Syrians torn between protecting their history or their lives

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Groups of Syrians are risking their lives to safeguard their country’s historic artefacts, which date back thousands of years, from the ongoing civil war.

“Two years on, and the Syrian people are still paying the price with their blood. There’s complete destruction. There’s no longer any infrastructure. At least we should protect the artefacts and historical sites in Syria. Our country is known for its ancient civilization,” one woman told Al Arabiya, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Historical sites and artefacts are very important in Syria. A nation without a historic civilization doesn’t endure,” said a man, also on condition of anonymity.

However, another woman disagreed. “I believe protecting people is far more of a worthy cause than saving historical sites,” she said, covering her face to protect her identity.

Others expressed anger, saying nothing can be done due to the bloody conflict.

“We’re seeing our historical sites ruined in front of us, but what can we do when heavy machinery is pointed against us?” asked a man.

Last week, a video allegedly showed Syrian government forces destroying the minaret of the historic Omari mosque in the southern city of Daraa.

Looting and smuggling of artefacts have alarmed many.

“The problem is that the Syrian regime doesn’t care. It targets the Free Syrian Army, civilians, or historical sites. If the regime can’t control a region, it’ll bombard it along with its people, and if it seizes control, it’ll loot the artefacts,” one man said.

Last year, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization urged its member states and international bodies to help ensure that Syria’s rich cultural heritage is not robbed and sent abroad for sale.

In early March, UNESCO highlighted the “growing and serious destruction to the World Heritage City of Aleppo,” citing damage to the citadel, markets, and the Great Mosque.