The Association of Cypriot Archaeologists expresses deep sorrow and indignation for the brutal torture and murder of the eminent Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad (خالد الأسعد), as well as the unjust death of the chemist/antiquities conservator Qassem Abdallh Yehya on the 18th and 12th August 2015 correspondingly on the hand of the extremist terrorist forces of the Islamic State, who are carrying out an unprecedented campaign of historical memory eradication in the lands of Syria and Iraq. The killing of the two Syrian archaeologists at the city of Palmyra adds to the already long list of heinous and obscene acts by the Islamic State against culture, humanism and rational thought.
Khaled al-Asaad was born in Palmyra in 1934, received his Diploma in History from the University of Damascus, and worked tirelessly for several years at the excavations and restoration works of his hometown of Palmyra. Since 1963 he was appointed principal custodian for the monuments of Palmyra and cooperated with a number of American, Polish, French and Swiss archaeological missions in his lifetime, while the most important achievement in his career is considered to be the accession of Palmyra to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. His work includes books and articles on the excavations of Palmyra, as well as numerous translations of Aramaic texts. He retired from his position as Palmyra’s custodian of antiquities in 2003 and his son Walid took on the mantle. In May 2015, during the occupation of the neighboring modern city of Tadmur by the Islamic State, Khaled was responsible for the evacuation of the Museum of Palmyra and the safe storage of its archaeological treasures. In August 2015, Khaled and his son Walid were arrested and detained by the forces of the Islamic State, while Khaled was further subjected to torture, so as to reveal the location of the ancient artifacts that he had helped to hide. His heroic and firm refusal to disclose the exact location of the archaeological treasures was the cause for his execution by public beheading on August 18, 2015.
Qassem Abdallh Yehya was born in Damascus in 1978, received a Bachelor and Masters from the Faculty of Chemical Sciences of an Italian University and worked for a number of years at the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums of Syria, where he was later appointed as Deputy Director of the Department of Conservation Laboratories. On 12 August 2015 Qassem was killed by stray jihadist gunfire during an inspection for damages at the historic citadel of Damascus.
The two colleagues have shown with their sacrifice their commitment to the principles and ethics of archaeological science, but also their great love for culture and the cultural heritage of their country. Those extremist forces that are actively using Islam’s religious ideology as a pretext to fight against these ideals and level in their path monuments, memories and people, should not be allowed to dominate. Overwhelmed by the recent assassinations of two colleagues, we bow to their example, mourn together with their families and colleagues in Syria, and promise to continue their fight for the protection and promotion of the common cultural heritage of our world, but also the elimination of the phenomenon of antiquities looting. As a minimum tribute, the Association of Cypriot Archaeologists decided to dedicate the first lecture of the winter cycle of lectures to the memory of the two Syrian archaeologists.