SYRIA – Terrorist from The Islamic State made Palmyra one of their bases for almost 10 months. Their position was solid, but Syrian armed forces with the help of Russian air force managed to siege the city and make the extremists flee in March 2016. This Friday, journalists were allowed into the city and their reports are causing an uproar worldwide.
Military forces found a mass grave when they entered the city. Officials reported at least 40 bodies. Some of the corpses were found decapitated while many others had signs of torture. There are no details on the identities of the victims or why they found such a fate.
The terrorist organization is not only infamous for what they do to prisoners, but also, for what they do to structures. They use a unit called Kata’ib Taswiyya or Settlement battalions. These groups select targets for destruction and they really did a number on Palmyra.
After entering the city, reporters said the city was reduced to rubble. The ancient Lion of Al-lat, which was restored back in 2005, was completely destroyed and many other cultural monuments had the same end or are reported missing.
The Temple of Bell (best known as Temple of Baal) was destroyed with explosives. Only the arch at the main entrance is intact. Also, the Temple dedicated to the Canaanite sky deity Baalshamin was completely demolished.
In a similar fashion, the terrorists targeted the Tower of Elahbel (Kubbet el ‘Arus). The tomb had 4 stories and was the most distinctive funerary structure in the Valley of the Tombs. When it was discovered, archeologists found a goldmine in ancient fabric including Chinese silk yarns from the 1st century.
But maybe the most famous structure targeted by the Islamic State was the Monumental Arch. Also known as the Arch of Triumph or the Arch of Septimus Severus was destroyed. After taking the city, the extremists made a video in which they destroyed the arch.
Some people think these are acts of senseless vandalism
The destruction left by the Islamic State’s wake has both idealist and practical reasons. They practice an extreme version of Salafism and this dogma promotes the establishment of monotheism (tawhid) and the eradication of polytheism (shirk). In their radicalism, they seek to eliminate any symbol that opposes or differs from their faith.
Popular culture let the idea clear; selling antiquities in the black market is a very profitable business. The clients do not care where they come from and terrorists know this. Military forces have captured many Isis smugglers carrying ancient statues from the cities and temples they occupy. In the deep web, there are sites that offer this kind of items.
Terrorist groups from all around the world have one main objective in mind, causing shock. The executions on camera, the statements and bombs are not the most efficient ways if just killing was the objective. These people want to make a statement and by targeting ancient structures that are also powerful symbols for thousands, they don’t have to start from scratch. The more famous a statue is, the more credibility and attention they get.
A lot of organizations that promote cultural preservation, at a both local and international level, have condemned the acts. There is hope for a lot of structures like the Lion of Al-lat and the Arch of Triumph. Many specialists say that with the remaining pieces and a lot of work restoring of some of these ancient symbols is possible.