Daily Video

May 20, 2015

Saving Syrian culture under siege


In Syria, war is threatening thousands of years of culture and history.

Over 200,000 people have been killed and nearly 12 million people displaced from their homes in the Syrian conflict stretching back to 2011. In the past year, the Islamic State (ISIL) has swept through the region, destroying hundreds-year-old antiquities and prompting looting at battle sites.

Several groups are working to save these historical artifacts, even under the threat of death by ISIL. To Saeed, a Syrian archaeologist living in Turkey, preserving those antiquities is a responsibility to the public. “Most of the time, I don’t get money. But at the end of the day, I’m a Syrian citizen and it’s my duty,” he said.

The antiquities that are not destroyed often enter a black market where the profits benefit ISIL, according to Dr. Assaad Seif, an archaeologist working to stop trafficking between Syria and Lebanon. Looters who want to sell artifacts must obtain a license from ISIL and give the group up to 50 percent of their profits.

Seif’s team has recovered and restored some of the antiquities. The artifacts are returned to their country of origin, a policy adopted by the UN in 1970.

The fight to save artifacts is about preserving a people’s history, Seif said. “In Syria, they are trying to erase all the memory, all the history of the other…It’s like eradicating the whole past of a community,” he said.

Warm up questions
  1. Where is Syria?
  2. What do you know about the war in Syria?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why is it important to protect artifacts?
  2. Why does the Islamic State destroy some artifacts and not others?
  3. What are the risks of sending back recovered artifacts to where they originally came from?
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