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Video transcript

[Music] we're on the second floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art looking at tomb portraits that come from the ancient city of Palmyra in what is now Syria and this city which is on the edge of the desert is an oasis and was this point in the caravan route between the Roman Empire and Asia they controlled this critical link in what we call the silk routes that linked the Mediterranean region with Central Asia as far as China Palmyra in 2015 and 2017 was overrun by Isis Isis have to mobilize whatever resources they had in these were resources they could use to draw an idiot attention and that was a unique opportunity at Palmyra because for them the whole event is the video isis march to the site over five days in the US military in its allies we're holding major operations in Syria against Isis at the time many American archaeologists in international art colleges appeal to the protection of the site of Palmyra because they saw that Isis was marching there but there was no response whatsoever so there was no intention or protecting the site it is shameful that in the 21st century with all the appreciation of cultural heritage and art still happen to a World Heritage Site and then we start asking ourselves what is the meaning of a World Heritage Site if that site cannot be protected so in a sense there was a double failure on the one hand we allowed Isis to take the city hostage to use it for its own propaganda purposes but in a more permanent sense the monuments of Huaraz suffered irreparable harm and this was an event that possibly could have been stopped if the US Army if the Assad regime had tried to turn Isis's path away from this treasured archaeological site these wars in the Middle East I'd show you how even in the 21st century we have little appreciation of culture culture comes at the bottom of priorities of all governments but it is this heritage that makes up people's identity of their sense of self and so I can't imagine something more important in the long run people underestimate how much damage to cultural heritage affects people and their identity in self-awareness if you think about the trauma that people go through it's not only the very personal story of killing and torture in forced migration but it's also the destruction of the beloved places the loss of the homeland with all this cultural heritage that what makes a homeland in the homeland we're looking at six relief carvings that originally functioned as closing stones for tombs that were placed within towers just on the outside of the city of Palmyra these six are of many thousands that existed and that had been collected since the 18th century Isis didn't just destroy objects they also looted and raised money through their illicit sale there were looters who already went in to take advantage of the instability in lack of security so what Isis did is regulate the looting and considered antiquities as resources like oil so they said okay whatever that is not a figurative artifact you can sell it and we will tax you but of course the looters are finding these busts and figurines so they would hide those from Isis and then sell them off market so it was a very ad hoc situation and the tower tombs met a tragic fate under Isis in 2015 they targeted the most intact and the largest of the tombs destroying seven of them they did blow them up and they did them one by one some of them they publicized it and others we found out through satellite imagery but the event that upset the archaeological community most deeply was the murder of the longtime director of Antiquities of the site a man who had given his life to understanding and protecting the antiquities of Palmyra Khalid Al Asad he is Assyrian archaeologists from Palmyra he studied Palmyra very deeply no one knows how a mile away he knows he knows every stone he refused to leave even though the threats of Isis coming he was executed in a horrific way this crisis has not ended but as we begin to look towards the future the archaeological community the community concerned with historical preservation and of course most centrally the Syrian people themselves need to start grappling with how do we retrieve ancient history while respecting the loss of life that has happened recently we need to look back in document even the destruction event itself so it's not an easy process international organizations in UNESCO should not take decision on behalf of the people of Palmyra who are still refugees we want to learn from the Syrian civil war and the destruction how are we going to tell the story the ancient story and the destruction story any visitors to the site and the future they need to see it same way as lots of the atrocities of Nazi Germany it is still there to see and learn from so we need to carefully think about how we're going to tell the story of this modern event not only go back and erase any traces of destruction and build the site back as like nothing happened this is important for people to know and learn from [Music]