Syrian cultural heritage destruction in Rome exhibition

War ravaging country's archeological and historical treasures

19 June, 16:11

    (ANSAmed) - ROME, JUNE 19 - An exhibition aiming to show how the conflict in Syria is taking a huge toll on the country's archeological and historical-artistic heritage opened in the Italian capital on Thursday.

    The exhibition 'Syria, Splendour and Drama' at Palazzo Venezia focuses on this aspect of the conflict after over three years of fighting. ''The campaign for the protection of Syria's cultural heritage runs against the grain,'' said senator and former culture minister Francesco Rutelli, who is one of the supporters of the exhibition through his association Priorità Cultura.

    ''We are all concerned about the Syrian population. When people are killed, archaeological and cultural heritage become less of a priority. But this is not a valid reason to ignore the disaster of the destruction of some of the most important cultural heritage in the world. That country was the cradle of civilization: emperors, popes, Apollodorus of Damascus - they all came from there. What is happening is beyond repair.'' ''After WWII,'' added Paolo Matthie, director of the Italian archaeological mission in Syria, ''we thought that something similar to what happened in Dresden and Montecassino (where bombing razed an ancient abbey) would never happen again. UNESCO is doing its part by getting Syria's neighbors involved. For example, a 'red list' of the works that might be smuggled out has been distributed. Two lorries filled with stolen cultural artifacts have already been given back by Lebanon and one by Turkey.'' But more needs to be done, said Rutelli.

    ''During the conflict in Iraq,'' he said, ''there was even a resolution by the UN Security Council for the protection of Iraq's cultural heritage, and Italy sent 200 carabinieri. On the issue of Syria, instead, there is utter immobility.'' At the European level, Rutelli and Matthie agree that the blame should be placed squarely on the differing positions of member states on the Syrian crisis, resulting in contrasts that block many actions. This is why the campaign for international pressure, which the exhibition is part of, is intentionally ''politically neutral''. ''Our efforts,'' underscored Rutelli, ''aim to demilitarize historical-archaeological sites, turning them into treasure chests taken out of the conflict.'' The mission might seem impossible, Matthie admitted. ''But simply focusing on realpolitik would be abominable.'' (ANSAmed).

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