The Citadel of Aleppo, dating back to the 3rd millennium BC, is now caught in the fighting between President Basher al-Assad’s military and the Free Rebel Army. The Citadel has a elaborate history: it was occupied by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Mongols, Ottomans, Ayyubis, Mamluks, and unsuccessfully besieged by Crusaders in 1098 and 1124. It is home of the Aleppo Codex, a medieval bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible written in the 10th Century A.D. It is identified in the Bible as Elijah’s cave and as a stopping point of Abram during his journey to Canaan and Egypt. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 (“Ancient City of Aleppo,” UNESCO).
As early as May 21, Interpol requested vigilance in Syria to preserve ancient sites, citing that Roman mosaics in the city of Hama were missing and there was a high possibility for irreversible damage. Their press release stated: “The on-going armed conflict in Syria is increasingly threatening a significant part of the cultural heritage of mankind. Roman ruins, archaeological sites, historic premises and places of worship are particularly vulnerable to destruction, damages, theft and looting during this period of turmoil” (“Interpol Calls for Vigilance on Looting of Ancient Mosaics in Syria,” Interpol, May 21, 2012).
On July 31, UNESCO issued a plea to preserve the Citadel of Aleppo. They asked Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon to employ international agreements which protect cultural property (“UNESCO Pleads with Syrian Secretary-General to Preserve Citadel of Aleppo,” UNESCO, July 30, 2012). No action was taken.
In modern day Syria, the city of Aleppo is a commercial center and home to 2.5 million people. New reports claim that if al-Assad’s forces lose control of Aleppo, the country will fall into Rebel hands. Aleppo has been a war zone for the past four weeks (“Syrian Army Moves on Rebels in Aleppo, Damascus,” Hadeel Al Shalchi, Reuters, August 3, 2012).
The Free Rebel Army made a major push to take the Citadel. Ahmed, a young rebel fighter stated: “One day soon, we’re going to march inside. We will make it to the heart of city.” Muhammad, another rebel, boasted: “Soon you will see us in the Citadel. And from there, you will see a liberated Aleppo” (“Syrian Rebels Edge Towards Aleppo’s Ancient Heart,” Erika Solomon, Reuters, August 2, 2012).
Last week NBC reported that the Free Rebel Army had taken control of Citadel and using it as a stronghold. Without any anti-aircraft defense, the Citadel immediately became a major target for al-Assad’s military forces. Reports also stated that the Free Rebel Forces began taking shelter in a hidden wall behind the outer wall of the Citadel. Syrian tanks easily broke through the walls, killing the Rebels, and decimating the Citadel’s medieval walls.
On August 11, The Daily Star of Lebanon reported that the Citadel was being shelled and that the main damage was at the entrance gate. The New Zealand Herald stated: “One shell demolished the front of the house, leaving a gaping hole where the arched gateway once stood. A second gouged out a crater 3 meter wide in the walled garden and a third smashed into bedrooms and the library” (“Citadel at Risk as Modern War Rages in Aleppo,” Kim Sengupta, New Zealand Herald, August 14, 2012).
While this article focuses on the Citadel as an important world heritage site, we cannot overlook the deaths in Syria. The Huffington Post estimates that about 17,000 people have died in fighting– 11,897 civilians, 4,348 soldiers and 884 military defectors. In addition, the UN reports that as many as 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting (“Syrian Refugee Numbers Surge Again Amid Aleppo Clashes,” Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2012). We hope that when the fighting does conclude, the Aleppo Citadel will become a unifying symbol. It will remind modern, war torn Syrians to be proud of their common historic past and national heritage.
As of today, August 15, the present condition of the Aleppo Citadel is unknown.
For more information please visit:
Al Jazeera August 4, 2012 coverage “Syria Rebels Converge on Aleppo Citadel”
Aleppo Citadel Friends
Wall Street Journal Update on Fighting
UNESCO’s Site on the Ancient City of Aleppo
Mary Elizabeth Williams
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