Seminar, Maamoun Abdulkarim – Endangered cultural heritage symposium 2019

Madam Director-General of
the National Museum of World Culture- -and also Dr Eva Myrdal.
All organizers of this event. Thank you very much for giving
us this opportunity to meet you- -and visit Stockholm for the first time. All our events, before we passed in
other capitals in Europe in other ways. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m very happy
to meet you and present an image- -of what happened in Syria in
this crisis. It’s a very hard crisis. It’s not like any time in Syria.
Neither in the 20th century nor before. All the violence happened in Syria. How we can protect cultural heritage in
Syria through this crisis is a problem. But before speaking about
the challenge and the damage- -I would like to give you an image
of the beauty of Syrian cultural heritage. It’s very rich. Syria is one of the richest
countries in the Middle East- -when it comes to cultural heritage. We have more than 10,000 sites
from different periods. Gigantic sites. From all the periods of Syria,
wherever you go there is a site. Wherever you go there are old cities. Very rich cities like Aleppo,
Damascus, Palmyra and others. It’s cultural heritage. We have around 34 museums. Different museums, different scales
by the number of the objects. So this beauty of work,
20th century, in the beginning. Especially in the beginning
of the 20th century. All the missions started in Syria. All the capitals in the world came
to Syria and they stayed there. They published thousands of books and
articles about the rich history of Syria. We are proud of this
international cooperation in Syria. Just before 2011, this is
my mission in northern Syria. I’m director since 20 years for 700
villages from Roman-Byzantine period. It is a French-Syrian
mission with 700 villages. It’s listed in the cultural
heritage of Unesco in 2011. It’s one the of the last missions in 2010. In 2011 we had 140 missions.
Foreign, joint and national. Now we have one
mission from a university. They stayed at Qalat Marqab in Tartus. The life stopped for the
research and the excavation. Syria’s cultural heritage also has a
good and strong law of antiquities. It’s adopted in 1963. The
defense of our cultural heritage. The archeologists in
Syria are very strong. Because the law of
antiquities is very strong. It was modified in 1999. Through the crisis we adapted a new law. I think it will be revised next year. We will develop our laws based on
the condition of the life in Syria. Of course, in this crisis our
heritage is in a very hard situation. Attacked by clashes. Many citadels and old
cities became battlefields. Attacked by illicit excavations. Mafia came from areas around Syria- -and through local mobs they
participated against our sites. More than 300 sites were
badly attacked in Syria. And later we are attacked
by a new phenomenon, ISIS. For ideological reasons
they attacked Palmyra. You’ve followed through
media what happened there. How they destroyed all cultural
heritage just by extremism- -by barbaric system, they
destroyed a lot of cultural heritage. How can we defend against
this with just the state alone? I accepted to be Director-General
in the summer of 2012- -because the situation was very violent. It was necessary to
present an action plan. As head of the Department of Archeology- -professor in Damascus University
I accepted this mission. I was attacked by some people.
“Why do you work with government?” I said: “How can you defend cultural
heritage if you are not in Syria?” “If you are not engaged in the job?” “How can you make decisions about
the evacuation of the missions?” “To hide all the collections?
To save the totality of all collections?” More than 300,000 objects
were saved by my colleagues. Despite the condition we lived in. Fortunately all organizations in the world,
Unesco, Icomos, Iccrom, Interpol- -accepted our mission
and contacted us. Scientists from many countries
in Europe, Japan, United States- -also helped us. Because being isolated is a problem. Because we have responsibility. Why? Because our cultural
heritage is universal. Through this crisis you cannot
defend yourself with your colleagues. You need the help.
Sometimes communication. Here are some images.
We lived by the clashes. Aleppo is one of the more beautiful cities
in Syria when it comes to cultural heritage. Beautiful cities were attacked by clashes. A lot of destruction happened,
like this in front of the citadel. And this is what happened to the
mosque from the Ayyubid period. Later another destruction happened to
Serail. The situation became catastrophic. They burned and destroyed
the ancient market of Aleppo. A lot of destruction happened in Aleppo. As example of how the city
lived in the clashes in the war This is another memory of Aleppo. It was restored like this
in the museum of Ghazaleh. The memory museum of the city of Aleppo. And another city was also attacked. But I will give you some images
about clashes in Aleppo- -but Homs was in the same
situation that we left it. But another problem is illegal excavation. We are attacked by barbaric systems. By the mafia coming from Turkey,
Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria… What you see here. Many thousands like this. This site is so attacked
by illegal excavation. Dura-Europos is one of the most
beautiful cities in the Euphrates valley. What happened? It was attacked. What you see here, each point
indicates illegal excavation. Many thousands attacks on this site. Mari. Another city from
three millennia back. It’s one of the most important
sites for Syria’s urbanization. What happened? Like this. Every point in this image
indicates illegal excavation. This is a new photo from 2019. The reality
of the situation is a catastrophic condition. We lift another problem.
It’s the problem of ISIS’s ideology. This image came to my office
May 18, 2015. Just like today. On the International Museum Day
I received this image from Palmyra. What happened to the cella
of the temple? An explosion. The reality of the situation. This temple was completely
destroyed. It’s a problem. Another temple attacked some days later. The reality is what you see here. We said that maybe they’ll stop, since
it’s a religious building that’s attacked. But this barbaric system didn’t stop.
They attacked civil buildings also. They attacked the triumphal arc. The reality of the situation. They attacked this part
of the theatre here. There was some damage on the citadel,
but it can easily be restored. No problem. For the museums. This was for sites. For the museums: 34 museums. We decided I remember… Two weeks after my nomination I
decided to close all the museums. We said: “Do not repeat what
happened in Baghdad 2003”. We should close all
things in situ in each city. But when the situation became more
difficult and the violence increased- -we decided to evacuate
all things to Damascus. My colleagues appealed to me in 2013: “Professor, we have some thieves
trying to enter the museum in Aleppo.” During the winter, my colleagues
transported the entire collection- -to the National Museum in Aleppo. What happened later? It is
this museum from 18th century. The reality of the situation. Fortunately we transported
all things before. But they had interest in National Museum. Later the National Museum of Aleppo
became in the line of the clashes. We transported 24,000 objects to a
safe location in the University of Aleppo- -for three, four months. They said that Aleppo will be attacked. We decided in the night to
transport all things to Damascus. We saved the the entire
collection in this museum. And it was the same
situation in Deir ez-Zor. When we heard in 2014 that the National
Museum of Mosul was attacked by ISIS- -we said the second will be
Deir ez-Zor in the east of Syria. 30,000 objects was transported
using military planes from the army. We asked them for support,
because there were no roads. We are surrounded by ISIS. We transported 30,000 objects to Damascus. From Deir ez-Zor, Aleppo, Palmyra…
Just some examples. The night after they
had occupied half the city- -we moved three trucks from Palmyra. 400 beautiful statues
and many hundreds of objects. But later we transported everything. Three museums were attacked.
Museum of Raqqa was attacked by ISIS. It’s a collection of Raqqa
that was lost and destroyed. Fortunately it’s not Deir ez-Zor. Because in Deir ez-Zor- -among 30,000 objects, we
transported 16,000 cuneiform tablets. It’s a memory of the history of
research in Syria and Mesopotamia- -during one century that we transported. Because when this city
was occupied by ISIS- -they quickly attacked these kinds
of objects, scientific objects in general. Here you can see that we hid
150 mosaic items underground. During three years ISIS
didn’t have any information. When Raqqa was liberated from
Daesh my colleagues told me that- -all the mosaic was in a
safe location. Fortunately. Maarrat al-Nu’man is another city. It has
the most beautiful museum in the Idlib area. The government lost the control. But we kept good control over this
museum through the local community. The brave people of this city kept control
over the mosaic in cooperation with us. Fortunately all mosaic
was in good locations. Like this mosaic, Heraklion from
Homs, was reserved in this museum. With the local community we
kept the control over this museum- -and we saved all collections in
Museum of Maarrat al-Nu’man. One challenge stayed with us
for all 34 museums in Syria- -just like this museum in Idleb. We hid all collections underground. Now Idleb is not under control
of our director of antiquities. But through the local community
and the expert scientists- -we keep it, push it and encourage it. The people in this area.
First of all, it’s your identity. Second, it’s common national. Third,
it’s international, universal heritage. Please, keep the control over this museum. If you can save about
5,000 objects it’s okay. That means we saved about the
totality of collections in all of Syria- -despite all these problems. What happened later when the
situation became more violent? We decided to transport all these objects. This is one of the trucks coming from
Aleppo to the National Museum of Damascus- Slowly we evacuated entire collections
from all over Syria to Damascus. What is this mission about?
What is our vision? All the time we ask this. “Please, don’t confuse the work of
saving cultural heritage with politics.” We can’t accept to
divide our heritage in two. One for the government,
and another for the oppositions. We have one heritage
for all Syrian people. It’s a universal heritage. Governmental, non-governmental, local
community. You should be together. It’s our common identity and history. Fortunately all the Syrian
people accepted this mission. And all the areas participated
in this cultural battle. We went together. We protected in
cooperation with governmental- -non-governmental, local
committee in many areas of Syria. We unified the vision of all Syrian people. We pushed all the Syrian people
to take the responsibility- -and protect this cultural heritage. And through the evacuation of
the museums, the closing etcetera- -we had other things to do. Launching an awareness campaign
to all of Syria, through all these images. Many thousands of these images
were published all over Syria- -to engage the Syrians in the
protection of the cultural heritage. We also engaged a system of
education for the children. We made a very beautiful exhibition
in Damascus and other cities- -to encourage the people
to get engaged with us. What’s the kind of work?
What’s the type of object- -looted and recovered by the police. We presented images to encourage
the people that there is time. “You still have the time to
protect the cultural heritage.” It was an object recovered by the police,
to the National Museum of Damascus- It was something, a company,
anti-mafia, and all the Syrian borders. And we also made
a lot of the conferences- -in cooperation with Syrian Interpol,
national Interpol and the police. About how we together can create- -the politics for the protection
of the cultural heritage. It was necessary to do this work as well.
I will go very quickly because of the time. The local community is under
control of the opposition army. The local community told us: “If you have the time, some day
we can give you this mosaic.” We sent our staff to around
of Damascus, 40 kilometers. They accepted the delegation from
National Museum of Damascus. They gave us this mosaic. When they gave it to us- -we spread the message of thanks
to the local community in this area. Later they continued
the cooperation with us. A big part of the mission also involved the
consolidation of gates, windows et cetera. Sometimes it was not possible to move. We made a lot of this
system of protection. And also in Aleppo, Damascus and
Homs. Inside the museum of Aleppo. Like this. Now they’re trying to reopen
the National Museum of Aleppo. Sometimes it was not
possible to move something. We made this system of protection. Safe locations. It was necessary to
have all the conditions of the control. Anti-humidity, anti-thief,
anti-explosion, anti-fires. Do not repeat what happened
in the museum of Beirut. After 15 years of saving
the antiquities in Beirut- -they discovered that a big
part was damaged by humidity. We made also this system to
have control twenty-four seven. Documentation, packing.
All things were moved. We made new packing,
new documentation. We took more than 280,000 new pictures
with high resolution during this crisis. And some systems of gates
to protect the walls and roof. We covered the mosaic
with soil very quickly. Later this museum became a battlefield,
but our mosaic was protected. You should make a
preventive system. Do not wait. Each day it was like this. In Hawarte,
Mithraeum protected by local community- -by a 80-year-old man. He kept the control over this temple with
me. Just to contact me in the Hama area. He’s living around this temple. He and his family protected this
fantastic temple of Mithraeum. It’s unique in Syrian painting,
and they protected it. It’s for this that we encouraged the
local community to be engaged. Here are some objects transported to
Damascus before the occupation of ISIS. 400 of these trucks came to Damascus. We made a lot of 3D documentation. Many hundred thousands of images
inside the museum of Palmyra- -of the site and the damage,
with the French team. A Polish team came to Palmyra
three days later for the celebration. We transported this lion to Damascus. And we also restored this lion.
We saved it later. Two days after my leaving as Director-
General we celebrated this project. And when it came to
documentation, publishing- -we insisted to be transparent
with the international community. To publish all things in Arabic and English. Do not publish any fake information. If the information is good, you
should publish that it is good. If it’s bad, you should publish
that this information is bad. Sharing information with the
international committee with transparency. Because we are scientific. We don’t do the politics or the propaganda. Finally we defend Syrian
heritage for all of Syria. We published these books
in Arabic and English. We documented all that
happened through this crisis. We maintain good relations with
all these world organizations. I thank Unesco, Icomos,
Iccrom, Interpol. They really gave us a lot of
help through this crisis. They refused to leave us. It was necessary to share
scientific ideas etcetera. And they helped us a lot
with the projects in this crisis. We are now celebrating a new publication. Thank you very much, Madam Director-General
for this publication in Swedish. I am proud to be in
Sweden and see this list- -of the Syrian antiquities
in the Swedish language. I hope for another language
to be engaged in the translation. A lot of the training.
A lot of the world. United Nations adopted
these two resolutions. Anti-destruction in the Syrian
and Iraqian antiquities. It’s necessary. It was an excellent adoption
of these two resolutions. But what we need now is a mechanism
for applying it in the field. It’s necessary. Through
the international committees- -and cooperation we
can reduce impact of the war- -on the cultural heritage in
Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally what I repeat all the time,
we have no borders in archeology. We have one archeology.
It’s international archeology. Our heritage in Afghanistan, Iraq,
Syria, Yemen, Europe. It’s universal. We need your solidarity,
help and cooperation. That means that we can rebuild the future
for our children. Thank you very much.

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