After violent protests erupted in Syria in March 2011, more than 34,000 people have been killed in the battle between armed government forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army. About 350,000 refugees have fled, and a million more are displaced within the country. Just yesterday, 14 people died in new clashes in Aleppo, the country's second largest city.
Aleppo is also one of the oldest continuously inhabited human settlements in the world. Dating all the way from beginning of recorded time, the city has been the home of numerous civilizations, including the Hittites, Assyrians, Arabs, Mongols and Ottomans.
Its strategic location connects the surrounding countries with the Mediterranean, and the city has hosted Shiites, Sunnis and different Christian communities. This rich history has made Aleppo a center of significant cultural heritage sites. Until recently the Old City attracted tourists to its 8-mile long marketplace, the medieval Citadel and the Great Mosque that dates back to the 13th century.
But all of this is now gradually getting destroyed as Aleppo becomes a battleground. People have fled the Old City, leaving it to rebels and government snipers.
UNESCO, the United Nations organization tasked with preserving the world's most precious heritage sites, has even complained to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government. However, it is not safe for U.N. experts to enter Aleppo to examine the damage.
"To me, this is one of the great, great tragedies," - Julian Raby, Freer Gallery of Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
"Syria has clearly sort of ignored all international treaties that it has signed," - Kishore Rao, UNESCO World Heritage Center.
1. What are some of the oldest cities in the world?
2. Where is Syria?
3. What is going on in Syria right now?
4. What is a world heritage site?
1. Why is it important to protect world historical sites?
2. Do you think the international community should interfere to protect the Syrian people and its cultural heritage - why or why not? If yes, how?
3. What action do you think UNESCO should take to protect endangered heritage sites in Syria?