Friday, August 21, 2015

Exploiting a Tragedy?

The University of Chicago's Oriental Institute has rightly condemned the murder of Khaled al-As'ad, the retired antiquities director for the city of Palmyra, by ISIS.

In so doing, however, the Oriental Institute also claims that:

The 81 year old Mr. al-As'ad was arrested, tortured, and beheaded for refusing to reveal the location of antiquities from Palmyra that he had hidden away to prevent them from being looted and sold on the illicit antiquities market.

But how does the OI know that?

A well-researched piece in the New York Times instead suggests that the scholar was killed because of his membership in the Baath party and association with the Assad regime.

And, indeed, it appears the claim that the scholar was murdered for refusing to disclose the location of hidden antiquities is based not on eyewitness testimony but upon the claims of antiquities officials of the Assad regime in Damascus.

The murder of this scholar should be mourned as yet another tragedy coming out of Syria's civil war. As'ad devoted his life to studying Palmyra.  At least for the moment, it still stands.


Unknown said...

Interesting point: "Maamoun Abdulkarim, the director general of Syria's antiquities and museums, said that hundreds of statues and other objects had been moved from Palmyra to safe-houses in Damascus."
Movable and sellable objects were taken to Damascus. ISIS would have been fully aware of this move given the reports it received in the media

Unknown said...

Benjamin Ward (Lawyer/Archaeologist) UK

Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities said...

I had considered his probably Ba'ath membership and indirect association with the teetering Assad regime as a much more likely cause for his murder than the rather silly claims made by Syrian official sources in Damascus. This confirms my thinking on this tragic and unconscionable event.

Larry Rothfield said...

Let me get this straight: you completely disbelieve the Syrian government's claim that al-As'ad was tortured in part to try to get him reveal where artifacts might have been hidden, ignoring the fact this his own son says this as well; but when the Syrian government says that all the artifacts were moved to Damascus, you swallow that story whole. And you also believe that ISIS swallowed that story whole as well, and that even though they listed one of his crimes as being in charge of the site, they wouldn't have bothered to interrogate him try to find out if some artifacts might not have made it to Damascus and instead have been hidden somewhere.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Larry, I have healthy skepticism of whatever the Assad regime says. You are referring to what Ben Ward mentioned, not me. It's certainly possible that he was interrogated, but I do question the claim he was murdered for refusing to devluge what the Assad regime says does not exist (hidden antiquities). His work for the regime would certainly be enough to mark him for death as it has for numerous other Syrians. In any case, it is a tragedy he was killed and I think we should just leave it at that.