Syria/ 5.3 Sector specific legislation  

5.3.3 Cultural heritage

Taking care of the culture heritage and monuments is amongst the most important aspects of the Syrian cultural life.

Amongst the most prominent examples is that the Legislative Decree No. 88 for the establishment of the General Directorates of Museums and Antiquities, including the system of General Monuments was issued on the 30th of June, 1947 years before the establishment of the Ministry of Culture in 1958.

The General Directorates of Museums and Antiquities (Ministry of Culture) is considered the administrative body that is charged with applying monuments and antiquities- related laws in Syria .

The law on Monuments issued on the 23rd of October, 1963 governs the legal framework of the cultural heritage and monuments in Syria, accordingly the Legislative Law No. 89, on  30 June 1947 that governs ancient monuments was cancelled. Law No.1963 was modified on 28 February 1999.  The comparison between the 1963 law and its amendments for the year 1999 show that monuments-trafficking, which has been formerly legalized, has been utterly prohibited. In this respect, most offenses have been modified into criminal laws.

The General Directorate of Archaeology and Museums worked with UNESCO during the time-period of 2007 until the end of 2010 on preparing a document for enlisting the archaeological compounds northern Syria on the international heritage list. In June 2011, the international heritage committee in UNESCO adopted a decision project that stated on enlisting and naming the archaeological villages in northern Syria, which are as many as forty villages that date back to the Byzantine and late ancient eras, a cultural view on the international heritage list.

It’s worth mentioning that the decree No.28, issued on 17/1/2012, requested upon modifying the name “Damascus Museum” into “the Damascene Heritage House”.

On “the General Directorate of Archaeology and Museums”[1] website, it’s posted, a work plan for the project of archaeological heritage sites and museum development in Syria, within the project of modifying archaeology law, which includes the work plan for the years 2011-2012. The plan looks forward to finding legal integrative bases for protecting, managing, and publicizing the Syrian cultural heritage.

Currently, the Ministry of Culture is considering a project entitled “The Committee for Protecting Heritage”, to be established under the auspices of the Ministry and might be headed by Damascus Governor. The Committee’s goals are diverse: protecting and prohibiting any damage to historical sites, collecting the non-material Syrian heritage through cooperating with the Directorates of Culture in all Syrian Governorates in addition to focusing on cooperation with the bodies and organizations of the civil society.

Despite the destruction and misusing that affected archaeological sites in Syria, this committee has not appeared on the ground. Instead, the “Syrian Archaeology Protection” An association came out in Strasberg and submitted a report in 2011 that showed the different damages caused to twelve Syrian museums, in most cases, by shelling, breaking and robbery, and accusing the Syrian archaeological authorities and the concerned international organizations of not making enough of an effort to protect the archaeological sites in Syria[2].

According to the report that was conducted by the General Directorate of Archaeology and Museums in June 2013, all museums have been emptied of archaeological pieces which were wrapped and transferred to safer locations, in addition to having transferred all the important historical documents into special storehouses that are secured in case of robbery, fire,or humidity. The report stated in its introduction, “The heartbreaking events ,that Syria is facing, have reflected negatively during the current crisis, on the Syrian cultural heritage as some archaeological sites, in hot zones, have faced works of drilling, misusing, and robbery along with gangs smuggling and forging archaeological pieces. As well as, having, in some governorates, archaeological buildings severely damaged.”  The General Directorate of Archaeology and Museums had earlier sent a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in May 2013, demanding the International Security Council to take action towards the prohibition of Syrian archaeology-trafficking and regaining what has been stolen.

On 15/7/2013 the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization ISESCO published a press statement accusing the Syrian Army of destroying mosques and Islamic antiquities in Syria.

UNESCO made a statement during the meeting it held on (26 – 28 May 2014) attended by 120 experts from 22 countries that intangible cultural heritage is being subjected to severe damage as a result of social dispersion, and the effects of displacement and migration. The ancient city of Aleppo has suffered the most severe destruction, and craftsmen have lost a large number of their workshops, tools and materials. Activities related to transfer of their skills have also stopped. In regions around Damascus, Qishani porcelain and clothing have also suffered severe damage.

The European Union and UNESCO have started the project “Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Heritage”[3]  to stop continuous losses to cultural heritage and to organize priority activities that will be implemented after the conflict. The project is funded by the European Union in collaboration with UNESCO, among other strategic partners, with an estimated budget of USD 2.46 million. The monitoring project will have the UNESCO office in Beirut as its headquarters and will include an electronic aspect. The project was supposed to be officially inaugurated on 1 March  2014 for a period of three years.

On 12/3/2014 the UN sent an emergency call to conflicting parties in Syria in order to protect “the rich cultural heritage that is being destroyed in the country” by the three years of war. The statement pointed out that “World Heritage Sites (in Syria) have been seriously damaged and in some cases irreparably”.    

Chapter published: 06-05-2016