The Old City of Aleppo, which has formerly been designated as a world heritage site, is again under siege. Rebel forces have recently launched a fresh attempt to take control of the city from President Bashar al-Assad. Reuters reports that the fighting, which has already claimed 30,000 lives, is destined to destroy many cultural treasures as well.
Fires have already damaged more than 1,500 shops, and new fires have been set ablaze in Aleppo’s Zhrawi, Aqaba, and Bab Al Nasr markets. The Great Mosque, which boasts parts that are a thousand years old, also came dangerously close to being set ablaze. It is believed that the fires were not set intentionally, but rather were a side effect of the fighting. As one witness to noticed, “An electrical fire started during clashes and spread quickly.”
Syria is a signatory of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural property in the Event of Armed Conflict. As a signatory, Syria is obligated to protect its cultural heritage from the dangers imposed by war. According to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, “The human suffering caused by this situation is already extreme,” “That the fighting is now destroying cultural heritage that bears witness to the country’s millenary history – valued and admired the world over – makes it even more tragic.” Bokova has a UNESCO team ready to survey the damage to the Old City once security permits.
Syria currently has six world heritage sites, including Damascus, Palmyra, and the Crac des Chevaliers crusader fortress. UNESCO believes that at least five of these sites have suffered damage.