After a brief period of quiet, Islamic State is making news again as it regains control of Palmyra in Syria. Recent satellite images have revealed that the ancient sites of Tetrapylon and the Roman Theater had suffered significant damages. In the newly released satellite images, the Roman Theater's face is in a pile of rubble, and only four among the Tetrapylon's 16 columns remain standing.
A Wake Of Destruction And Bloodshed
Over the course of Islamic State's six year terrorism in Syria, this is the second time that they have gained control of the ancient city of Palmyra after losing control to the Syrian Government the first time around. During their first reign, the group destroyed and looted many of the city's treasured antiquities. Adding bloodshed to their wake of destruction, the radical group also slaughtered many men as well as women and children in the streets of the ancient city, including the city's director of antiquities.
This time, as they regain control of the city, there is no lack of destruction and bloodshed with the destruction of the Tetrapylon and the Roman Theater's ruin that came just hours after UNESCO received reports of a mass execution in the theater. As if in an ultimate offense, Islamic State's execution of a dozen prisoners including civilians last Jan. 19 was allegedly performed right in the middle of the Roman Theater.
Islamic State's Destruction: Making a Statement or Making Profit?
What is the purpose of Islamic State's vandalism and destruction of Syria's heritage sites? UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a statement that the violent acts that destroy both life and property are the group's means of depriving the Syrian people of their culture.
"This new blow against cultural heritage, just a few hours after UNESCO received reports about mass executions in the theater, shows that cultural cleansing led by violent extremists is seeking to destroy both human lives and historical monuments in order to deprive the Syrian people of its past and its future," said Bokova.
Islamic State's claims that their destruction of ancient pre-Islamic sites is due to the sites' nature of being heretic supports the UNESCO Director General's statement. Further, the destruction of these sites grabs the media coverage that the extremist group attains for.
However, money is also another possible driving force behind the group's actions as reports of looting in ancient sites lead to the selling of ancient artifacts into the illegal market. These artifacts are not just culturally relevant, they also do not come cheap. The income generated from these illegal transactions in the black market may be the capital used to further the group's rebellious advances.
The recent destruction in Palmyra is just one of the many aftermaths of the civil war in Syria. As more and more ancient sites are destroyed and more lives are affected by the unrest in the country, people will continue to cry out for peace in the region.