US Museums Organize Aid for Syrian Sites

A historic building that has been destroyed in Aleppo. The image has circulated on the internet under different captions.

US museums are teaming up to help prevent further cultural losses in war-torn Syria, which has suffered extensive looting at museums and World Heritage sites such as Aleppo, according to a press release from the Penn Museum’s Penn Cultural Heritage Center. Last month, a three-day “Emergency Care for Syrian Museum Collections” training program was offered through the Center in Philadelphia and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., in cooperation with the Syrian Interim Government’s Heritage Task Force.

For the Syrian museum curators, heritage experts, and concerned civilians and activists who participated, the workshop provided suggestions for safeguarding and repairing high-risk and damaged collections, in addition to supplies and equipment. The program was held at an undisclosed location outside Syria, with roughly 20 attendees.

“While it is very difficult for international heritage organizations to travel into Syria today, there are a number of Syrians who regularly risk their lives to protect their cultural heritage,” said Brian Daniels, the director of research and programs at the Penn Cultural Heritage Center, in the release. “This workshop and other efforts going forward are designed to support these individuals and their efforts.”

“Local communities are best equipped to identify heritage in need of preservation and protection, and this is precisely what is happening in Syria,” added Richard M. Leventhal, the Center’s executive director. “We are pleased to work alongside communities in Syria and other places around the world to support these efforts.”

One site of particular concern was Syria’s Ma’arra Museum, known for its Byzantine mosaics, which has suffered collateral damage during the fighting as well as being directly attacked by ISIS (which, as artnet News reported, has also targeted religious sites in Iraq). In addition to providing emergency conservation supplies, the workshop offered tips for stabilizing the critical situation.

As the next step, the Penn Cultural Heritage Center, Smithsonian Institution, and Syria’s Heritage Task Force plan to work with the American Association for the Advancement of Science on an “extensive new initiative” that will thoroughly document conditions at Syrian cultural heritage sites, noting future preservation needs and reporting any looting or damage suffered during the ongoing conflict.

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