UNESCO chief deplores killing of two leading scholars of Syrian antiquities

Archaeological site of Palmyra in Syria. Photo: ©UNESCO/F. Bandarin

19 August 2015 – Within one week, the Syrian cultural heritage community suffered two immense blows with the murder of archaeologist Khaled Assad in Palmyra, and the killing of the Assistant Director of laboratories at the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums, Qasem Abdullah Yehiya, in Damascus, according to the United Nations.

In a press release UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Irina Bokova said: “I am both saddened and outraged to learn of the brutal murder of Khaled Asaad, who oversaw antiquities at the UNESCO World Heritage site at Palmyra… I in no uncertain terms condemn the horrific act.”

According to news reports, militants apparently killed the 82-year-old Mr. Asaad yesterday at the legendary Palmyra site where he had worked for more than 50 years. Having been held for over a month, according to these reports, he was being questioned about the location of valuable artefacts.

“They killed him because he would not betray his deep commitment to Palmyra,” the Director-General said. “Here is where he dedicated his life, revealing Palmyra’s precious history and interpreting it so that we could learn from this great city that was a crossroads of the ancient world. His work will live on far beyond the reach of these extremists. They murdered a great man, but they will never silence history.”

Ms. Bokova was also saddened to learn of the killing of Qasem Abdullah Yehiya, who, according to the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), said the Assistant Director of laboratories died in a rocket attack on the Damascus Citadel and the National Museum last week. “The killing of Mr. Yehiya is a deplorable act, made all the more senseless that it was the result of an attack on the museum and ancient citadel,” she said.

The Director-General added that the untimely deaths of Mr. Assad and Mr. Yehiya “are a terrible loss to the cultural heritage community in Syria and globally.”

A number of museum employees were also injured in the attack on the Damascus Citadel and museum. The Ancient city of Damascus, including the Citadel, was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

In May, the so-called Islamic State (Daesh) took control of Palmyra, which was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, according to the agency.


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