martedì 29 marzo 2016

The Strategy Behind the Islamic State’s Destruction of Ancient Sites

The Strategy Behind the Islamic State’s Destruction of Ancient Sites

A statue of Athena at the Palmyra museum was intact on March 22, 2014.Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
In an image released by the Syrian Arab News Agency on March 27, 2016 the statue is seen with its head and arm missing amid extensive destruction.Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Photographs from inside the Palmyra museum reveal evidence that Islamic State militants “carried out acts of deliberate destruction of sculptures,” Michael D. Danti, a professor of archaeology at Boston University, wrote in an email. He also assessed the damage as severe, “with some monuments in better condition and some worse than expected.”
Palmyra’s triumphal arches, which date to the second century, as seen on March 22, 2014. Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
The remains of the arches, destroyed in October, in an image taken on March 27, 2016 from a slightly different angle. Maher Al Mounes/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Targeting a Site of Significance to Christians
St. Elijah’s Monastery, a 1,400-year-old stone structure near Mosul in northern Iraq where the Islamic State has been in control since June 2014, was likely razed between August and September 2014. It had survived previous conflicts for centuries. The oldest Christian monastery in Iraq, it was the site of a 1743 massacre of Christian monks who refused to convert to Islam and a 2003 battle between insurgents and American forces that resulted in the destruction of one of its walls.
St. Elijah’s Monastery near Mosul, Iraq, was intact in 2009. Eros Hoagland for The New York Times
A satellite image taken on Sept. 28, 2014, shows the destroyed monastery. DigitalGlobe, via Associated Press

A Systematic Threat to Palmyra
The Islamic State placed mines around two nearly 2,000-year-old temples in Palmyra, an ancient Roman site, in June 2015, according to a report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The militants then destroyed the Temple of Baalshamin dedicated to the sky god Baalshamin anddamaged the Temple of Baal, an even grander structure that was consecrated to the Semitic god Baal.
The Temple of Baal is shown intact in this satellite image on Aug. 27, 2015.Airbus DS via UNITAR-UNOSAT
The destruction of the main building of the Temple of Baal was confirmed by this satellite image on Aug. 31, 2015. UrtheCast via UNITAR-UNOSAT
The Temple of Baalshamin in Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra was intact on Oct. 26, 2009. Reuters
A photo released by an Islamic State website on Aug. 25, 2015, taken from another angle, shows the damage to the temple. via Aaron Y. Zelin
The Islamic State has controlled Palmyra since May 2015, and in a radio broadcast on May 27, 2015, an Islamic State leader in the city announced that the Roman ruins there would not be damaged. In August 2015, Charlie Winter, a researcher at the Quilliam Foundation specializing in jihadist movements, said that ISIS may be more likely to raze ancient structures in Palmyra as Syrian government forces move closer to the city.
500 FEET
Temple of
Temple of Baal
Palm Groves
The New York Times|Source: Satellite image by DigitalGlobe via Bing Maps
The group has filmed executions at the ancient Roman theater near the damaged temple in recent months, and Matthew Hall, a fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, wrote that the Islamic State is “keenly aware that Palmyra offers a prominent stage.”The reports of damage to the temples came after the jihadists publicly beheaded Khalid al-Asaad, Palmyra's retired chief of antiquities, on August 18, 2015.
Ancient Villages
of Northern Syria
Ancient City
of Aleppo
Deir al-Zour
Crac des Chevaliers
and Qal’at Salah El-Din
Areas of ISIS control
as of June 2015
Ancient City
of Damascus
Ancient City
of Bosra
ISIS Is Close to Several World Heritage Sites
1 Numerous historic structures have been destroyed over the course of the Syrian war.
2 ISIS destroyed the Temple of Baalshamin and damaged the Temple of Baal.
3 ISIS exhibited its destruction of this ancient Assyrian city in its propaganda.
4 The remains of this ancient Arab city are considered extremely vulnerable to destruction.
5 The first Assyrian capital may have been attacked by ISIS, but its status remains unclear.

The New York Times|Sources: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Nimrud is on the Tentative World Heritage List); Institute for the Study of War (control areas); Satellite image by Landsat via Google Earth

Enormous Propaganda Value From the Attention

The Islamic State has said that the historical objects and sites it destroyed were heresy to its ideology, which is rooted in Wahhabism. In Palmyra, for example, the group blew up two historic tombs, one of a Shiite saint and another of a Sufi scholar, because it considers them to be forms of idolatry.In March 2015, the Islamic State released videos showing its militants shooting at and bulldozing Hatra and Nimrud, ancient sites in northern Iraq. The dramatic footage gained significant media attention, allowing the group to extend its message widely and potentially expand its recruiting. Eleanor Robson, a professor of ancient Middle Eastern history at University College London, wrote, however, that contrary to the common perception generated by the episodes, it was “far from the total destruction” that has been reported.
A still image from a militant video posted on YouTube on April 3, 2015, shows a militant hammering a wall in Hatra, Iraq.via Associated Press

Profiting as Part of a Large Network of Looters
The Islamic State took advantage of “an already thriving trade in looted antiquities” that had been established during years of conflict in Iraq and Syria, wrote Amr al-Azm, a professor of Middle East history and anthropology at Shawnee State University, for the Middle East Institute. Palmyra’s ruins had already been looted for some time before the Islamic State took control, for example.There are thousands of archaeological sites across Iraq and Syria, and although the Islamic State seems to be more efficient at moving antiquities, it is operating within a large, established system of looters.
The Islamic State used this Roman theater, shown in a 2014 photograph, in Palmyra, Syria, to film executions.Joseph Eid/Agence France-Presse

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