Head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO) Masoud Soltanifar has written to the director general of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, and the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Iyad Ameen Madani.
In his letters, Soltanifar expressed deep concern regarding the threat posed to Syria’s Palmyra by ISIS, IRNA repoerted.
Palmyra, about 210 km northeast of Damascus, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site described as having “stood at the crossroads of several civilizations,” with its art and architecture mixing Greek, Roman, Persian and Arab influences.
Soltanifar requested UNESCO and OIC to spare no effort to protect the historical city. He also expressed his organization’s readiness to help preserve and restore movable and immovable cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria.
Soltanifar says ISIS’ violence towards helpless people has expanded to include cultural sites that belong to the people. Iran, like other countries, deems it its responsibility to help protect cultural and historical heritage.
“With the cooperation of international organizations, it is still possible to save historical sites in Syria,” he said.
ISIS has released videos in recent months showing the destruction of Mosul Museum and the ruins of the ancient city of Nimrud at the hands of militants, who are committing atrocities in the name of Islam.
ISIS militants have locked Palmyra’s museum and placed guards outside, days after seizing the ancient city, Iraqi officials say, according to the BBC.
Antiquities director Maamoun Abdulkarim said they had destroyed some modern plaster statues and also raised their flag on the ancient castle overlooking the Roman ruins.
Most of the museum’s antiquities had been transferred to Damascus, he said.
Citing Palmyra residents at a news conference in Damascus, Abdulkarim said militants had entered the museum on Thursday breaking “some plaster statues […] being used to represent life in prehistoric eras”, before returning on Friday to lock it and place guards.
“There’s almost nothing left in the museum, we had been progressively transferring the antiquities to Damascus,” he said.
“We feel proud as all of the museum’s contents were taken to safe areas,” Abdulkarim told reporters.
“But there are still the large items, like the sarcophagi, which weigh three or four tons which we could not move. Those are what worry me.”
The capture of the World Heritage site next to the modern city of Palmyra has raised international alarm. UNESCO says its destruction would be “an enormous loss to humanity”.