“The latest news reports of fighting in the vicinity of Palmyra fill us with concern as this is a World Heritage Monument and one of the greatest sites in Syria. Any damage or destruction would be a great loss to humanity. In the absence of specific information, it is not yet possible to comment on what has been destroyed” – British Museum Official Statement
Neil MacGregor director of the British Museum stated in a recent interview; “We have a duty to protect cultural artefacts”. The British Museum is currently guarding an unnamed rare artefact that was looted from Syria, with the long term expectation of returning it when the country is stable. MacGregor added that the museum was, “trying to protect antiquities taken from conflict zones” and he called on the government to sign up to an international convention to protect cultural artefacts. “We are playing a significant part in holding objects that have been illegally exported,” he said.”We did that in Afghanistan and are now returning them. We are holding an object we know was illegally removed from Syria and one day it will go back.” The destruction of museums, artefacts and archaeological sites amidst the Syrian conflict has been called “the worst cultural disaster since the Second World War”.
The next heritage site on IS’s hit list could be the ancient city of Palmyra. IS over-ran the town which houses the 2000 year old Roman ruins over the last weeks. Militants are know to have been looting and selling artefacts to raise funds for their terrorist efforts. The United Nations has now banned the trade of ancient objects from Syria.
Syrian cultural officials have admitted that they’ve moved hundreds of Palmyra’s statues and other important objects to safety prior to the IS takeover but could not transfer larger structural monuments. The BBC reported that, “volunteers have risked their lives to preserve and protect irreplaceable monuments and mosaics, many of which date back to the 1st and 2nd Century; while civilians have turned over thousands of ancient artefacts for safekeeping”.
The British Museum stated that it could not reveal which Syrian artefact it was holding. “The question of whether we should help with the conservation and preservation of another country’s heritage is serious,” MacGregor said. “There is a significant international agreement, the Hague Convention about the protection of cultural property in war zones. Only one country in the security council hasn’t ratified it, the UK.”