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France offers asylum to endangered Syrian art

by Annika Backe

December 10, 2015 – Not a single day goes by without new reports revealing the Islamic State (IS) committing atrocities in Syria. 220,000 people are dead, the fugitives amount to millions. The religious fanatics make it their goal to also destroy cultural heritage. In order to protect it, French President Francois Hollande has launched a large-scale program.
Precinct and temple of Baal in Palmyra before it was destroyed by IS terrorists on August 30, 2015. Photograph: 3rik Albers / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Precinct and temple of Baal in Palmyra before it was destroyed by IS terrorists on August 30, 2015. Photograph: 3rik Albers / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

After the IS terrorist attack in Paris on November 13, 2015, France was in a state of shock. Now, the French government takes action, not only by resorting to a military offensive: President Hollande announces that France would not only take in 30,000 refugees but also to temporarily house endangered works of art from Syria and Iraq. At the UNESCO General Conference on November 17, 2015, he said that the right to asylum applied not only to people but also to works and world heritage. 

Hadrian's Gate at Palmyra that blown was up by IS terrorists in autumn 2015. Source: Wikicommons.

Hadrian's Gate at Palmyra that blown was up by IS terrorists in autumn 2015. Source: Wikicommons.

The rescue plan for the art at risk was written by Jean-Luc Martinez, Director of the Louvre in Paris. The scheme, that was prepared after ancient buildings in Palmyra had been destroyed, included an endowment for the preservation of heritage to reconstruct this unique archaeological site in the Syrian desert. 

Also part of the plan is the installation of a European database for stolen Syrian artifacts, supplemented by a ‘European Monitoring Center’ attempting to combat illegal trafficking of ancient art in the EU. A memorial, planned to be erected at the Tuileries Gardens in Paris would honor ‘guardians of heritage’, as Khaled al-Assad, for example. When he attempted to protect the city of Palmyra, the 81-year-old archaeologist was brutally murdered by the IS in August. 

By taking these actions aiming at preserving Syrian art and culture, France is fighting against the terror of the IS that not only takes a heavy toll on human lives but also destroys invaluable world heritage beyond repair. The international battle against the fanatism and vandalism of the Islamic State has started on many different levels.

The main information for this article was taken from a contribution of hyperallergic.

CoinsWeekly has reported on cultural heritage attacked and destroyed by the religious fanatics here and here.

The extent to which the ancient buildings at Palmyra are destroyed is illustrated by images published, for example, in this article of The Guardian.

Here you can read more about the fate of Khaled al-Assad in article written by an academic colleague of his.

And here you can get more information about a project to digitally reconstruct Palmyra.

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