Syrian government forces retreated from the ancient city of Palmyra on Thursday as Islamic State group militants took complete control. Residents of the city, which is enriched with archaeological treasures, are concerned how the group -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- will treat the artifacts.
Palmyra is a melting pot of Roman, Persian and Greek architecture and art. According to Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the significance of the city grew when it became a part of the trade route connecting the Roman Empire to India, China and Persia (modern day Iraq).
The city is close to a Unesco World Heritage Site consisting of ancient structures and ruins of temples. According to Syrian and U.N. officials, the extremists may have plans to destroy the ancient structures. There are reasons behind the concern that ISIS may demolish the ancient city.
ISIS claims that it is inspired by Prophet Muhammad’s destruction of statues in Mecca. The militant group says that the statues represent “false gods.”
Iraqi officials said in March that ISIS had destroyed ruins in Hatra. The BBC reported that the ancient Middle Eastern city had been founded more than 2,000 years ago. Unesco condemned the destruction and said that ISIS had “contempt” for the Arabian heritage and history.
In February, ISIS destroyed the central museum in Mosul. Thousands of years old artifacts were smashed. The statues, dating to the Akkadian and Assyrian empires, were destroyed. Syriac Military Council leader Kino Gabriel said that ISIS was destroying the culture. “The birthplace of human civilization is being destroyed,” the Guardian quoted Gabriel as saying.
According to British historian Tom Holland, if the demolition of Palmyra happens, it is going to hurt not only Syria but the entire world. The city is a “wellspring” of world civilization, he told CNN.
Syrian news agency SANA reported Wednesday that ISIS was trying to access the archeological sites. Considering ISIS’ past devastation in Hatra and Mosul, it may be feared that the group intends to do the same with Palmyra. Unesco said that the clash in the area was putting one of the most significant sites in the Middle East at risk.