SYRIA – Palmyra and the Limits of Propaganda in the War against ISIL

By Gilles Munier

Source: France-Irak Actualité

Russia and Iran pulled out all the stops to make Bashar al-Assad “the liberator of Palmyra” before the continuation of the Geneva talks in April. Syrian government forces would have been incapable of this task without support from Spetsnaz, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and members of the Iraqi Shia militia. By mid-March, the Russians declared that their air-force was carrying out “20-25 air-strikes per day” and that they had destroyed “158 ISIL targets”. We can imagine the sheer scale of the devastation in the oasis.

Palmyre et les limites de la propagande de guerre anti-Etat islamique

(Photo of Palmyra taken before the civil war)

So “Syrian government troops” regained control of Palmyra (Tadmor in Arabic), a town which they let fall into the hands of ISIL in May 2015, after having offered practically no resistance. We will continue to wonder for a long time to come about the curious blindness of Russian and American spy satellites which failed to spot the columns of jihadi troops moving towards “the pearl of the desert” and its terrifying prison where over a thousand opponents to the government, most of whom were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were shot dead at point-blank range in 1980. Anyone would think that the occupation of the ancient ruins was advantageous from a media point of view for the Assad regime, which was in desperate straits at the time.

Archaeologists the world over breathed a sigh of relief when the Syrian government regained control of Palmyra.  They will never forget that ISIL destroyed the Temple of Bel (comparable to the God Zeus) and the Temple of Baalshamin (Lord of the Heavens) in order to again wipe out the traces of pre-Islamic religions. Nor will they forget that they smashed the Lion of Athena statue and blew up three towers in the Valley of Tombs. This is obviously excessive. But UNESCO, which refers to “war crimes” when talking about the damage caused, should not forget that the jihadi terrorists are not the only ones to have exploited this site.

From about 2012, rumours began to circulate that gangs obtained archaeological permits in exchange for their support for the Syrian regime. Many ancient treasures were stolen during this period. A group of armed rebels once seized control of the site and raided the tombs to finance their activities. In 2013, following the liberation of the town by Bashar al-Assad’s army and the Shabiha militia (Alawaite mercenaries), photos of soldiers carrying Palmyrene busts were published.

This time, the damage caused by ISIL would appear to be not as extensive as the Western war propaganda claimed, which is good news. In any case, ISIL had shown the damage it caused in its videos.

According to the head of Syrian antiquities, it will take five years to restore the damaged treasures.




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