Drive To Recover Stolen Syrian Antiquities!

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The Marinsky Orchestra performs in the ancient amphitheatre in Palmyra after it was liberated from ISIS by Syrian and Russian forces in 2016
The Marinsky Orchestra performs in the ancient amphitheatre in Palmyra after it was liberated from ISIS by Syrian and Russian forces in 2016

SYRIA’S Head of the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums, Mahmoud Hamoud, said that the Directorate is filing a file for stolen antiquities to be submitted to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL).

This is with the aim of intensifying international cooperation and efforts to recover these ancient artifacts due to their significance as part of the international cultural and civilisation heritage. In a statement to Syria’s state news agency SANA, Hamoud highlighted the Directorate’s efforts to remain in touch with international bodies and organisations concerned with cultural heritage protection to repatriate archaeological artifacts stolen and smuggled abroad by terrorist groups.

Hamoud said: ‘The news circulated recently by some media outlets about Jewish artifacts looted by terrorist groups from one of the world’s oldest synagogues in the Suburb of Jobar in Damascus and smuggled to Turkey then to the Israeli entity reveal the seriousness of the conspiracy and aggressive scheme targeting Syria and its civilisation.’

He added that after the liberation of Jobar neighbourhood thanks to the heroism of the Syrian Arab army, numerous archaeological artifacts have been discovered in houses’ basements and transferred to the National Museum of Damascus.

Hamoud pointed out that there are many reports about Syrian archaeological artifacts that have been stolen and smuggled to Jordan, adding that the Jordanian authorities have confiscated many of them. Last Sunday, an Associated Press report revealed that Jewish artifacts, including ancient parchment torahs from one of the world’s oldest synagogues, have gone missing from the Syrian capital with some precious items to appear again in Turkey and Israel.

Activists say the artifacts, moved from Jobar Synagogue in Damascus’ eastern Ghouta suburb when it was under terrorist organisations control. The main missing cache, they say, contained torahs written on gazelle leather as well as tapestries and chandeliers, and was given by the so-called ‘local council’ to ‘Failaq al-Rahman’ terrorist organisation before they were defeated by the Syrian Arab Army.

Another set of objects appears to have been stolen in 2014 after it was given to one of the ‘local council’ members to hide the items in his home; this man disappeared with the artifacts. Some of the items that went missing have started surfacing now in Turkey.

At the end of last month, after the liberation of Eastern Ghouta from terrorist organisations such as Jabhat al-Nusra, Jaish al-Islam, and Failaq al-Rahman, SANA worked to collect as much information as possible regarding archaeological sites in the area and document the destruction, damage, and looting that affected them.

The archaeological sites which were outside the terrorist organisation’s control remained safe, including al-Qareen hill, al-Ghizlanieh hills, and al-Fara hills, according to the General Director of the Directorate General of Antiquities & Museums (DGAM), Dr Mahmoud Hamoud. He added that Aswad hill site was also undamaged because terrorists did not remain in that area for long.

As for the sites that were in areas controlled by terrorists, Ferzat hill, aka al-Salihiye hill, is the most prominent of them and is one of the most important sites in the south of Syria. The site, located 17km west of al-Nashabieh town, dates back to the third millennium BC, and is one of the sites which have been sustained the most damage, as terrorists carried out illegal excavations using heavy machinery and bulldozers, which led to the destruction of its contents and the its archaeological layers, as well as the theft of the artifacts discovered in it, Hamoud said.

Al-Baharieh hill in Kafar Batna is an ancient building dating back to the fifth and fourth centuries BC, and it was also subjected to massive damage due to illegal excavations. Terrorists also dug tunnels and trenches inside al-Khatib and al-Dabaa hills which date back to the 4th and 1st centuries BC, respectively.

Hamoud added that al-Qariferh Hill, 30km east of Damascus and west of al-Abbadeh village in al-Nashabieh, which dates back to the period extending from the modern Stone Age until the Roman era, was vandalised as terrorists bulldozed parts of it and its surroundings and set up barricades and earth barriers.

Ghouta has several archaeological and historical buildings that require urgent maintenance as they were severely damaged due to the terrorists’ actions, including the Harasta bath and the nearby olive press, Director of Damascus Countryside Antiquities Department Jihad Abu Kahla told SANA. He said that the olive press dates back to the 19th century, and was vandalised due to the terrorists’ acts, while the situation in the Harasta bath is better and it can be repaired.

Two other archaeological sites are the Kafar Batna and Zamalka baths, which need urgent restoration intervention to prevent their collapse, in addition to Qibet al-Asafeer site in Adral al-Omalieh area which was damaged and some parts of it were destroyed.

The liberated towns in Ghouta contain a number of antique religious sites, including the columns in the town of Harran al-Awamid which was recently inspected by a team from the Antiquities Department, finding them in a good condition as they only need to be cleaned. Erbin Mosque, which is over 200 years old and is located in the centre of Erbin town 7km north east of Damascus, was intentionally vandalised and damaged by terrorists, as some people had once objected to listing it as an archaeological site because they wanted to demolish it and build commercial projects in its strategically-positioned site.

In Eastern Qalamoun, the town of al-Dmair has an ancient temple dating back to the 3rd century AD, consisting of a high building full of beautiful carvings and ornaments, and terrorists looted most of its contents, and they also used it as a base and surveillance point, digging tunnels inside it. One of the most famous archaeological sites in the area is the synagogue in Jobar, which contained many valuable items, some of which were ‘lost’ during the first years of the war on Syria, according to Hamoud.

Hamoud said that later, it was found out that the Israeli occupation commissioned terrorists to steal the items from the synagogue and smuggle them abroad. He added that some of the least valuable items from the synagogue were uncovered by the Syrian Arab Army as they were stashed away by terrorists, and now they are safe in the warehouses of the National Museums.

A few days ago, Turkish media reported that the Turkish police arrested two people from Failaq al-Rahman terrorist group who had been attempting to smuggle manuscripts from the oldest synagogue in Syria, including two ancient copies of the Torah that predate the birth of Christ. In order to recover the stolen artifacts, a bureau was established to contact various international sides in order to locate and reclaim the artifacts smuggled outside the country.