On 18 August 2015, Khaled al Asaad, a Syrian archaeologist, was odiously murdered by members of Daesh in Palmyra. ICOMOS wishes to recall the value of his sacrifice.
Khaled al Asaad had not wanted to leave Palmyra. The act of condemnation by Daesh accused him pell-mell of being the "director of idolatry" or of participating in conferences abroad. To some observers, he was actually punished for not having revealed the hiding place of a mythical golden treasure or simply in order to terrorize the population of Palmyra, a week before starting to destroy its archaeological treasures.
His torture and barbaric execution can only confirm the stupid and unforgivable cruelty of a misguided sect that needs to attack an 82-year-old scholar to assert its authority and legitimacy.
Daesh sees itself as a master in the use of symbols and yet it probably escaped them that Khaled al Asaad, highly respected by his peers, would symbolize the local community’s resistance to the destruction of its heritage and that he would become the world's most famous Palmyrene after Queen Zenobia and her husband Odeinat.
A new category of scholars rooted in developing countries has emerged. They remain where they are when the conflicts of the 21st century cause their foreign colleagues to leave. Amid the worst disasters, we see almost everywhere now the emergence of women and men committed to defending their heritage at the risk of their own lives. They are the "Monuments Men and Women" of our time and Khaled al Asaad clearly exemplifies them.
ICOMOS paid tribute to Khaled al Asaad by a minute of silence at its 2015 Annual General Assembly in Fukuoka and by the dedication of the acts of the 2014 General Assembly of Florence. National Committees and International Scientific Committees have also contributed their respects. The flags of Italian museums were at half-mast. His name figures prominently in the "Garden of the Righteous" that has just been inaugurated in Tunis.
Despite the endless continuation of the Syrian tragedy, ICOMOS, as an international professional organization, prefers to cite reasons for hope, such as the significant increase of its Syrian membership, the mobilisation of heritage professionals in Syria and abroad, the transfer of new skills in risk preparedness or in 3D surveying to local institutions and especially the immense will to learn and to engage as demonstrated by new generations of students in architecture and archaeology at the universities of Damascus and elsewhere.
Download the booklet on the life of Khaled al Asaad made in his memory by the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums in Syria (in English and French).