Stepashin: Russia to help Syria in saving cultural values from Islamists

PARIS, 9 October. /Corr. Sergey Shcherbakov/. Russia is ready to help the Syrian authorities in the rescue of cultural values from the Islamists. On Thursday in an interview with correspondent. said Sergey Stepashin. At the head of the delegation of the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian society (IOPS), he arrived in the French capital, where he held a meeting with Director-General of UNESCO and ambassadors of middle Eastern countries in this international organization.

“We discussed the issue of destruction of cultural heritage in Syria, – said Stepashin. Essentially we are talking about the destruction of an entire civilization”.

He reminded that the actions of Islamist militants in the middle East suffer religious communities, including Orthodox: “We are dealing with a real genocide of Christians in the middle East”. More than 90 of the most ancient churches in Syria have been destroyed forever. Under threat are unique historical and religious artifacts. For example, in the Syrian city of HOMS is the Belt of the virgin is a priceless relic in the eyes of millions of Christians around the world.

“Today much is said about the need to preserve cultural heritage, and we are pleased that our position has found the live support to UNESCO. However, the efforts of the international community are still insufficient, – said Stepashin. – Russia is ready to really be involved in this work. We have the capabilities, tools, and experience”.

This question was raised in conversation with the head of UNESCO Irina Bokova, and the Ambassador of Syria in this organization. As one of the options considered transportation of historical artifacts from Syrian territory by aircraft of the emergencies Ministry.

“The country of destination does not necessarily have to be Russia, can take advantage of spiteful critics, then to accuse us of appropriation, – said Stepashin. – It could be some third selected by consultation, country where the relics will be kept safe until the end of the armed conflict”. He recalled that this practice “even in the recent past, was widely used in Europe.”

The interlocutor of Agency has informed that this issue will be raised again in December on the sidelines of the IV St. Petersburg international cultural forum. He recalled that an honorary member of the IOPS is the Director of the Hermitage Museum and a prominent historian and orientalist Michael Piotrovsky. “Academician Piotrovsky with its employees ready to work together with international experts on the assessment of cultural heritage in Syria under threat”, – said Stepashin.

Historical value go to “black market”

The UNESCO Director General has repeatedly expressed extreme concern over the plundering of cultural property in Syria. “The process took a truly industrial scale,” laments she.

According to the international organization, on the “black market” today, there is an influx of historical values from the Middle East. “Museums have been looted, ancient artifacts are sold to private collectors,” said Bokova. We then obtain in exchange for cultural values money is going towards financing Islamist groups: the purchase of weapons and equipment, payment of salaries to the militants.

In may, terrorists seized the Palmyra – one of the wealthiest cities of late Antiquity in an oasis of the Syrian desert between Damascus and the Euphrates. After they began systematically to destroy historical objects whose age reaches 2 thousand years, including the famous temple of Bel, built under the Emperor Tiberius in 32 ad.. Literally last week, the militants destroyed ancient Roman triumphal arch, dated to the II century BC. e..

“ISIL (“Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant” – the former name of the radical group “Islamic state – ed.) is the black plague of the XXI century – says Stepashin. – The international community seems to have not yet realized it. This is why UNESCO must become a platform of truth – the truth about what today is really going on in Syria and Iraq”.

For its part the expert support of the international organization is ready to provide the IOPS. As reported by its Chairman, at the beginning of 2016 it can obtain consultative status with UNESCO.

“The society was formed in 1882 to organize trips for Russian pilgrims to Holy places (Palestine, Athos, Bari),” said the permanent representative of Russia to UNESCO Eleonora Mitrofanova. According to her, many fellow ambassadors from other countries “have been very surprised by the fact that it is the oldest NGO in Russia, with nearly a sesquicentennial history”.

“Without a doubt, the IOPS can provide a significant contribution to the work of UNESCO for the decision of tasks on protection of historical monuments, religious shrines, cultural values in the middle East region, primarily in Iraq and Syria,” – said Mitrofanov.