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Khaled Al-Asaad: Hero of Palmyra Slaughtered for Protecting the Ancient Treasures of Syria

Khaled Al-Asaad: Hero of Palmyra Slaughtered for Protecting the Ancient Treasures of Syria



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On August 18, 2015, ISIS insurgents executed one of the world’s foremost experts on the ancient city of Palmyra, Khaled al-Asaad. Khaled al-Asaad, director of the archaeological site located at Palmyra, was accused of supporting the current Syrian regime and promoting idolatry, among other alleged crimes. Khaled al-Asaad was very much associated with the city of Palmyra, an ancient metropolis which grew up around an oasis. This ancient site lost its foremost scholar and advocate that day.

Becoming a Hero of Palmyra

Khaled al-Asaad was born in the modern town of Palmyra, less than a kilometer away from the ancient Roman city. While living there, he developed a strong interest in the past, particularly the history of his home town.

In 1960, Khaled al-Asaad attended the University of Damascus, where he received a bachelor’s degree in history and education. By 1963, the young al-Asaad was chosen to be the director of the archaeological activities at Palmyra and curator of the museum.

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Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad. ( Fair Use )

Over the next 50 years, al-Asaad worked tirelessly as director to facilitate the uncovering of the secrets of the ancient city. In 1974, al-Asaad began to help organize museum exhibitions on antiquities from Palmyra. He also wrote many books on the history of the city and its culture.

In addition to being good with the public, al-Asaad was also a brilliant scholar in his own right and regularly translated Aramaic texts until 2011. Khaled al-Asaad retired in 2003, but still remained active in the archaeology of Palmyra. He felt that he had a duty to the city.

His son, Walid al-Asaad, took over his role as director. It was Khaled al-Asaad’s life-mission to uncover and protect the secrets of the ancient city. This is one of the reasons that he chose to stay when ISIS took over his city from the Syrian regime.

Palmyra, Syria. (James Gordon/ CC BY 2.0 )

Takeover of Palmyra by ISIS

As a government official, Khaled al-Asaad was a member of the ruling Ba’ath party, a secular nationalist party in Syria. He was, however, retired by the time that ISIS Jihadists took his home city in May 2015. His relatives urged him to leave the city, but he refused. It was his city and he was not going to desert it. He also figured that they would ignore him. He was retired and an old man, harmless to them.

This plan appeared to work at first. In May 2015, he was arrested for a few days and then released by the occupiers of the city. In August, however, he and his son, Walid, were arrested and tortured for information. It appears that ISIS was interested in determining the whereabouts of Palmyrene artifacts. The numerous statues dating to the Roman period of the city, for example, are in violation of the strict interpretation of Islam practiced by ISIS. It is also likely that they wanted to sell the artifacts for a profit. One of the primary ways that ISIS has made an income is through selling Middle Eastern antiquities; to the chagrin of the international historical and archaeological scholarly community.

Funerary bust of Aqmat, daughter of Hagagu, descendant of Zebida, descendant of Ma'an, with Palmyrenian inscription. Stone, late 2nd century AD. From Palmyra, Syria. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

Khaled al-Asaad, however, was apparently willing to die defending these artifacts from abuse. Since Khaled al-Asaad refused to tell his torturers what they wanted to hear, he was publicly executed. Purportedly, his body was hung from a lamp post with his severed head placed beneath the dangling feet of his corpse. His glasses were still on his face. Over his chest was hung a sign recording all his alleged crimes.

The Legacy of Palmyra

Palmyra, the ancient site that al-Asaad died defending and helped make a UNESCO World Heritage site, was once a sprawling ancient metropolis made possible by a local oasis. The earliest literary reference to the city is a text from the city of Mari in the 2nd millennium BC. Palmyra was already part of a trade route connecting the Mediterranean world to the east. In the mid-1st century AD, it was occupied by the Romans.

Remains of the Camp of Diocletian (foreground) at Palmyra. (Ulrich Waack/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

During the Roman period, the city reached its height and was adorned with numerous monumental structures including the Temple of Bel, the Temple of Baalshamin, and the Great Colonnade decorating the main street of the city. Outside the city there was also an extensive necropolis.

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The city was a connection point between several civilizations, including Rome, Persia, China, and Arabia during the Roman period. After the 3rd century AD, the city declined until it was eventually reduced to a small village amidst ancient ruins. After the 17th and 18th centuries, the significance of the ruins of Palmyra were rediscovered, leading to archaeological excavations in the 20th century that made the city famous again.

Both academia and the general public owe much to Khaled al-Asaad for what is currently known of Palmyrene civilization. Many parts of the Palmyra archaeological site have experienced destruction and looting at the hands of ISIS, including its once prominent temple ruins. It appears that the archaeological site of Palmyra has been in danger of suffering the same fate as its 20th century guardian and advocate.

By Caleb Strom


ISIS Executes Syrian Scholar Who 'Refused' to Abandon Ancient City

ISIS has reportedly killed one of Syria's most prominent historians.

— -- To those who knew him, Khaled al-Asaad was as much a part of the city of Palmyra as the ancient antiquities he died seeking to protect.

“The way he’d tell you the stories about Palmyra, you’d feel his passion for the city,” said historian Rim Turkmani, a close friend of al-Asaad and his family. “He had very profound knowledge, he spoke Aramaic, he could read the Palmyran Aramaic and read every inscription and tell you the story behind it.”

The 81-year-old Syrian historian was reportedly killed this week by ISIS militants occupying the ancient historical site, where he was the Director of Antiquities since 1963.

According to a statement from the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums, al-Assad was publicly beheaded, then militants suspended his body from the same Palmyran columns he had once restored.

“It’s very symbolic, the way he died is outrageous,” Turkmani told ABC News in a phone interview. “It’s not just that they killed him, the way they killed him, it’s a big message for everyone.”

Chris Doyle, the husband of Turkmani and Director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, called the news “a dreadful shock in a conflict full of shocks.”

“He was 81, he posed no threat to anybody,” Doyle said. “He wasn’t politically active. He was an archaeologist.”

Al-Asaad spent his entire life in Palmyra. Turkmani said his lineage stretched back through the ancient city, giving him a unique personal perspective on the art he immersed himself in daily.

As ISIS advanced on the city, al-Asaad led the efforts to evacuate the city’s museum of many of its treasures. He then chose to stay behind.

Al-Asaad’s vast knowledge of the site extended to areas and items never displayed to the public, Turkmani said, making them more desirable to ISIS militants looking to profit from untraceable artifacts.

“If you grew up in Palmyra, the ruins are a part of your life and character,” Turkmani said. “Our suspicion is that he did not collaborate with them on further looting of more antiquities.”

ISIS took control of the city in mid-May, inciting an outcry from international community that the UNESCO World Heritage Site would be subject to looting and damage. It’s a reputation ISIS has developed in videos showing the destruction of museums and historical sites both in Syria and Iraq.

“For Syrians, to see Palmyra under the control of ISIS, it’s a devastation on the back of other devastations,” Doyle said. “The human loss of course is massive, but the cultural loss is too.”

State Department spokesman John Kirby condemned the killing of al-Asaad Wednesday afternoon, and remarked on how ISIS uses stolen antiquities to fund its terror network.

"We continue to urge all parties in both countries and in the international community to deprive ISIL of this funding stream by rejecting the trafficking and sale of looted artifacts," Kirby said. "These attempts to erase Syria's rich history will ultimately fail."


ISIS Behead Palmyra Archaeologist Khaled al-Assad And Hang His Body From Ancient Ruins

Islamic State (IS) militants have executed the archaeologist who looked after the ancient ruins of Palmyra and hung his body from them.

Khaled al-Assad’s death was announced by Syrian state media and an activist group on Wednesday.

The 81-year-old was beheaded by the militant group, which has captured a third of both Syria and neighboring Iraq and declared a self-styled "caliphate" on the territory it controls.

Khaled al-Assad was beheaded and his body was hung from the ancient ruins he spent a lifetime restoring

Since IS overran Palmyra in May, there have been fears the extremists, who have destroyed famed archaeological sites in Iraq, would demolish the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city at the edge of the town - a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the Mideast's most spectacular archaeological sites.

The Sunni extremist group, which has imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah, believes ancient relics promote idolatry.

IS militants claim they are destroying ancient artifacts and archaeological treasures as part of their purge of paganism.

The destruction IS has wreaked adds to the wider, extensive damage it has inflicted on ancient sites, including mosques and churches across Syria and Iraq.

The ancient Roman city of Palmyra, northeast of Damascus, Syria

According to Syrian state news agency SANA and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, al-Assad was beheaded on Tuesday in a square outside the town's museum.

The Observatory, which has a network of activists on the ground in Syria, said dozens of people gathered to witness the killing. Al-Asaad had been held by the IS for about a month, it added.

His body was then taken to Palmyra's archaeological site and hung from one of the Roman columns, Maamoun Abdulkarim, the head of the Antiquities and Museums Department in Damascus, told SANA.

Al-Asaad was "one of the most important pioneers in Syrian archaeology in the 20th century," Abdulkarim said. IS had tried to extract information from him about where some of the town's treasures had been hidden to save them from the militants, the antiquities chief also said.

SANA said al-Asaad had been in charge of Palmyra's archaeological site for four decades until 2003, when he retired. After retiring, al-Asaad worked as an expert with the Antiquities and Museums Department.

Al-Asaad, who held a diploma in history and education from the University of Damascus, wrote many books and scientific texts either individually or in cooperation with other Syrian or foreign archeologists, SANA said. Among his titles are "The Palmyra sculptures," and "Zenobia, the Queen of Palmyra and the Orient."

He also discovered several ancient cemeteries, caves and the Byzantine cemetery in the garden of the Museum of Palmyra, the agency added.

"Al-Asaad was a treasure for Syria and the world," Khalil Hariri from Palmyra's archaeological department told The Associated Press, speaking over the phone from the central Syrian city of Homs. "Why did they kill him?"

"Their systematic campaign seeks to take us back into pre-history," he added. "But they will not succeed."

Since falling to IS, Palmyra's ancient site has remained intact but the militants destroyed a lion statue in the town dating back to the 2nd century. The statue, discovered in 1975, had stood at the gates of the town museum, and had been placed inside a metal box to protect it from damage.

In early July, IS released a video showing the killing of some 20 captured government soldiers in Palmyra's amphitheater. They were shot dead by young IS members, armed with pistols. Hundreds of people were seen watching the killings.


Remembering an Unsung Hero: The Guardian of Palmyra

When people talk about heroes, they often mention self-less soldiers and police officers, civil rights leaders, and of course, the front line workers who are leading the charge against the pandemic. The truth is that there are many who are worthy of being hailed a hero. But rarely do people place archaeologists in the same light. However, there was certainly one who deserves our admiration: Khaled al-Asaad.

From 1963 to 2003, Khaled al-Asaad [1] was director of antiquities and museums at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palmyra, which was a bustling ancient city in today’s Syria and once fell under the Roman Empire’s control. Al-Asaad conducted numerous excavations and strove to restore the once resplendent Palmyra to its earlier glory. Despite retiring from his role in the early 2000s, al-Asaad remained close to the work at Palmyra and served as a resident expert. His archaeological endeavors at Palmyra alone should earn al-Asaad plaudits, but what happened after his retirement—while heart-wrenching and infuriating—transformed him into a hero.

In 2014-2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was taking the Middle East by storm and would eventually seize control of the territory where Palmyra is located. As a result, the region’s inhabitants and possessions weren’t safe. After all, ISIS tragically killed untold numbers and served as a wrecking ball to history—often destroying the remnants of the Middle East’s distant past. They toppled ancient structures, ransacked museums and obliterated art.

“Experts say the wave of wreckage amounts to cultural cleansing – a deliberate bid to erase the traces of centuries of sectarian coexistence, a notion that is anathema to Islamic State,” according to The Los Angeles Times [2] . ISIS themselves claimed that they were removing spectacles of idolatry even though the ancient temples were dedicated to long-defunct religions and now exist as secular points of interest. Whatever their actual reasoning, ISIS destroyed irreplaceable relics with zeal and left rubble in their wake. What they didn’t ruin, they sold on the black market to help fund their activities.

In advance of ISIS’s invasion of Palmyra, al-Asaad and his allies were able to smuggle [3] many—but not all—of Palmyra’s treasures to safety, and myriad Syrians likewise deserted the region. Al-Asaad’s friends and family urged him to flee the doomed territory too. “I am from Palmyra and I will stay here even if they kill me,” he responded. He was true to his word, and he remained behind to hopefully watch over Palmyra and protect his life’s work.

After ISIS took control of Palmyra, it didn’t take long for them to seek plunder for their operations, but much of it was missing—thanks to al-Asaad. Consequently, sometime around June of 2015, ISIS leaders summoned the elderly curator to disclose the location of Palmyra’s treasures. What happened next is really anyone’s guess, but it seems as though they interrogated him and may have even employed tortuous techniques—although this is conjecture.

Whatever the case, the 82-year-old al-Asaad defiantly stood alone against the oppressive Islamic State. He refused to reveal the location of Palmyra’s valuables—ostensibly to protect his confidantes who concealed the relics and preserve the artifacts for posterity—under penalty of death. Unfortunately, ISIS wasn’t known for mercy or taking no for an answer.

Sometime later, al-Asaad was thrown into a black van and driven to the city’s square, and then loud speakers called the city’s remaining residents to view the coming spectacle. With around 150 people in attendance, an ISIS member beheaded al-Asaad with a sword, and his remains were abused. His tormenters placed a card near his body that read, “the apostate Khalid Muhammad al-Asaad,” and it listed his alleged crimes, including him being director of “idolatry.” It was an appalling end to his life.

While this happened in 2015, much of the news surrounding his demise was muted by other current affairs. Regrettably, far too few know the name Khaled al-Asaad, but there’s time to fix that. Just days ago, what is believed to be his remains were discovered. DNA tests are pending, but if these prove to be al-Asaad’s remains, he deserves a hero’s funeral and his story must be shared.

Khaled al-Asaad is many things. He’s a martyr, an indefatigable guardian of what remains from the ancient past, and an exemplar of principled defiance. While he sadly and very tragically died, he did so—in part—striving to protect antiquities for years to come, and even though much of Palmyra was demolished, al-Asaad saved many of its treasures.

In the end, his life demonstrates that a single person—no matter their circumstances—can stand up to a murderous, oppressive regime. I hope that when Khaled al-Asaad was made, they didn’t break the mold. We could certainly use more people like him.


Obituary: Khaled al-Asaad

When Isil snatched control of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, the man who had devoted his life to protecting its treasures refused to leave. Khaled al-Asaad, who was killed last Monday, rebuffed appeals from friends and family concerned about his safety.

" Whatever happens," he told his friend, Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria's minister of antiquities, "I cannot go against my conscience."

Al-Asaad ended up paying for his devotion to the ruins of Palmyra with his life. Isil operatives had arrested him twice. The second time, they held him for a month and tried to force him to disclose where the city's treasures were hidden. He steadfastly refused, and was executed with the brutality that has made Isil so globally notorious. They dragged him into a public square before a masked man beheaded him.

Isil did not disclose that al-Asaad had thwarted their attempts at thievery. Instead, they put up signs over his dead body, accusing him of having been the "director of idolatory" and an "apostate" who "attended infidel conferences".

His nephew, Khaled al-Homsi, said the family had tried to convince Asaad to leave Palmyra when Isis seized the site.

"We knew they would not leave him alone," he said. "We used to stand together and watch the trenches and the barricades go up … he couldn't stop his tears."

Al-Asaad, who had recently celebrated his 81st birthday, was born in Palmyra in 1934. His name became synonymous with the ruins that were deemed a Unesco World Heritage site in the 1980s some knew him simply as "Mr Palmyra".

He left the city, a desert oasis north-east of Damascus, to study in the Syrian capital and gained degrees in history and education, but most of his knowledge of his native city's antiquities was self-taught.

"He was a fixture, you can't write about Palmyra's history or anything to do with Palmyrian work without mentioning Khaled al-Asaad," said Amr al-Azm, a former Syrian antiquities official who knew him. "It's like you can't talk about Egyptology without talking about Howard Carter."

Like many Syrian professionals of his generation, al-Asaad (no relation to Syria's rulers) was a member of the Ba'ath party, and his political affiliations helped him secure the two jobs he coveted: Director of the Palmyra site and of the city's museum.

Yasser Tabbaa, a specialist on Islamic art and architecture in Syria and Iraq, said of him, "He was a very important authority on possibly the most important archaeological site in Syria."

Propelled by his enthusiasm for the 4,000-year-old history of his birthplace he acquired a familiarity with the ancient Aramaic language and could translate all the inscriptions contained the vast theatre, temples, graveyards, and living quarters.

Palmyra is said to represent the high point of the construction work of its era, around 2,000 BC. Over the centuries, the site had undergone gentle adjustments according to prevailing fashions, and there were traces of Greco-Roman and Persian influence.

Al-Asaad was the one person visitors and researchers turned to in order learn more, and he generously shared the knowledge he had amassed over decades of careful work. "It looks like a palace," he can be heard, excitedly exclaiming to the BBC's Malcolm Billings in footage filmed in 1997. "You see the decoration, half-colonnade, with Corinthian capitals."

Escorting his guest to an underground ancient tomb, he points out examples of the Aramaic language, pronouncing the names of the people buried there. He then asks Billings to join him in beholding "the magnificent display of sculpture".

He had become the principal custodian of the Palmyra site in 1963, and was instrumental in having it recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage site.

The director-general of the organisation, Irina Bukova, a former Bulgarian politician, said he maintained regular contact with her.

In 2003, he was part of a Syrian-Polish team that uncovered a third-century mosaic which portrayed a struggle between a human and a winged animal. He described it as "one of the most precious discoveries ever made in Palmyra".

In 2001 he announced the discovery of 700 7th-Century silver coins bearing images of Kings Khosru I and Khosru II, part of the Sassanid dynasty that ruled Persia before the Arab conquest.

He was a much sought-after speaker at conferences, presenting the fruits of his vigorous and extensive research. Leading academics and researchers spoke warmly of his affection for Palmyra and his mastery of its history. Among his publications were the book, written in French, New Archaeological Discoveries In Syria (1980), as well as The Palmyra Sculptures and Zenobia, the Queen of Palmyra And The Orient.

Al-Asaad shared his enthusiasms with his 11 children, and when he retired in 2003 he passed on his roles to two of his sons, offering each of them one of the two positions he held.

Nepotism of this sort was described as his only concession to the practices of the Ba'ath party - but his motives were pure.

When I visited Palmyra in 2009 we were all told of Khaled al-Asaad, a man who had given his life to the city. They were talking figuratively. Not any more. The 81-year-old man was arrested, tortured, killed, mutilated and displayed by the savage nihilists of Isil.

His crime was a refusal to say where he had hidden the site's movable precious artefacts. It turns out these so-called holy warriors were just looters.

Just as the savagery of Isil seems to be from another age, so is Mr Asaad's heroism. In an era of hyper mobility, he stayed behind. In a world that celebrates individual advancement, he died for the rest of us. His was an unshakeable belief in the importance of protecting the treasures left by our ancestors.

Al-Asaad joins an elite group of men and women who have ensured the transmission of all that is best to future generations: the custodians of the Bayeux Tapestry who stored it away from the terrible destruction of the battle for Normandy the librarians of Timbuktu who smuggled countless precious documents to safety the curators in Baghdad who hid objects behind false walls when the city collapsed into anarchy.

Our lives are of little consequence. It is the ideas, songs, works of art, poems, theories, equations and solutions we produce that endure. They allow future generations to build on our endeavours, they ensure that we as a species develop a wider and deeper understanding of our own humanity.

Al-Asaad knew that his ruined city could help to heal a shattered country, bringing tourist dollars again. Its presence in the desert is a lasting rebuke to religious zealots and political despots, bursting with a misplaced certainty of their place in history.


Khalid al-Asaad Slaughtered by ISIS

The killing of Cecil the lion&mdashin which a Minnesota dentist, Walter J. Palmer, lured him out of a Zimbabwe sanctuary, and then beheaded him&mdashhas incensed people all over the world. Well, now it's time for people all over the world to be outraged over ISIS slaughtering and beheading Khalid al-Asaad, the 83-year-old caretaker of antiquities in Palmyra, which is home to some of Syria's greatest archaeological treasures.

After detaining the Syrian scholar for weeks, jihadists dragged him to a public square on Tuesday and cut off his head in front of a crowd. His blood-soaked body was then suspended with red twine by his wrists and hung from a traffic light. The jihadists placed Asaad's head on the ground between his feet, his glasses still resting on his face. His body was then taken to Palmyra's archaeological site and strapped from one of the ancient Roman columns. A white placard with red writing was affixed to Assad's waist, listing his alleged crimes, calling him an "apostate" and "the director of idolatry." His corpse was left fastened to the Roman column, rotting in the sun.

Known as Mr. Palmyra by many who knew him, he had been interrogated unsuccessfully by militants for over a month regarding the location of the city's hidden treasures. Asaad refused to give up the information, and died a grisly death protecting the same history he had dedicated his life to exploring for more than 50 years.

Syrian state antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim had this to say about the bespectacled caretaker: "Just imagine that such a scholar who gave such memorable services to the place and to history would be beheaded &hellip and his corpse still hanging from one of the ancient columns in the center of a square in Palmyra. The continued presence of these criminals in this city is a curse and bad omen on Palmyra and every column and every archaeological piece in it."

Before ISIS entered Palmyra, one of the Middle East's most spectacular archaeological sites, museum workers hurriedly moved many of its most precious artifacts to safer parts of Syria. Some of the larger pieces left behind were destroyed by ISIS. In June, they blew up two ancient shrines in Palmyra that were not part of its Roman-era structures but which the militants regarded as pagan and sacrilegious.


Early career

Al-Asaad had worked at the archaeological site for more than 50 years, spending most of that time as its director. He never really retired and was always very active, sensing that he had a kind of mission in Palmyra, the ancient city to which he had devoted his life.

He was interested in archaeology from a very young age, even though it was a relatively new field in Syria at the time. When France took on its post-World War I mandate as administrator of Syria, Palmyra was a road junction between Homs and Deir ez Zor &ndash a well-known stop where the Zenobia Hotel, run by a French intelligence officer, welcomed travellers who were in transit between the Euphrates, Homs and Damascus.

There was French airfield in the region and a squadron of French troops was stationed there. The garrison chaplain, Jean Starcky, was so interested in the monuments of the site and in the Palmyran inscriptions that he became a world expert on them. It was he who published the first archaeological guide of Palmyra.

In 1930, Henri Seyrig, a young scholar who had been appointed director of antiquities in Syria the year before, had organised for the people who lived in the ruins of Palmyra [E. Will, Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (CRAI) 1993 N° 2 pp. 384-394, cf p. 387] to relocate to a new city to the north of the site &ndash the current Palmyra.

Seyrig then organised the archaeological dig of the Temple of Bel with fellow archeologist Robert du Mesnil du Buisson, who worked on the site and then led the dig at the Temple of Baalchamin.

But when France&rsquos mandate ended on April 17 1946, the French soldiers departed. The scientists went with them.


Archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad, Enemy of ISIS

The noted archaeologist was targeted for his research and work on the ruins of Palmyra, an ancient semitic city dating back to the Neolithic age.

Khaled al-Asaad, archaeologist, museum curator, and general custodian of the World Heritage ruins at Palmyra, was murdered by ISIS in August. Along with other government employees, al-Asaad was detained by ISIS for the so-called crimes of attending professional conferences and idolatry for tending to the pre-Islamic ruins. Whatever his ties to the autocratic Syrian government were, his loyalty was to Palmyra, and he apparently died protecting its treasures from destruction. ISIS is known to loot antiquities for sale and to wreck the rest. At least al-Asaad will never be forgotten: JSTOR contains many examples of his scholarship.

Al-Assad’s career spanned more than 40 years at Palmyra. In addition to a lengthy publication record in three languages, JSTOR contains records of his work with archaeologists from Germany, France, Japan, and Israel, among others. One notable accomplishment was his discovery, with Polish researcher Michal Galikowski, of an inscription alluding to the first known caravan traffic through Palmyra. Palmyra was a crucial stop on the Silk Road from the first through 9th centuries CE.

No piece of history was too small for al-Assad. For example, along with Andreas Schmidt-Colinet and Annemarie Stauffer, he wrote the book on the textiles, most of them fragments, from the site. The well-received book examines textiles and fragments spanning multiple cultures, including those in Roman, Greek, and even Chinese styles, confirming that trade through Palmyra went all the way to Asia.

Al-Asaad also took part in larger-scale research. Among his many excavations, in the early 1990s he co-directed, with Dr. Schmidt-Colinet, the dig at a 4th century church dating from the reign of Emperor Constantine I. The same expedition uncovered an unusual house that was continuously occupied for more than 700 years, spanning Roman, Christian, and Islamic eras.

These are only a few examples of the many contributions Khaled al-Asaad made to understanding the history of Palmyra. Unfortunately, following the killing, ISIS continued its tradition of demolishing ancient sites, dynamiting a Temple of Baal that dates to 32 CE, as well as committing numerous other senseless acts of destruction. Still, in part thanks to al-Asaad’s dedication, many of the artifacts of Palmyra remain safe, at least for the moment. Many of the more portable artworks were evacuated in advance, and his refusal to tell his captors where they had been taken may have cost him his life. Let’s hope peace returns soon, to prevent further loss of life and history. Khaled al-Asaad, 1932-2015.


Temples at Palmyra destroyed: Famous Archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad, Died Under Torture

A second ancient temple at Palmyra has been razed, with a satellite image appearing to confirm the destruction of the Temple of Bel, previously one of the best-preserved parts of the ancient city.

The revelation follows the release of images by Islamic State last week showing the Baalshamin temple had been blown up.

IS militants seized control of Palmyra in May, sparking fears for the 2,000-year-old World Heritage site. Ancient ruins are not all that has been lost.

Khaled al-Asaad, the 81-year old former director of the world-renowned archaeological site at Palmyra in Syria, was beheaded in August. His body was hung on a street corner by Islamic State for everyone to see.

Prior to his death, al-Asaad and his son Walid, the current director of antiquities, had been detained for a month. They had been tortured as their captors tried to extract information about where treasures were to be found.

Walid’s fate remains unknown.

Early Career

Al-Asaad had worked at the archaeological site for more than 50 years, spending most of that time as its director. He never really retired and was always very active, sensing that he had a kind of mission in Palmyra, the ancient city to which he had devoted his life.

He was interested in archaeology from a very young age, even though it was a relatively new field in Syria at the time.

When France took on its post-World War I mandate as administrator of Syria, Palmyra was a road junction between Homs and Deir ez Zor – a well-known stop where the Zenobia Hotel, run by a French intelligence officer, welcomed travellers who were in transit between the Euphrates, Homs and Damascus.

There was French airfield in the region and a squadron of French troops was stationed there.

The garrison chaplain, Jean Starcky, was so interested in the monuments of the site and in the Palmyran inscriptions that he became a world expert on them. It was he who published the first archaeological guide of Palmyra.

In 1930, Henri Seyrig, a young scholar who had been appointed director of antiquities in Syria the year before, had organised for the people who lived in the ruins of Palmyra [E. Will, Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (CRAI) 1993 N° 2 pp. 384-394, cf p. 387] to relocate to a new city to the north of the site – the current Palmyra.

Seyrig then organised the archaeological dig of the Temple of Bel with fellow archaeologist Robert du Mesnil du Buisson, who worked on the site and then led the dig at the Temple of Baalchamin.

But when France’s mandate ended on April 17 1946, the French soldiers departed. The scientists went with them.

The New Palmyra Museum

At that time, Khaled al-Asaad was studying in Homs.

In 1960, he enrolled to study history at the University of Damascus. With his degree in his pocket, he became a civil servant at the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in Damascus. Then, in 1963, the young al-Asaad was named as chief curator of the new museum in Palmyra and director of the site.

His numerous excavations in Palmyra included temples and religious monuments, but also living quarters and tombs. He cleared some parts of the stone and marble fortifications that had been constructed at the time of the Roman emperor Diocletian around the monumental centre of the city.

More recently, he excavated and restored the main street after evidencing the ancient paving buried under soil and a tangled network of pipes.

Khaled al-Asaad had an archeologist’s sense of responsibility and his excavations have always been followed by effective, discreet and smart restorations. He also wanted to bring Palmyran civilisation to the general public and sought to make the site welcoming for visitors.

But he was, above all, a scientist.

Since the first year of his appointment to the Department of Antiquities, he began publishing a number of books on the history of Palmyra and its surrounding region.

He wrote a guide to ancient Palmyra and a book about the famous queen Zenobia. He helped organise exhibitions on palmyran antiques, the first of which took place at the Petit Palais in Paris in 1974.

A Hero And Martyr

Khaled al-Asaad had an open mind and always actively supported French missions in Palmyra, as well as those lead from Germany, Poland, Japan and Switzerland.

He recently collaborated with a mission of the German Institute of Damascus in a geomagnetic exploration south of the torrent valley of Palmyra. This led to the discovery of a major residential area that nobody knew existed.

Until the end, he remained approachable to everyone.

This is especially true of the workers in Palmyra, who appreciated and respected him deeply because they recognised in him a generosity above and beyond what was required by his job.

Even after his notional retirement, Khaled al-Asaad remained a valuable expert. He remarkably read the Palmyran language and knew a remarkable amount about Palmyran civilisation. The directorate always consulted him when police discovered stolen statues to appraise.

Upon hearing of his death, Maamoun Abdel-Karim, director general of antiquities and Museums of Syria, said IS had “executed one of the foremost experts of the ancient world”.

Among the 5 reasons given to justify his execution, Khaled al-Asaad was also accused of being a supporter of the Syrian regime.

Like nearly all the leaders and employees of the Syrian archaeology sector, Khaled al-Asaad was keen to remain at his post.

In doing so, he did not see himself as being at the service of the Syrian regime, but at the service of his country. And in Syria, where patriotism is perennial, being at the service of the state is not an empty sentiment.

Abdel-Karim said after Khaled al-Asaad’s death: “We begged Khaled to leave the city, but he always refused, saying, ‘I’m from Palmyra and I will stay even if they have to kill me’.”

His courage was fatal to him. He died a hero and a martyr.

Pierre Leriche is Directeur de Recherche émérite au CNRS-ENS Paris at Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Noor Khalil shared from I fucking love science

This man was killed last month. Do you know who he was? His name should be celebrated around the globe. He was a hero.


Watch the video: A Requiem for Palmyra (August 2022).