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Syria: Syrian cultural heritage a victim of war in Rome exhibition
The exhibition 'Syria, Splendour and Drama', aiming to show how the conflict in Syria is taking a huge toll on the country's archaeological and historical-artistic heritage opened in the Italian capital on Thursday.

Syrian cultural heritage a victim of war in Rome exhibition
Stolen art pieces confiscated in Palmyra [Credit: ANSA]

"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 struggling against a reigning sense of resignation," said former Rome's mayor and former minister Francesco Rutelli, who as head of the Priorità Cultura association has been promoting the initiative to raise awareness about the value of Syrian cultural heritage and the importance of protecting it. Rutelli suggested a number of actions that could be taken, such as the demilitarizaton of important archaeological sites.

The exhibition was made possible through close collaboration with Paolo Matthiae, the discoverer of Ebla and head of the Italian archaeological mission in Syria of the Rome university La Sapienza. Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini immediately welcomed the initiative on learning of it, tasking museums superintendent Daniela Porro with supporting it and hosting it in Palazzo Venezia, where about twenty finds from some of Italy's largest museums have been set up to illustrate the splendor of civilizations that have existed in Syria.

"What is of the greatest concern is, of course, the humanitarian emergency," he said, "the over 150,000 deaths, millions of refugees, and the thousands fleeing the bloodshed who arrive on our coasts. However, the destruction of cultural heritage, with sites that have been looted or turned into battlefields, is a risk that humanity cannot continue to run. Once it has been destroyed it will be gone forever."

"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."

Source: ANSA [June 19, 2014]