Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Reckoning up the devastation in Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: As Isis is driven out, the extent of damage to Palmyra becomes clear. Two major temples appear to have been completely destroyed, but Palmyra is tragically only the latest victim of religious iconoclasm (David Keys, The Independent).
The iconoclasts of Isis have been driven out of this vast Unesco World Heritage site – and archaeologists are about to assess the damage. Preliminary information suggests that less of the ancient ruined city has been damaged and destroyed by Isis than previously feared.

However, two major temples – those of Bel and Baal Shamin – appear to have been completely destroyed. Certainly aerial photographs of the former suggest that the main temple building has been totally erased. However, it’s not yet clear where the rubble has been taken to – so potentially, it may be that some elements can be recovered. Also destroyed are a series of ancient tombs.

The monumental stone blocks of the great Roman triumphal arch, toppled by Isis, appear to be intact – and it may well be possible for conservators to eventually re-erect it. The ancient city’s spectacular Roman theatre has not been destroyed – probably because Isis used it for public executions. Various other structures – including several ruined temples also appear not to have been targeted by the organisation.
Other evaulations sound less optimistic:

UN expert says Palmyra likely beyond repair after IS carnage. During its 10-month occupation, Islamic State destroyed the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel and shrine of Baal Shamin (AFP).

Syrian experts shocked by damage inside Palmyra’s museum. Ancient site found devastated, but not completely destroyed, after government forces drive out Islamic State (ALBERT AJI, AP).

And here is a background article on the historical importance of Palmyra:

Why Palmyra, Recently Liberated, Is a Historical Treasure. Fabulously wealthy and distinctly multicultural, this desert crossroads also had a rebellious streak (Kristin Romey, National Geographic).

And finally, the Jerusalem Post has an evaluation of the larger political context of the recapture of Palmyra by Assad's forces:

Jerusalem Post Editorial: Palmyra recaptured. There are reasons for cautious optimism.
With the victory at Palmyra, Syrian forces under Assad’s rule have succeeded not only in pushing back various “moderate” Sunni opposition forces, but also ISIS troops. The eminent [read "imminent" - JRD] collapse of the Syrian government has been prevented – for the time being – and now Assad in on the offensive, thanks to Russian support.

Still, neither the Palmyra victory nor the gains made by Assad as a result of Russian intervention should be exaggerated.
Background here and many links.