politics of archaeology

UNESCO sees ISIS war crimes at heritage sites

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee said June 29 that extremist groups' destruction of antiquities and heritage sites in conflict zones could amount to war crimes. The committee noted particularly the Islamic State's destruction of the ancient city of Hatra in Iraq, and was deeply concerned about the group's capture of Palmyra in May. Both cities are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and carry much archaeological significance. The committee adopted a resolution which states in part that "[i]ntentional attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes and historic monuments may amount to war crimes." The resolution also expressed UNESCO's deep shock and alarm at the repeated attacks by ISIS "aimed at destroying cultural diversity through deliberate targeting of individuals and communities on the basis of cultural, ethnic or religious background, as well as places of worship, memory and learning," as well as looting and excavations that "seriously undermine irreplaceable cultural treasures."

ISIS gains ground as diplomats dither

The New York Times offers this sobering lede on the anti-ISIS summit now underway: "With Islamist militant fighters on the ground in Syria and Iraq moving faster than the international coalition arrayed against them, a meeting in Paris by coalition members on Tuesday seemed unlikely to reverse the momentum anytime soon. With the French and American governments playing host, 24 foreign ministers or their representatives have been meeting here in the aftermath of serious losses to the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria last month and the possibility that more territory will be lost in the coming days." Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whose forces are virtually collapsing, was of course on hand to appeal for more aid. (Reuters) Disgracefully, no Kurdish leaders were invited to the summit—despite the fact that Kurdish forces have been by far most effective on the ground against ISIS. "The [Iraqi] federal government didn't invite any representative from Kurdistan to the Paris meeting and have participated in this gathering alone," reads a statement from the Kurdish Regional Government. "The Peshmerga are the only forces that have so far bravely battled the terrorists and driven them out of our territories." (IBT) Needless to say, no representatives of the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria were invited either.

Nuclear strike in Yemen? No, but the truth is bad

Gordon Duff's website Veterans Today (a soapbox for vulgar conspiranoia that has nothing to do with veterans' issues) has posted a truly terrifying video, purported to be of the massive explosion on Naqm mountain outside Yemen's capital Sana'a last week. A fiery mushroom cloud unfolds over the mountain as panicked onlookers are heard beseeching God in the foreground. Commentary says the video has been "analyzed by nuclear weapons experts" (unnamed, of course) who determined that it was a "neutron bomb that could only have been an Israeli attack." The Israelis are said to have carried out the attack at Saudi behest. The claim is arbitrary and utterly improbable—the neutron bomb is designed for one purpose: to kill massive numbers through radiation, while leaving property intact. It would make no sense to set it off over a mountain as opposed to in Sana'a itself if the aim was to kill massive numbers—and this is not an overwhelmingly Shi'ite area, so the Saudis would have no reason to do so, even if we ascribe the worst of intentions to them. Furthermore, there have been no reports of massive radiation deaths from the area over a week later. Nonetheless, the "report" (if we may so flatter it) is being posted by Facebook conspiranoids and has been picked up by such likely places as Pravda, Al Manar and (of course) Global Research.

ISIS blows up Syrian prison at Palmyra

ISIS militants on May 30 blew up the Tadmur prison complex in the central Syrian city of Palmyra, destroying an important symbol of government control. ISIS announced the destruction of the prison in a statement on social media, and posted pictures of huge clouds of smoke above the sprawling complex. The facility was reportedly emptied before it was destroyed. Days earlier, ISIS released photographs showing appalling conditions in the complex, which held dissidents and deserters from the Syrian army. Photos showed small cells with mold-streaked walls and no beds, plumbing or lighting. Nonetheless, the destruction was protested by leaders of Syria's civil resistance as eliminating substantiation of dictator Bashar Assad's crimes. "ISIS has wiped out evidence of the crimes of the Assad clan by blowing up the infamous Palmyra prison," said Syrian opposition member Mohammad Sarmini on Twitter. The fate of the detainees at the complex is not clear.

Syria: Nusra Front announces drive on Damascus

An Islamist rebel coalition led by al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front has made gains in northwestern Syria in recent weeks, taking the city of Idlib and the town of Jisr al-Shughour, and bringing them to the edge of government-held coastal areas north of the capital. "We will continue our focus on Damascus and on toppling this regime," Nusra leader Abu Mohamad al-Golani told Al Jazeera May 27. "I assure you, Assad's fall won't take a long time."

ISIS in Palmyra: lives versus archaeology?

ISIS forces on May 20 seized the Syrian city of Palmyra, known in Arabic as Tadmur and famed for its ancient ruins—built by an Arab civilization 2,000 years ago in the Greco-Roman style. The Local Coordination Committees civil resistance network said the entire city came under ISIS control after pro-regime forces staged a "strategic retreat." As ISIS has advanced on Palmyra, there has been growing concern that its archaeological treasures will fall victim to the systematic ISIS campaign of cultural cleansing that has already seen partial destruction of the Iraqi sites of Hatra and Nimrud. UNESCO director general Irina Bokova said: "The fighting is putting at risk one of the most significant sites in the Middle East, and its civilian population. I reiterate my appeal for an immediate cessation of hostilities at the site. I further call on the international community to do everything in its power to protect the affected civilian population and safeguard the unique cultural heritage of Palmyra."

Israeli court approves Bedouin land confiscation

Separate Israeli Supreme Court decisions issued on May 5 open the way for state authorities to forcibly evict residents of two Arab villages from their homes. The inhabitants of both villages, one in Israel and the other in the occupied West Bank, have previously been displaced following actions by Israeli authorities. "It is a sad day when Israeli Supreme Court decisions provide legal cover for forced evictions, as in the case of these two villages," said Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch. "The Israeli government should let these communities stay where they are, not force them to move yet again."

ISIS advances on Palmyra archaeological site

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that ISIS forces are advancing on the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra, a UN World Heritage Site, where it is feared they will carry on their campaign against the archaeological treasures of the Fertile Crescent. ISIS militants have already seized parts of  adjacent city of Tadmur. Palmyra and Tadmur are situated in a strategic area on the road betwee Damascus and the contested eastern city of Deir al-Zour, and close to gas fields (BBC News) ISIS militants have executed 26 civilians in villages they seized near Palmyra, according to the Syrian Observatory. "Daesh executed 26 civilians, including at least 10 by beheading, after accusing them of collaborating with the Syrian regime," said the Observatory. (AFP)

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