Thursday, April 25, 2013

World heritage site destroyed in Syria

Ummayad mosque in Damascus, surrounded by the dense city.
This news made me feel sick.
The 11th-century minaret of a famed mosque that towered over the narrow stone alleyways of Aleppo’s old quarter collapsed Wednesday as rebels and government troops fought pitched battles in the streets around it, depriving the ancient Syrian city of one of its most important landmarks.

President Bashar Assad’s government and the rebels trying to overthrow him traded blame over the destruction to the Umayyad Mosque, a UNESCO world heritage site and centerpiece of Aleppo’s walled Old City.

“This is like blowing up the Taj Mahal or destroying the Acropolis in Athens. This mosque is a living sanctuary,” said Helga Seeden, a professor of archaeology at the American University of Beirut. “This is a disaster. In terms of heritage, this is the worst I’ve seen in Syria. I’m horrified.”
I should be far more moved by what's happening to people, but word of the destruction of Aleppo's historic landmark holds my attention.

In 2006, I had the chance to see a little of Damascus and spend a day at the Ummayad era mosque in that city (not the one in Aleppo that has been destroyed). This building was (is!) quite simply the most impressive religious space I've ever been inside. It's seen a lot. I hope it survives.

I don't read hardly anything the U.S. media offers up about Syria. Our government is not innocent here and we are simply ignorant. But this article captures something of the little bit I saw of Syria.
There was a distinctive sense of national pride in Syria. It flowed from the confidence of a civilization dating back to the times of the earliest alphabets and visible in the country’s wealth of archaeological sites, including some of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It came from the depth of local culture. It stemmed from the music of Syrian Arabic, the elegance of Syrian manners, the finesse of Syrian cuisine and the sincerity of Syrian hospitality. It proceeded from modern geopolitics, too, as Damascus carved out for itself a role bigger and bolder than its scarce resources should have allowed. In particular, and despite tremendous pressure, Damascus stood firm on the Palestinian cause, which Syrians feel more strongly about than anyone, perhaps, except the Palestinians. The regime may have been a conveniently quiescent foe for Israel, but Syria was, on the map of the Arab world, the only state still “resisting.”

Syrian pride, too, fostered a strong national identity and a calm self-assurance, even among Palestinian refugees, chased from what is now Israel, who blended in over the years -- in stark contrast to the ostracism their kin experience elsewhere in the region. Such equipoise was on display when in 2006 large numbers of people fleeing violence in neighboring Lebanon and Iraq were absorbed with rare ease into a society that seemed to know and accept itself well enough to open its arms to others. Friction occurred, as in any refugee crisis, but remarkably little considering sectarian tensions and the sheer scale of the influx.

Syrians have lost much in the conflict they are now locked into, with no way back and little sign of a way forward, either for supporters of President Bashar al-Asad or for the assorted opposition forces. ...
The whole is worth reading.

If -- when -- US involvement in Syria becomes more visible, I don't think there will be much of a citizen response here. We don't know enough.

1 comment:

janinsanfran said...

A friend from Beirut asks: "Does the media in the USA tell about the abduction of two bishops and the killing of their driver in Aleppo by those fantastic opponents supported by the West?"

This has been covered some: New York Times here for example. The folks who seem really aware of this are the religious media, especially the Catholics such as this from America magazine.

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