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Caroline Moran
Jill Aston
ENGL 1301.J02
11 December 2016

Problems in Archaeology: The Syrian Conflict

Wars have been around since the beginning of human history. There is always something
to spill blood over, even when the fight is simple. War never changes, a recently made popular
quote by the video game, Fallout 4, applies heavily to the topic at hand. Those participating in
these terrible events all use similar tactics in order to kill, intimidate, and humiliate those that
they believe to be beneath them. This is no different with the ongoing civil war in Syria. With
many different sides playing into this conflict, there has been an interesting turn for the main
target: historical sites. With over 300 Syrian and Iranian sites having been destroyed so far, it is
important to take a look at why these places are being turned into a battleground. In order to
prevent the further destruction of historical landmarks in Syria and Iraq, the United Nations
needs to seize control of the remaining sites before any parties involved with the Syrian Civil
War take them and protect them using military reinforcements.
To understand the main problem presented, it is best to look at the current conflict to
understand what exactly is going on. In the article titled Syria: The Story of the Conflict
written by Lucy Rodgers, David Gritten, James Offer, and Patrick Asare and published on
October 9th, 2015, the authors assert that the conflict in Syria started with certain groups rebelling
against the government but that it now has the Islamic State slowly taking over amidst the chaos.
Rodgers, Gritten, Offer, and Asare support this claim by slowly explaining the history of the
ongoing Syrian Civil War and how it has devolved into a power-play by several different groups.
The authors strung together this informative history in order to give an easy to understand

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timeline for the general public to understand the war in Syria a bit better.
The Syrian Civil War started in early spring of 2011. Tensions had been rising between President
Bashar al-Assad and the citizens of the nation. When the people started to protest, President
Assad responded with military intervention. This then led to many of the citizens forming and
volunteering for the rebel groups and even some joining sides with the government and
establishing local militias called the National Defense Force. These different sides contribute
largely to the conflict, however, there is still another front directly involved.
An organization of extremists that call themselves the Islamic State or ISIS also factors
into the civil war. This group uses brutal tactics, such as beheading, shooting, hanging, and more
in order to assimilate and/or destroy those with different belief sets. While the Syrian Civil War
has trudged further into chaos, ISIS has taken advantage of the main military being distracted by
the rebels and started their invasion of Syria. Not only did their troops begin to seep through the
countrys borders, the extremist group managed to take over several different historical sites
including places such as: Palmyra, Aleppo, Crac de Chavaliers, Maaret al-Numan, and many
others. For some of these sites (like Crac de Chavalier), they have served as a base for the
terrorist organization (Rodgers, 1).
According to the article Islamic State isnt just destroying ancient artifacts its selling
them published on June 8, 2015 and written by Loveday Morris for the Washington Post, the
author goes into detail on the situation occurring in Syria. Morris makes an educated estimate
that there are around 4,500 sites controlled by ISIS due to their operations being situated in an
area that is densely populated by archeological sites.
Delving further into the topic, it is easy to see that the motivation for these takeovers has
twisted even more. The ancient sites and monuments destroyed in Syrias crisis published on
September 5th, 2015 by the Australian Broadcasting Company explains that many of the major

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sites had a huge historical significance in the conflict. The author develops this claim by slowly
stating each site and why it was targeted and what importance it had to all parties involved. The
author wrote this article in order to list the sites destroyed so far. The reason for the destruction
of many of these sites can be attributed to looting as a major source of income for ISIS. Looking
further, it is easy to see that they have a bigger motivation for destruction. These temples and
historical sites represent thousands of years of the Syrian peoples rich culture and history.
Ravaging these sites would mean not only ridding the earth of ideologies that ISIS disagrees with
(such as worshipping other gods), but it also hurts the people by diminishing something that
means a lot to them. In this case, ISIS means to bring down the Syrians morale by destroying
their heritage. The Strategy Behind the Islamic States Destruction of Ancient Sites published
on August 31st, 2015 by Sarah Almukhtar addresses the ways in which ISIS has used these sites
including: filming beheadings, looting to fund their war efforts, and as a base for their
operations. The author establishes this through individual explanations of each site and the
occurrences there. The author wrote this in order bring to light the fact that ISIS has many
different motivations to take over these landmarks.
Here Are the Ancient Sites ISIS Has Damaged and Destroyed by Andrew Curry and
published on September 1st, 2015, the author illustrates that the Islamic State (ISIS) has been
destroying archaeological sites for religious reasons (old temples that worship false gods),
propaganda, and to destroy the culture of the Syrian people. The author introduces the topic first
thing as a background to the rest of the article. The author mainly wrote this article to educate
people on the sites that have been destroyed in the conflict thus far. The most recent major site
destroyed was Palmyra, or rather, part of it was destroyed. Palmyra was an ancient trade route set
up in order to cater to travelers in the first and second centuries. The parts of it that were reduced
to a pile of rubble were the Temple of Bel and the Temple of Baalshamin. Both of these were

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temples originally erected to worship the highest gods, Baalshamin and Bel.
This situation is also a major problem due to archaeology being a major part of informing
people about their past. In Why is Archaeology important? published by Brad Lepper on June
23, 2006, Lepper asserts that archaeology is important to better understand the history of the
world and to understand humans as a whole. Lepper goes into explanation by talking about
classes taken and how they can improve any students education even if they are not majoring in
this subject. The author mainly gives this argument in order to convince students to sign up for
this certain class. Although this has a different meaning pertaining to the situation, it is still
needed to realize the importance of the matter. This isnt just about history, an anonymous
Syrian archaeologist recently explained in an interview for the Wall Street Journal in the article
Syrian Monuments Men Race to Protect Antiquities as Looting Bankrolls Terror by Joe
Parkinson, Ayla Albayrak, and Duncan Mavin and published on February 10, 2015. Its about
our future. Saving our heritage is the only thing that can help us rebuild an inclusive Syria after
the war.
The conflict in Syria and Iraq has been the talk of experts since before the war even
started. Now, that Palmyra has been damaged by ISIS in an act that is considered the tipping
point, people have turned their gaze towards stopping the ongoing assault on these important
landmarks. Looking into Stopping ISISs Destruction of Historical Sites: What Can and Cant
Be Done published on September 1, 2015 and written by Mark Hay, the piece details
discussions on how tensions have built up on the matter and the destruction needs to stopped.
Hay explains the different ways in which others have interpreted the situation, even explaining
To some, the fact that the Islamic State probably sells far more heritage than it
destroys seems like a good sign: Better relics go onto the black market than
vanish completely. But these sales only fund and fuel further destructionnot to

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mention that removing an archaeological object from its archaeological context
robs it of a vast amount of historical meaning and value.
This is interesting due to its value of different opinions involved in the situation. There is also
talk of leaving the sites as they are, but attempting to prevent them from being destroyed any
In Isiss destruction of Palmyra: The heart has been ripped out of the city written by
Stuart Jeffries and published on September 2, 2015, Jeffries highlights many aspects of how
restoring the sites would commence after the conflict. Although there is consideration for
completely restoring the landmarks, many believe that this would not be the best course of
action. Mike Pitts, an editor for British Archaeology made a statement on what should most
likely happen when referring to Jeffries interviewing him:
Palmyra could be rebuilt to look at least superficially like the original but that
would be wrong. Isis will one day be history. Palmyra will be its permanent
lesson, about the darkness into which oppression, ignorance and corruption can
sink. To over-restore the ruins would be to create a fiction, denying the tragedy
and devaluing what had genuinely survived.
The significance of leaving the sites as they are afterward does stand to add to the history of the
landmarks. However, leaving them that way is also a non-direct way of saying that ISIS got what
they wanted, the erasure of Syrian heritage.
The destruction of these sites is not being prevented for the most part, due to the ruthless
nature of ISIS and the confusing conflict with it. These historical monuments need to be
protected from further decimation at the hands of these foreign enemies.
To start off, there needs to be a neutral party sent in to protect the sites seized by ISIS in
the war. Most likely, the United Nations would need to be involved in order to have big enough
groups. The team sent out will be split into several different stations with at least three experts
for each site, preferably archaeologists or anthropologists who are managed the sites before.
Sadly, the most qualified individual, Khalid al-Asaad, was publicly beheaded on August

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18th, 2015. Asaad was the chief of antiquities for the destroyed site of Palmyra and was killed in
the amphitheater at Palmyra by the jihadists and hung from a colonnade in the center of the town
nearby. ISIS committed this crime after keeping Asaad as their prisoner for months, due to
Asaads secrecy on where he had hidden certain artifacts in order to keep them out of the
terrorists clutches.
With the protection from destruction, the United Nations needs to also have a policy in
place in order to pull back troops when the conflict is over. If there is not one in place, the U.N.
may feel entitled to the archaeological locations and end up claiming them as theirs in the end.
To prevent this, there will have to be a policy or treaty put into place that will detail when
the United Nations groups will pull out. The timing will need to be right, and the preferred
solution to this is to set a maximum amount of time in which the troops stay in the nation.
Preferably, the time would be until six months after the war ends in order to insure the safety and
steadily transition into a new way of management. The troops will also not be allowed to meddle
in affairs outside of the sites their assigned to unless there is a supply drop.
In the article The Rubble of Palmyra written by Leon Wieseltier and published on
September 4, 2015, the author goes into detail on the importance of the rumination of the major
site of Palmyra. Wieseltier writes about many different philosophies to back his point on how
intervening will make no difference whatsoever. This article was meant to showcase past
historical events and determine their relevance to this case. The author also makes an excellent
point which states:
In the 18th century, after the publication in London of The Ruins of Palmyra, a
pioneering volume of etchings by Robert Wood, who had traveled to the Syrian
desert with the rather colorful James Dawkins, a fellow antiquarian and politician,
the desolation of Palmyra became a recurring symbol for ephemerality and the
vanity of all human endeavors. It is the natural and common fate of cities, Wood

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dryly remarked in one of the essays in his book, to have their memory longer
preserved than their ruins.
Woods recounting of his visit to Palmyra casts the view of restoration in a different light. Unlike
many who would see the restoration of this historical monument, he takes the stance that it will
happen no matter what. It is a common fate for landmarks to be destroyed, but the public still
needs to pay attention or else they will be lost forever.
The article Why Obama should not attack Syria written by DeWayne Wickham and
published on September 2, 2013, the writer outlines the ongoing situation in Syria and the United
States or America government and how the United States of America should not get involved
anymore and should pull out. Wickham organizes the piece by giving examples and speaking of
how the U.S. has been deceived by the Syrian people and need to pull out. Wickham mainly gave
this interesting piece in order to persuade the audience into the cause of being against Syria and
conserving military operations. Wickhams article does address the important issue of military
involvement. However, there does still need to be a certain presence there in order to enforce the
protection of sites.
Ultimately, what is at stake here is the complete destruction of the Syrian peoples
culture and heritage. In a summary, to prevent the further destruction of historical landmarks in
Syria and Iraq, the United Nations needs to seize control of the remaining sites before any parties
involved with the Syrian Civil War take them and protect them using military reinforcements.
The world needs to act on this blatant disregard and eradication of culture, or else it will spread
and no one will have anything to remember the past by.

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Works Cited
Curry, Andrew. Here Are the Ancient Sites ISIS Has Damaged and Destroyed National
Geographic (2015): 1. 6 November 2015
Almukhtar, Sarah. The Strategy Behind the Islamic States Destruction of Ancient Sites The
New York Times (2015): 6 November 2015
Unknown. The ancient sites and monuments destroyed in Syrias crisis Australian
Broadcasting Corporation (2015): 1. 6 November 2015
Tomkiw, Lydia. Islamic State Palmyra Attack: All The Cultural Heritage Sites ISIS Has
Destroyed in Iraq and Syria International Business Times (2015): 1. 6 November 2015
Rodgers, Lucy and David Gritten, James Offer, and Patrick Asare. Syria: The story of the
conflict British Broadcasting Corporation (2015): 5 November 2015
Lepper, Brad. Why is Archaeology important? Ohio History Connection Archaeology Blog
(2015): 1. 6 November 2015 <>
Wieseltier, Leon. The Rubble of Palmyra The Atlantic
(2015): 1. 4 December 2015

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Hay, Mark. Stopping ISISs Destruction of Historical Sites: What Can and Cant Be Done
(2015) 1. 5 December 2015 <>
Morris, Loveday. Islamic State isnt just destroying ancient artifacts its selling them The
Washington Post
(2015) 1. 5 December 2015
Jeffries, Stuart. Isiss destruction of Palmyra: The heart has been ripped out of the city The
(2015) 1. 5 December 2015 <>
Wickham, DeWayne. Why Obama should not attack Syria USA Today
(2013) 1. 3 December 2015
Parkinson, Joe and Ayla Albayrak, and Duncan Mavin. Syrian Monuments Men Race to
Protect Antiquities as Looting Bankrolls Terror The Wall Street Journal
(2015) 1. 5 December 2015 <>