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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7 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    What evil, rotten, corrupt horror visited on a good man who loved his profession.

    What kind of paranoid religious lunatic is it who commits this kind of heinous murder.

    Eventually IS will die of its own sheer rottenness. But, like Nazism, it will need some dull blows to send it on its way before it harms more innocents.

    A curse on those who fund, arm and support them.

    1. Sean McGrath says:

      I very much agree with what you say. ISIS are indeed the Nazis of 21st century and will have to be confronted by a united anti ISIS front in order to totally defeat them.
      Dreadful what they have done to Khaled al Assad in Palmyra …. And what they have done to tens of thousands of other innocents .

    2. Simon says:

      Hear, hear Philip! I agree with every word you have said. This is a terrible state of affairs, which we have allowed to come about. I feel quite ashamed to be British these days; witnessing the deliberate destruction of marvellous archaeological treasures and the cold-blooded murder of wonderful people like Mr Asaad. Seeing the thousands of migrants fleeing to Europe and being turned back by our crowd-pleasing anti-immigration politicians, with never a word said about the catastrophic failings of US/UK foreign policy towards the Middle East which has led to this dismal situation. Let us hope that the tide turns soon.

  2. nehad ismail - United Kingdom says:

    Two points need to be mentioned; one: every time the Assad regime commits a big massacre, a spectacular ISIS outrage follows to divert attention from the Assad’s crimes. The Douma’s massacre yesterday was followed today by ISIS murdering the Chief of Antiquities in Palmyra.Two: ISIS is not wholly independent its top commanders work with Assad’s military intelligence and are directed by intelligence officers.

    So it is highly likely the murder of Khaled Asaad is sanctioned by the Assad regime, to make Assad look good if compared with ISIS.

  3. Rochelle Jones says:

    Until recently, unfortunately one could become immune to images presented on t.v. The individual stories however restore our humanity on the small scale. I watched the Channel 4 news item this evening on Khaled Asaad, Palmyra Scholar & cried. A hero v insular, un-questioning, Un-Godly Philistines, Shame on them.

    intolerent, philistine, blinkered,

  4. Sofia shaikh says:

    A curse on them who created Isis! Meddling in another country, starting a war looking for WMD lasting 9 years and destroying a country inc its in habitants. The people responsible need to be held to account maybe then justice would be done

  5. Margaret Nelson says:

    Don’t call them IS. Call them Daesh.

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