Beheading the Guardian of Palmyra

August 22nd, 2015 - by admin

Robert Fisk / CounterPunch & Adam Withnall / The Independent – 2015-08-22 22:03:57

Beheading the Guardian of Palmyra

Beheading the Guardian of Palmyra
Robert Fisk / CounterPunch

(August 20, 2015) — ISIS has killed “the guardian of Palmyra”. Tortured for a month and then beheaded for refusing to betray the secret location of the Roman’s city’s priceless artefacts, Khaled al-Asaad’s gruesome death has appalled his fellow archeologists.

“[He was] a joyful guy. You had to see him if you went to Palmyra. He was a guardian of the past,” a Lebanese archeologist, Joanne Farchakh, recalled. “You felt his passion when he talked.”

The 82-year old was long retired, remaining at home when ISIS descended on Palmyra three months ago. What would the “Islamic Caliphate” want with an old man steeped in antiquity? Certainly no tour of the Roman forum and amphitheatre, the remains through which he walked with countless foreign archeological teams over half a century, ensuring — as Ms Farchakh said — “that they made no mistakes, didn’t get the facts of history wrong”.

In truth, Mr. al-Asaad knew that most of Palmyra’s movable artefacts had long ago been taken to the comparative safety of Damascus (no one could transport the entire Roman city away), but ISIS believed he knew where other treasures might have been buried.

After a month, the fighters realised that Mr. al-Asaad knew nothing — or would say nothing — and so they decapitated the old man and strung his torso to a Roman pillar in the ancient city.

He had, in his long career as a civil servant, visited overseas archeological conferences, and this alone would have merited a death sentence in the eyes of his puritan torturers. If you work for the Syrian government, in however lowly a role, you are a “regime man”.

For months, ISIS has operated an antiquities smuggling ring, selling objects from Syria’s Roman past to international dealers, usually through Turkey.

“Khaled al-Asaad was always there, and then he became a hostage,” said Ms Farchakh. “The truth is that Palmyra is a hostage itself — to two wars and to two political systems.”

ISIS Executes Palmyra Antiquities Chief
And Hangs Him from Ruins He Spent a Lifetime Restoring

Adam Withnall / The Independent

LONDON (August 19, 2015) — ISIS militants have tortured and executed the antiquities chief of the ancient city of Palmyra, according to Syrian officials and activists.

A graphic image posted online by ISIS-affiliated social media accounts purported to show the decapitated body of 82-year-old Khaled Asaad, his distinctive glasses still placed on his head on the ground.

The head of Syria’s department of antiquities said that militants later took Mr. Asaad’s body from the square where he was executed and hung it from a Roman column in one of the ruins he had dedicated more than 50 years of his life to restoring.

A placard attached to the remains pictured online reportedly claimed Mr. Asaad had been killed for overseeing “idols” in the ancient city, attending “infidel” conferences as Syrian representative, and for staying in touch with his brother and with palace officials in the wake of ISIS’s takeover.

Maamoun Abdulkarim, based in Damascus, said Mr. Asaad’s family told him the scholar had been held and interrogated by ISIS for at least the past month. He said ISIS had tried to get information about the city’s “treasures” from the expert, without success.

“Just imagine that such a scholar who gave such memorable services to the place and to history would be beheaded,” he said. “His corpse [is] still hanging from one of the ancient columns in the centre of a square in Palmyra.

“The continued presence of these criminals in this city is a curse and bad omen on (Palmyra) and every column and every archaeological piece in it.”

According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Mr. Asaad was beheaded in the square outside the museum in Palmyra where he had been in charge since the 1960s.

One of the foremost experts on Palmyra, he published several works in international journals about the city, which was an important trading hub along the Silk Road and still ranks among the finest ancient ruins in the Middle East.

The militant group was known to have destroyed relics it regarded as “idolatrous” in the past, and some of the city’s smaller artifacts were moved to safety as government forces retreated.

It remains unclear how much damage has been done to the ruins since. ISIS has previously said it will not destroy the overarching Roman structures — but in June it did blow up two ancient shrines in the city, not part of the Roman-era complex, which militants said were sacrilegious.

Mr. Asaad worked with archaeological missions from the US, France, Germany and Switzerland on excavations at the 2,000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site.

ISIS overran Palmyra and the neighbouring modern city of Tadmur in May this year

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