The pictures of the war-ravaged city of Aleppo, brought tears to the eyes of many, the visual evidence of the humanitarian crisis sent chills straight to our souls, appealing to even a small shred of humanity left in our hearts. But there is another crisis, though at the back burner right now, but crucial enough. It is the systematic destruction of a legacy. Staring at the pictures of many historic sites that have been destroyed in the past few days before and after such attacks, I felt a lump rising in my throat. As an ardent lover of ancient architectural sites, I knew what these ruins meant, as every other, that no one will see its glory again. The irony was stark, the monuments created to immortalize the splendor of a flourishing civilization, now lay cold and damaged with neither the signs of prosperity nor civilization. Had time and tide done this to the place, I would have been less touched that fate was such, but this subversion was man-made. And to think that this could be stopped is a fool’s prayer because if these men could kill so many in cold-blood, to blow up a building is a cinch.
In 2001, Taliban bombed the Buddhas of Bamiyan, a UNESCO world heritage site in Afghanistan. The reason for this is disputed as while Taliban claims that huge amounts of money was going into the maintenance of the structure, the Afghan foreign minister claims that it was a result of Islamic religious iconoclasm. A better example of cultural cleansing would be the bombing of Hamburg by the British air force, the death toll of which was so great that it is called the Hiroshima of Germany. They could have chosen any city, but they chose a city whose historic and cultural importance was tremendous. The latest example of is the damage done to the ancient architectural structures in the Syrian Civil War. ISIS bombed Temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria in August 2015. Palmyra’s culture was a blend of Greek, Roman and Mesopotamian culture. Another important city looted and ruined in the Syrian Civil War was the city of Dura-Europos. This city was a Hellenistic, Parthian and Roman city. It was even called the Pompeii of the desert. Inscriptions in Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Hatrian, Palmyrene, Middle Persian, Parthian, and Safaitic have also been found in the city. The famous Assyrian Lion Sculpture was also destroyed. Syria’s capital, Damascus is the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city and Aleppo comes third in the very same list.
This method of wiping out any signs of the prestige of a religion, a kingdom or a country is nothing new. Kings, invaders, chieftains have raided and defaced the important monuments and idols of the attacked places in a bid to assert their authority. The same approach has been followed by contemporary terrorist groups like Taliban and ISIS among others. The drive for world domination in the form of imposing their religion through much bloodshed and destruction has not spared these monuments too. It is ironic how the motive of terrorism is to cause chaos as they want people to acknowledge the wrongs against them and want someone to be accountable, but in the long run, they are expecting conformity to something (in this case, a religion) that is not accepted by people in unison, which was exactly their predicament. In this day and age, when more and more people are touring around the world to see heritage sites, the implications of such wreckage are great.
Syria contains so many ancient and medieval architectural edifices. The people of Syria should take pride and honor that they have been receptive to so many cultures, religions and ethnicities. Its expeditious position in the trade routes linking Europe to Asia has led to these cultural developments. Instead, these people are seeing destruction of these structures and their ancestral homes right in front of their eyes. Even if they recover from the war, and even if they save themselves and their families, these ruins will always bear testament to their loss and their ordeal. Their future generations will not see these monuments the same way, with pride. These ruins will be nothing but a painful reminder of their defeat. Their heroes will be forgotten, but their conquerors shall always be remembered. These structures were the embodiment of their culture.
Culture is important in individual, social and a country’s perspective. In an individual’s perspective, it is crucial as it gives one an identity. We are who we are because of our culture. Culture is so inherent to our character because it is multi-dimensional aspect. It includes everything and anything from ideas, languages, folklores, clothing, architecture and so much more. It is important from the societal perspective because it gives solidarity. Here, ethnocentrism comes into picture. A group can only survive if its members feel that this group is superior to all others, that their culture is the most superior of them all. And these monuments are a reminder of that. Man cannot exist without society and to build that up, solidarity is a must. For a country, not only does it flag the message of “unity among diversity” and that one should take pride in being the citizen of this country for the very same reason, that is, it’s accommodating nature, it also provides income. Tourists from all over the world come to see these marvelous sites and thus boost the economy each time they visit. Thus, these monuments symbolize culture, pride, an attractive, foreign wonder and so much more. I realize in times of war and conflict, it is trivial and ridiculous to address the destruction of buildings when people are suffering so much, but it is also critical to address a question: What happens when the war ends? How will the survivors begin again amongst the rubble of their dying legacy?
The author, Shivani Karnik, is a student of Law at HNLU, Raipur.