick. 2007. Syria: A historical and architectural guide. Second edition. Northampton, Massachusetts: Interlink.

Burns, Ross. 2009. The monuments of Syria: A guide. 3rd ed. London: I. B. Tauris.

Carter, Terry, Lara Dunston, and Amelia Thomas. 2008. Syria & Lebanon. 3rd ed. Oakland, California: Lonely Planet.

Danti, Michael. 2001. Palmyrene funerary sculptures at Penn. Expedition 43, no. 3: 33–40. http://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/palmyrene-funerary-sculptures-at-penn/.

Darke, Diana. 2010. Syria. 2nd ed. Guilford, Connecticut: Bradt Travel Guides Ltd.

Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums. 2014. State Party Report: State of Conservation of the Syrian Cultural Heritage Sites.

———. 2015. State Party Report: On the State of Conservation of The Syrian Cultural Heritage Sites.

UNITAR. 2014. Satellite-Based Damage Assessment to Cultural Heritage Sites in Syria. http://www.unitar.org/unosat/tbc.

United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization - World Heritage Centre. 2015a. Ancient City of Bosra. UNESCO-World Heritage Centre. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/22/.

———. 2015b. State of Conservation (SOC) Site of Palmyra (Syrian Arab Republic) - 2014. UNESCO-World Heritage Centre. http://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/2913.

———. 2015c. State of Conservation: Ancient City of Bosra (Syrian Arab Republic) - 2014. UNESCO-World Heritage Centre. http://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/2912.

———. 2015d. State of Conservation: Ancient City of Bosra (Syrian Arab Republic) - 2013. UNESCO-World Heritage Centre. http://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/1951.

Wolfinbarger, Susan, Jonathan Drake, Eric Ashcroft, and Katharyn Hanson. 2014. Ancient History, Modern Destruction: Assessing the Current Status of Syria’s World Heritage Sites Using High-Resolution Satellite Imagery - September 2014. Washington D.C. http://www.aaas.org/page/ancient-history-modern-destruction-assessing-current-status-syria’s-world-heritage-sites-using.

 

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Report on the Destruction of the NW Palace at Nimrud
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Report on the Destruction of the Northwest Palace at Nimrud

ASOR CULTURAL HERITAGE INITIATIVES

Michael Danti, Scott Branting, Tate Paulette, and Allison Cuneo
May 5, 2015

 

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Nimrud, Northwest Palace (photo by Col. Mary Prophit, U.S. Army Reserve, Oct. 2009)

Nimrud, Northwest Palace (photo by Col. Mary Prophit, U.S. Army Reserve, Oct. 2009)

A video released by ISIL on April 11, 2015, provided vivid and shocking documentation of the deliberate destruction of relief sculpture and standing architecture at the famous archaeological site of Nimrud, located in northern Iraq near the city of Mosul. The video documents ISIL militants vandalizing, smashing, and piling up relief slabs using hand tools, power tools, and vehicles; it then shows the detonation of the relief slabs and large parts of the Northwest Palace using a series of barrel bombs. Given the unconfirmed reports and speculation that preceded the release of the video and the high-profile media coverage that has followed in its wake, it is worth reviewing the basic facts of the situation. This report provides a brief introduction to the site of Nimrud and summarizes the current state of knowledge regarding the destruction of the Northwest Palace.

Nimrud (ancient Kalhu, Calah) is located in northern Iraq, approximately 30 km southeast of Mosul in Ninawa Governorate on the east bank of an ancient bed of the Tigris River. The site was occupied from the 6th millennium BCE through at least the Hellenistic period, but it is best known as capital of the Neo-Assyrian empire from the reign of Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BCE) up to the reign of Sargon II (721–705 BCE), who built a new capital at Khorsabad (ancient Dur Sharrukin). The Neo-Assyrian city, which covered at least 360 hectares (890 acres), was surrounded by a 7.5 km-long tower wall and was dominated by a 24-hectare (60-acre) walled Acropolis that lay near the southwestern corner of the city. The so-called Northwest Palace, located at the northwestern corner of the Acropolis, was built by Ashurnasirpal II to serve as royal residence and administrative center of the Assyrian empire. The walls of this massive structure (at least 120 x 200 meters in area) were lined with stone reliefs that depicted hunting scenes, battles, processions, and ritual ceremonies, typically accompanied by a standardized cuneiform inscription describing Ashurnasirpal’s conquests, as well as the building of Nimrud and the palace itself. Entranceways were guarded by colossal, human-headed, winged bulls or lions known as lamassu. Many of the reliefs and lamassu uncovered at the site were exported from Iraq and now reside in foreign museums. Others, however, were on display at the site within the partially reconstructed Northwest Palace.

The area surrounding the site of Nimrud came under ISIL control as a result of the group’s invasion of northern Iraq in June 2014. Unconfirmed reports of damage and possible ISIL activity at Nimrud appeared as early as late January 2015. Concern about the potential targeting of the site by ISIL then rose significantly in late February, following the release of a video showing the deliberate, performative destruction of objects in the Mosul Museum and at nearby Nineveh. On March 5, 2015, reports suggested that Nimrud had indeed been attacked by ISIL. On March 7, 2015, further reports suggested that ISIL militants were moving construction vehicles and equipment to the site. On April 11, 2015, ISIL then released a video showing the deliberate vandalism and destruction of relief sculpture at the site, followed by the detonation of the Northwest Palace using a series of barrel bombs arranged in a line in front of a row of relief panels. Unconfirmed reports have suggested that the detonation of the palace took place on April 2, 2015, but the timeline of events leading up to the demolition of the Northwest Palace remains uncertain.

Nimrud, Northwest Palace, barrel bombs arranged in front of relief panels (still image from video released by ISIL on April 11, 2015)

Nimrud, Northwest Palace, barrel bombs arranged in front of relief panels (still image from video released by ISIL on April 11, 2015)

Satellite imagery can provide further information about the nature and timing of the destruction events at Nimrud. It is important to emphasize, however, that satellite imagery is not available on a day-by-day basis and that even the best available images offer only limited resolution. With these important caveats in mind, the ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives team has analyzed a series of DigitalGlobe images in order to establish some chronological benchmarks for the destruction events that took place at Nimrud. Four particularly useful images are included here, identified by the date on which they were taken.

  1. February 26, 2015: This image shows no obvious, recent damage to the site.
  2. March 7, 2015: This image shows that a road has been cut through the modern wall that runs between the two side doors of the Throne Room of the Northwest Palace. The central entrance to the Throne Room was originally located in this area but has since eroded away; the space was closed off by a modern wall when the palace was restored. The image also shows a pile of rubble outside the Throne Room in the outer courtyard. The pile appears to include too much material to have been generated by the destruction of the modern wall alone and probably includes fragments of destroyed sculpture (as shown in this location in the ISIL video). The image also shows evidence for disturbance within the Throne Room, directly in front of relief slabs 12–15, the best-preserved relief sculptures excavated in the Throne Room. The disturbance suggests that these relief slabs may have been removed or demolished, most likely using mechanized equipment. The absence of further evidence for heavy disturbance elsewhere in the palace suggests that mechanized equipment may not have been brought into these other areas. Damage done below the shed roof using hand-held tools such as sledgehammers or jackhammers would not, however, be visible in the satellite imagery.
  3. April 1, 2015: This image shows the palace still intact, but, again, any further damage done using handheld equipment would not necessarily be visible in the image.
  4. April 17, 2015: This image shows the palace in ruins, following the detonation of the barrel bombs shown in the ISIL video.

 

A) Nimrud, Acropolis, no recent damage visible (DigitalGlobe; taken February 26, 2015)

A) Nimrud, Acropolis, no recent damage visible (DigitalGlobe; taken February 26, 2015)

B) Nimrud, Northwest Palace, arrows point to rubble pile, cut in modern wall, and disturbance in Throne Room (DigitalGlobe; taken March 7, 2015)

B) Nimrud, Northwest Palace, arrows point to rubble pile, cut in modern wall, and disturbance in Throne Room (DigitalGlobe; taken March 7, 2015)

C) Nimrud, Northwest Palace, arrows point to rubble pile, cut in modern wall, and disturbance in Throne Room (DigitalGlobe; taken April 1, 2015)

C) Nimrud, Northwest Palace, arrows point to rubble pile, cut in modern wall, and disturbance in Throne Room (DigitalGlobe; taken April 1, 2015)

D) Nimrud, Northwest Palace, showing the palace in ruins following the detonation of barrel bombs by ISIL (DigitalGlobe; taken April 17, 2015)

D) Nimrud, Northwest Palace, showing the palace in ruins following the detonation of barrel bombs by ISIL (DigitalGlobe; taken April 17, 2015)

Analysis of these satellite images suggests that the events shown in the ISIL video probably took place on (at least) two separate occasions. If the pile of rubble visible in the DigitalGlobe image taken on March 7, 2015, is the same as the pile of relief panels shown in the ISIL video released on April 11, 2015, then the piling up of these relief panels must have taken place prior to March 7, 2015. The detonation of the Northwest Palace, on the other hand, must have taken place after April 1, 2015, when a satellite image shows the palace still intact, and before April 11, when the ISIL video was released. The satellite image taken on April 17, 2015, provides further confirmation for the destruction of the Northwest Palace, as shown in the video.

For further details about the site of Nimrud and the destruction of the Northwest Palace, see the following ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives Weekly Reports:

Weekly Report 31 (pp. 82–109)

Weekly Report 34 (pp. 53–85)

Weekly Report 36 (pp. 34–52)

 

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Special Report on the Importance of Palmyra
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