Syria’s Top Museum Hides 300,000 Artifacts To Protect Them From Looting

Museum staff at Syria’s National Museum of Damascus have been working overtime to evacuate the institution’s collection of priceless antiquities, AFP reports.

Under the direction of the museum’s head of antiquities Maamoun Abdulkarim, appointed in the middle of Syria’s civil war, approximately 300,000 artifacts and manuscripts from 34 museums have been wrapped and transported to secret locations for safekeeping.

When he took the post three years ago, Abdulkarim quickly prioritized the prevention of looting to stop the large scale thefts that Iraq’s museums suffered in the aftermath of the US invasion in 2003 (see Syria’s Cultural Artifacts Are Blood Diamonds for ISIS, UN Bans Export of Antiquities To Target Islamic State Revenue, 2014 Saw Horrific Damage to Syria’s Cultural Heritage).

“The images of the looting of the museum in Baghdad and other Iraqi sites are always on my mind, and I told myself that everything must be done to avoid a repeat of that here,” he told AFP.

The rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria has significantly intensified the situation. 2,500 museum employees work tirelessly to preserve their cultural heritage. Many risking their lives in opposition-held areas. Twelve staff members have already given their lives to protect historical artifacts.

“They feel that protecting our heritage is a question of honor,” Abdulkarim said, “like defending the honor of their mothers.”

He estimates that 99% of Syria’s museum collections have been rescued so far. But Abdulkarim’s work is far from over. Almost 300 sites and historic buildings have been damaged or destroyed, and illegal excavation and fighting continue to endanger the region’s heritage

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