How NGOs are helping preserve Syria’s heritage

Al Monitor| Florence Massena: Some of Syria’s endangered antiquities could find a safe haven in Europe. French President Francois Hollande announced Nov. 1 that the Louvre Museum in Paris will host heritage artifacts from Syria and Iraq by 2019. The preservation of Syrian heritage has been a priority for individuals and organizations from inside and outside Syria since the beginning of the country’s civil war in 2011.

In 2009, Syrian tourism was a $6 billion industry, or 10% of gross domestic product, and the service industry accounted for 47%. With the war, these sectors have been decimated. For that reason, and more importantly to preserve Syrian heritage, foreign and Syrian archaeologists have drafted since 2011 an incomplete list of endangered sites and how they have been, and still are, threatened. The Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology (APSA) highlights the risks incurred by monuments during bombings, premeditated destruction, looting, vandalism and traffic — but also during maintenance work and restoration, or protection measures of the sites led by the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) in Syria with international archaeologists. The association provides daily updates for the public about historical sites affected via a YouTube channel.

On site, the information APSA gathers and processes is provided by “students in archaeology and architecture, but also civilians who alert and send information, sometimes risking their lives,” Martin Makinson, who is responsible for the organization’s press relations, told Al-Monitor.

“This will serve, at the end of the conflict, to determine who did what and what is the extent of destruction, in an objective way. The destruction is not merely due to the Islamic State (IS) — the regime also caused it,” he said.

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