Irina Bokova condemns latest destruction of cultural property from the site of Palmyra in Syria

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F. Bandarin - Palmyra
© UNESCO

Paris, July 3rd - The Director-General of UNESCO firmly condemned the destruction of cultural property at Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, particularly damage to funerary busts and the famous Lion Statue of Athena, located at the entrance of the museum of Palmyra.

"These new destructions of cultural goods of the site of Palmyra reflect the brutality and ignorance of extremist groups and their disregard of local communities and of the Syrian people," said Irina Bokova.

The Lion Statue of Athena, a unique piece of more than three meters high, represents a feline protecting an antelope between its legs. It represents a protective figure of the ancient city and its people, and a symbol of the protection that the strong owes to the weak.

"The destruction of funerary busts of Palmyra in a public square, in front of crowds and children asked to witness the looting of their heritage is especially perverse. These busts embody the values of human empathy, intelligence and honor the dead. They also represent a wealth of information on costumes, jewelry, traditions and history of the Syrian people. Their destruction is a new attempt to break the bonds between people and their history, to deprive them of their cultural roots in order to better enslave them, "she added.

"I reiterate my call to all religious leaders, intellectuals, young people, to stand up against the manipulation of religion, to respond to the false arguments of extremists in all media and through the campaign #unite4heritage.

"I commend the courage of the youth from the Arab world who are committed to protecting their heritage as a source of strength, resilience and hope in the future.

"I call on all Member States, the art market and experts to join forces to curb the illicit traffic of cultural property. I call on all researchers, artists, filmmakers and photographers to continue to cooperate and join forces with UNESCO to document and share the wealth of the Mesopotamian civilization. Neither bombs nor jackhammers can erase this great culture from the memory of the world. Nothing can ever stifle human creativity - despite the obstacles and fanaticism, this energy will come back stronger than before, buildings and sites will be rehabilitated, and some will be rebuilt, and culture will find its place because it embodies the vitality of societies. UNESCO will continue to work with the people of Syria to make sure that moment comes as soon as possible,” the Director General concluded.

An oasis in the Syrian desert, north-east of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. Standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, it married Greco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. It grew steadily in importance as a city on the trade route linking Persia, India and China with the Roman Empire, marking the crossroads of several civilizations in the ancient world. The history of Palmyra during the Umayyad era testifies to the centrality of the Arab-Muslim world, of its ability to connect distant cultures and civilizations, and is an integral part of modern Arabic and Muslim identity.