Abo Athar, a Syrian archaeologist from the city of Raqqa discusses the efforts being made to restore historical artefacts stolen and damaged by ISIS.
Since ISIS was defeated in Raqqa in October 2017, the residents and authorities in Raqqa have attempted to recover their city’s historical heritage and artefacts. According to some estimates, 70% of Raqqa’s 750 archaeological sites were destroyed by ISIS during their 3-year occupation of the city. Furthermore, much of the city’s valuable relics were stolen by ISIS and sold on the black market, to generate revenue for the militant group. As a result, the city’s archaeological heritage suffered immensely.
However, while ISIS’ campaign to destroy and looting these valuable artefacts was very comprehensive, the militant group was not able to find all of the antiques, as some of them were hidden by locals who wanted to preserve their cultural and historical heritage.
“During ISIS’s occupation of Heraclius Fortress, ISIS stole a large collection of antiquities but was unable to find the mosaic pieces. The mosaic pieces were very large and were buried underground,” said Abu Athar, the former director of the Raqqa Museum, while showing off the museum that was damaged during the war. “Now, the pieces are intact and will be displayed when the museum is ready.”
Following the militant group’s defeat, the Raqqa Civil Council, which is responsible for administrating and rebuilding the city, has begun to rehabilitate Raqqa’s archaeological sites and revive its rich history, which stretches back centuries.
“Soon after the formation of the Civil Council and its committees, the Committee of Culture and Antiquities started to follow up on the situation of the archaeological sites located in the city,” said Hassan Mustafa, the joint director of Culture and Antiques Committee.
While this project requires a lot of effort to complete, the authorities and volunteers working on the rehabilitation of these sites have expressed their readiness to complete their task.
“We will complete the renovation [of the Museum of Raqqa] and return it as a jewel for the city of Raqqa,” said Talal Khalil, an administrator of the Vision Organisation, responsible for the rehabilitating the Raqqa Museum.