''They flew and bombed'': about how ''civilized Europeans'' destroy Middle East temples

In the wake of the fire in Notre Dame: on the ruins of Damascus, Beirut, Aleppo and other ancient cities

Last week, the whole world watched with a shudder the fire in Notre-Dame de Paris. Meanwhile, Realnoe Vremya columnist and journalist Anhar Kochneva, living in the Middle East, is surprised by the universal grief of the world community about the affected monument of history and architecture. She reminds that in another part of the world, namely in Syria and Lebanon, the hands of Europeans and their allies destroyed entire ancient cities, valuable artifacts were exported. Read more in her column.

On the shards of Beirut

The fire in Paris, as a result of which the famous Notre-Dame de Paris was significantly damaged and could be destroyed by fire, again drew the attention of the world community to the topic of the disappearance of prominent historical monuments. The lamentations of the French themselves about their “history destroyed together with the Cathedral” forced those who do know history to remember what the French themselves did with the monuments of the history of other peoples who found themselves under their temporary “custody”.

It all began 900 years ago in the era of the Crusades. A significant number of artifacts, architectural elements of ancient buildings and just a rare coloured stone were shipped to Europe in large volumes for two hundred years and became part of the palaces, fortresses and temples already built there. Including in France.

In the late 19th — early 20th century history repeated itself, the French returned to the region. Among the irreparable losses of that time, it can be called a significant part of the Old city in Beirut, demolished by the French occupation forces as a result of “reconstruction”. Of course, today the buildings they built in the ‘20-30s of the last century are part of the history and architecture of Lebanon. However, nothing would prevent to build not instead, but not far from the ancient mosques, hammams, as well as the ancient Byzantine Basilica, the historical value of which is no less than of the notorious cathedral, built 600-700 years later. Fragments of the city with several thousand years of history were used as the foundation for the city's waterfront. But how many artifacts of the Phoenician, Roman and later history of Lebanon were found when digging multi-metre pits and forever secretly taken to France, probably, no one will ever know.

Among the irreparable losses of that time, it can be called a significant part of the Old city in Beirut, demolished by the French occupation forces as a result of “reconstruction”. Photo: Anhar Kochneva

On the unique rock near Beirut for already several millennia significant figures of that time left their “autographs”. Ramses II, going to Syria, in particular, for the battle of Kadesh with the Hittites, ordered to cut three bas-reliefs. One of them was destroyed by order of Napoleon III — the inscription about the visit of this place by the French Emperor was made by erasing the bas-relief of the great pharaoh. Not just there was no place on the rock — it is still there more than enough. Just perhaps, that's the whole point of Europeans' attitude to those who dare to have a more ancient history. To demolish someone else's property and replace it with your own “culture” and history. Al sorts of barbarians should not have history, apparently. They're not supposed to.

In the most ancient capital of the world

Even less fortunate is another Arab capital — the city of Damascus. Which (to make it clearer) is officially recognized by UNESCO as the oldest of the existing capitals of the world. In 1925, the city, which dared to rebel against the French occupiers, was simply and gracefully... bombed. As a result, depriving it of about a sixth of the Old town, which in our time was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Subsequently what was destroyed by the French aircraft had to be demolished, having built up the affected quarters with not representing any historical and cultural value buildings. The name of the affected area — Harika, i.e. “Conflagration”, still reminds of that global catastrophe. How it was called until 1925, I guess no one remembers.

Destroying entirely the whole ancient quarters of Middle Eastern cities, the French did not lament at all about dying history because of their actions. However, I think the damage because of their actions was greater than the fire of the Notre Dame fire. No less barbaric French archaeologists were when conducting excavations in the territories under their power: current archaeologists think negative about the destroyed and abandoned cultural layers, which could become a source of many discoveries and would open more than one veil over the past of mankind.

In recent years, the situation with the loss of entire layers of history and many ancient monuments is repeated. Only now it is destroyed not by foreign archaeologists and “reorganizers” of the ancient quarters, but by militants who were actively supported by the West and the Middle East monarchies. They were literally pushed through as a legitimate alternative to the secular authorities in Syria and part of Iraq that care about historical monuments. A contribution to the war with history was also made by foreign militants who came in large numbers to the region, for whom the monuments of these places — an empty phrase. That is, like in the early twentieth century, behind the destruction of the miraculously survived cathedral there again looms Europe.

In 1925, the city, which dared to rebel against the French occupiers, was simply and gracefully... bombed

They just flew and bombed

Notre-Dame de Paris, of course, should be restored. But where is the mass fundraising to heal the wounds of the mutilated bandits of Old Aleppo? Whole buildings were blown up there if government soldiers were stationed in them. Who even mentioned in Europe the need to expel militants from one of the most important ancient cities of the Middle East — Apamea, illegal excavations in which are visible even on Google map? Why they do not worry about the salvation of what is still left of the ravaged by vandals and the elements of the pise-walled Syrian city of Marie, whose age is more than 5,000 years and which does not hold a candle by its importance from a historical point of view, all the cathedrals of Paris together? The list of victims, destroyed and endangered monuments, is terrifying and colossal.

Who and how punished Turkey for the Hittite and Byzantine monuments destroyed last year on the territory of Northern Syria? There is no more the tomb of St. Maron the Hermit (honoured in Orthodoxy), nor the black Hittite temple with lions in Ain Dara. They just flew and bombed. No one is almost engaged in the return of stolen artifacts in Syria and Iraq, which through Turkey go to Europe. By the way, from the ancient temple of Ashmun in Lebanon alone at the time there were stolen, according to archaeologists, about 5,000 finds, five of them have been miraculously recently returned from the United States (for understanding the scale of the robbery). Europe does not return anything.

The Europeans have a strange idea about the history and its preservation, which has little changed since the Crusades and the colonization of foreign lands. They can feel sorry only for their own. But stranger’s... perhaps that will come in handy to fill up our museums. About the burned, looted and blown up monuments of Russia (France and Germany generally), about Dresden crushed by allies from Britain, etc. I will not write — about them everyone perfectly knows. We still remember 1812 and 1941-1943. Something is wrong with their careful attitude to someone else's and world history. At least let them restore their cathedral. At least this deed.

By Anhar Kochneva, author’s photo