The word ‘disaster’ conjures up images of raging tornadoes, devastating tsunamis, erupting volcanoes, plane crashes or oil spills. Perhaps it could be best summed up as a sudden event, a happening that causes much suffering, damage or loss of life. Sometimes though a disaster looms slowly over the horizon, accompanied by learned warnings of its devastating implications. Shrugging off the pallid attempts to curb its progress, the disaster lumbers forwards toward its ruinous conclusion and the horrific realities it brings.
On 20 May 2015 ISIS forces defeated the Syrian Army and took control of the ancient city of Palmyra, a Roman city situated on the Silk Road trade route between China and the Mediterranean. The ruins of Palmyra a UNESCO world heritage site contained countless monuments and relics such as the 2000-year-old Temple of Bel, the Temple of Baalshamin and the Arch of Triumph, additionally Khaled Al Assad ‘Head of Antiquities’ for the city of Palmyra had dedicated his life’s work to the site.
Settling into the city, ISIS conducted mass executions and imprisoned Al Assad holding him for a month, they tortured him for information on the location of hidden antiquities and then executed him when he refused to cooperate. ISIS soon set themselves upon these sites with murderous gusto and began razing them to the ground, not before looting certain priceless items that could be sold on the Black Market. It seems that even when waging a wanton war against idolatry it can be forgotten at the prospect of raising a few pounds.
ISIS occupied the city until March 2016 when Syrian Regime forces backed by Russian airstrikes retook the city, it was revealed that whilst cultural damage was widespread many antiquities and monuments had survived ISIS’s occupation, raising hopes that some relics of the city could be recreated and built from the rubble. With this hope of regeneration, perhaps the destruction of Palmyra is not the disaster that it originally seemed.
Whilst a great man has lost his life in dedication to the site, whilst precious artefacts have been destroyed or looted and whilst its greatest relic the Temple of Bel cannot be resurrected, an intriguing new chapter has been opened in the city of Palmyra. When ISIS released images of the destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin on to social media, what they were inadvertently doing was creating, recording and archiving a new piece of information about Palmyra.
With this, even if they were successful in destroying the physical information on site, could it ever really have been destroyed?
By Darrell Broom