19 Aug 2015

Palmyra’s Khaled Asaad: ‘I was born here, I will die here’

For 50 years he had patiently led the preservation and continued unearthing of the treasures of Palmyra. In the end it was obvious that the forces of the self-styled Islamic State were coming to take the place. A UNESCO world heritage site proved too good a propaganda opportunity for them ever to miss.

09/00/2002. EXCLUSIVE : Palmyra's Last Treasures.

Syria’s Director of Antiquities Maamoun Abdulkarim called Khaled Asaad (pictured above) in Palmyra, by now an elderly, famously bespectacled scholar in his 80s. The director begged him to leave with IS closing in:

“I was born here. I will die here,” came back the reply.

And now he has died here. Been brutally killed here among the pillars and Roman columns he loved like children. A Syrian friend who interviewed him among the ruined columns in the sand said he spoke of each one as if it were your child.

“He knew all their scratches and their history – each pillar. Every single one. He knew how they had grown or been cut down, he knew their good times and what they had all been through.”

And now we know what he went through. Tortured in the months since IS captured Palmyra, for information about antiquities. Information which was not forthcoming from this dedicated man.

Cut down in the most terrible fashion. Beheaded in public among the ruins that were his life. His headless body then hung from one of the pillars he would have known so very well. Placed carefully between the dangling, bloodied feet, Khaled Asaad’s head. Again placed with care and deliberation, the famous spectacles against the lifeless head.

The crude placard against his body tells of “crimes”. Of his conncections to the government – of course he was a government employee. Of supporting idolatry and Christian scholars and all the rest of the hate-filled nonsense.

A colleague in Damascus has spoken to his family, who explained how they feel he was betrayed by “neighbours”. They reportedly ¬†told IS of his whereabouts and for whom he worked, which was probably all they need if they need anything at all.

Visits to Shia-majority Iran on archaeological exchanges would have sealed his fate further of course. So too Mr Asaad’s openness to receive academic guests from all over the world wherever and whoever they might be. Academics, princes, politicians and just the plain curious to you and I. Infidels to the IS butchers.

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