Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Palmyra: ruins still intact

PALMYRA WATCH: No significant news on the fate of Palmyra's antiquities and ruins, except that ISIS seems not to have done them any further damage in the last few days. But a couple of essays are exploring the question of why.

Why have IS militants spared ancient Palmyra? (France 24).
According to some analysts, the IS group is not attempting to win sympathy among locals or foreigners by sparing Palmyra’s monuments. The announcement is, in fact, consistent with its brand.

“There is no change in strategy,” said Wassim Nasr, a FRANCE 24 journalist who specialises in jihadist movements. “From the beginning, the group has been clear that it is only out to destroy statues.”

The jihadists are nevertheless waging a PR battle in Palmyra, as elsewhere in Syria and Iraq.

“The IS group’s target in Palmyra was always the jail. By destroying it they position themselves as liberators of those oppressed by [President Bashar al-] Assad’s regime. And that is consistent with their strategy,” Nasr said.
Being "only out to destroy statues" does not count entirely as "sparing" ancient Palmyra. As already noted, there is at least one report that ISIS has destroyed the site's "god lion" statue, but I have not yet seen any confirmation. For the demolition of Palmyra's Baathist prison, see here.

In Syria, Islamic State group apparently spares Palmyra’s stunning ruins—for now (Zach Zorich, Science Magazine).
... However, after a preliminary examination of the latest satellite images from Palmyra, Michael Danti, the academic director of the Syrian Heritage Initiative at the American Schools of Oriental Research in Boston, reported that he saw no new damage to the stunning crossroads of Roman, Greek, and Persian cultures, whose ruins include the Roman emperor Diocletian’s camp.

The Islamic State group has released a video showing that these ruins are still intact. And in an interview released yesterday, the head of the group's military forces in Palmyra, Abu Laith al-Saoudi, stated that they would preserve the ruins—perhaps because some buildings lack religious connotations or worship—but destroy the site’s statues, which the group believes are religious idols.

Recent satellite images reveal no new damage, confirmed Einar Bjorgo, the manager of UNOSAT, a U.N. satellite imaging project. But he and Danti cautioned that a more in-depth comparison with older satellite images and eyewitness accounts are needed for confirmation. UNOSAT’s more complete analysis is expected to be released Friday