The liberation of the ancient city of Palmyra by Syrian and Russian forces has become arguably one of the most important victories in the war against global terrorism in the last several years. Unfortunately, some Western archeologists have joined their countries’ political and media elites in trying to turn the victory into a political sideshow.
Soon after the city was liberated late last month, an odd story appeared in some mainstream media, France’s Le Nouvel Observateur citing an appeal by an ‘international group of respected archeologists’ who urged UNESCO not to “hand Palmyra over to Russia,” and not to allow Russian archeologists to be given the right to restore the city unilaterally.
The group, including archeologists Michel al-Maqdisi, Frank Braemer, Michal Gawlikowski, Marc Lebeau and Andreas Schmidt-Colinet, and Shirin International, an organization ostensibly devoted to saving Syria’s ancient heritage, launched a petition to “put an end to a situation where Russia [alone] manages the monuments in Palmyra.” The archeologists noted that they were troubled by reports that UNESCO supposedly had a special arrangement with Russia concerning the ancient city’s restoration.
The experts explained that “although we know of the recent presence of experts from other countries in Palmyra, [the right] to the restoration of Syrian heritage cannot be appropriated unilaterally by one side; first of all, it must take place as a result of a national consensus [in Syria]. In addition, Palmyra’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site implies that the international community must be involved in the restoration. This consensus will be the fruit of long process on several fronts – political, social, scientific and technical.”
Commenting on the archeologists’ appeal, PolitRussia noted that while “caring for humanity’s cultural heritage is no doubt laudable, what’s unclear is what caused such concern among respected scholars in this case. Russian scholars have no claim to any exclusive role in restoration works.”
In fact, the journal added “the first foreign expedition which visited Palmyra after its liberation was Polish. Between April 7-17, archeologists from the University of Warsaw worked in the ancient Roman city. And no one interfered with their work. On the contrary, they arrived at the official invitation of the Syrian Department of Antiquities, and the Russian military was directly or indirectly involved in ensuring their safety.”
As for Russian archeologists’ participation in the restoration, PolitRussia recalled that there was nothing strange that they too be involved in the work, given that the Russian Hermitage Museum is one of the largest archeological centers of the world, whose staff have unique experience in restoration work, including with antiquities from Palmyra.
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