World renowned Syrian historian and archeologist Khaled al-Asad, 82, died a martyr to his profession August 18 at the hands of an Islamic State executioner in Palmyra. He’d been charged by Islamic State (IS) with worship of idolatry, apostacy, and other religious crimes. Al-Asad was beheaded in front of a crowd gathered for the event in a square across the road from the museum he had directed.
Hands and feet tied, an Islamic State jihadi sawed off his head with a knife after incantations invoking the teachings of Mohammad. His headless mutilated body was tied to a traffic signal post with his head on the ground below. His defiled remains were later moved to a stone column of one of the grand greco-roman buildings on the outskirts.
IS has posted pictures of the execution and in official statements listed his crimes which included “director of Idolatry,” that being a reference to his role in preserving ancient statues. Islam frowns on any representation by way of pictures or sculptures as encouraging ‘idol’ worship, a sin by itself punishable by death for these strict followers of Mohammed.
Another charge was that he promoted “infidel conferences” – scholarly conferences attended by Christians, Hindis and other unbelievers. He had refused to repent, the charge sheet said. Also he was supposedly in touch with Baath intelligence – his brother.
Of course Asad was guilty of most of these ‘crimes’ as defined by a state devoted to the 1,400 year long struggle to assert the supremacy of strict Islamic rule over all mankind.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova: “They killed him because he would not betray his deep commitment to Palmyra. Here is where he dedicated his life. This great city that was a crossroads of the ancient world. His work will live on far beyond the reach of these extremists.They murdered a great man, but they will never silence history.”
US State Department spokesman John KIrby: “The U.S. condemns in the strongest possible terms this murder of a man who dedicated his life to preserving Syria’s cultural treasures. Asad’s life and extraordinary work stand in stark contrast to that of his barbaric killers. These attempts to erase Syria’s rich history will ultimately fail.”
Asad was director of the antiquities in Palmyra for 40 years (1963-2003), working with international teams to painstakingly unearth the amazing buildings on the legendary crossroad city on the Silk Road between Asia and Europe. He was the go-to man to discuss Palmyra’s complex cross-cultural history and weas the author of numerous scholarly papers. He was a leading translator from Aramaic the historic language of the region into modern arabic, english, german and french.
Asad was a compelling local guide to visiting historians and in demand as a speaker at history and archeology conferences around the world.
Led effort to save portable items
As Islamic State advanced on Palmyra he led an effort to evacuate all the precious museum pieces that were portable but insisted on staying: “I was born here. I will die here.“
IS took Palmyra in May, and until July Asad managed to escape notice of the killers-in-black. But according to Britain’s Channel 4 he was betrayed by a neighbor. Having identified Asad they took him into custody and beat him regularly, according to local reports, trying to force him to reveal the whereabouts of evacuated artifacts. They tried to get him to admit the wrong of his past, to repent and embrace the Islam of the IS Caliphate.
In separate news Islamic State is reported to be using large wheel-loaders in demolition of an ancient Assyrian Christian Saint Elian monastery in the Syrian town of Quaryatain. They captured this town about 100 miles northeast of Damascus on August 5. The Wall Street Journal reports that the leader of the monastery Father Jacques Yacub Murad was captured by an IS guerrilla group and taken away in May – in an apparent effort to reduce organized Christian resistance or flight. IS wants to capture and kill as many such /apostates’ as possible.
The Saint Elian monastery goes back to the 5th century/ Assyrians have links back millennia to ancient Mesopotamia. The Assyrian city of Nimrud was subjected to heavy demolition including use of explosives on historic sites back in March. Mosul in Iraq has also been heavily hit by the Islamist purists.
- editor 2015-08-22
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