Condemning the destruction of archaeological treasures from the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra as a “perverse…new attempt to break the bonds between people and their history,” the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today called on the international community, including the art market, to join forces and stop the traffic in cultural property.
"The ongoing destruction of Palmyra's cultural artifacts reflects the brutality and ignorance of extremist groups and their disregard of local communities and the Syrian people," decaled UNESCO chief Irina Bokova, strongly condemning this new assault on Palmyra, a World Heritage Site, particularly funerary busts and the renowned Lion statue of Athena from the entrance of the site's museum.
"The destruction of funerary busts of Palmyra in a public square, in front of crowds and children asked to witness the looting of their heritage is especially perverse,” she said, explaining that the busts embody the values of human empathy, intelligence and honor the dead. They also represent a wealth of information on costumes, jewelry, traditions and history of the Syrian people.
“Their destruction is a new attempt to break the bonds between people and their history, to deprive them of their cultural roots in order to better enslave them, "she declared.
With this in mind, Ms. Bokova reiterated her call to all religious leaders, intellectuals and young people to stand up against the manipulation of religion, to respond to the false arguments of extremists in all media and through the #unite4heritage campaign.
"I commend the courage of the youth from the Arab world who are committed to protecting their heritage as a source of strength, resilience and hope in the future,” she said.
Finally, she called strongly on all UN Member States, the art market and experts to join forces to curb the illicit traffic of cultural property.
“I call on all researchers, artists, filmmakers and photographers to continue to cooperate and join forces with UNESCO to document and share the wealth of the Mesopotamian civilization. Neither bombs nor jackhammers can erase this great culture from the memory of the world,” she declared, adding that nothing can ever stifle human creativity - despite the obstacles and fanaticism, this energy will come back stronger than before, buildings and sites will be rehabilitated, and some will be rebuilt, and culture will find its place because it embodies the vitality of societies.
“UNESCO will continue to work with the people of Syria to make sure that moment comes as soon as possible,” the Director General concluded.