ISIS takes Palmyra; Will UNESCO site be turned to rubble?

Palmyra is at grave risk as ISIS destroys lives, and history. ISIS must be stopped.

Palmyra monumental arch / Photo: Yeowatzup, used under Flickr Creative Commons license
Palmyra monumental arch / Photo: Yeowatzup, used under Flickr Creative Commons license

CHARLOTTE, N.C., May 21, 2015 — What does it say about an organization that it erases any reference to the history of civilization in the territories where it seizes control?

Certainly the barbaric inhumanity in the cavalcade of death ISIS has perpetrated throughout the Middle East is evil at its most savage level, but the destruction of mankind’s quest for civilization is a close second. People have been killing each other in one way or another since man began walking on two legs. Yet destroying ancient monuments that are links to understanding the evolution of our species is a relatively new phenomenon.

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The ancient city of Palmyra in Syria has now fallen to ISIS as part of the Islamic jihadist’s latest strategic advance. Palmyra’s Roman ruins, intermingled with Greek and Persian architecture, could soon become little more than dust in the whispering sands of the desert.

Legend has it that Palmyra was built by King Solomon. So beautiful was it that in modern times it has been referred to as “the Venice of the Sands.” As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Palmyra is home to some of the best presereved Roman ruins in the world.

But for how long?

Destroying historic sites is nothing new for the Islamic State. It has already turned the Roman city of Hatra, the Assyrian capital of Nimrod, and the Mosul library and museum to rubble. Could Palmyra be next?

In 1945, UNESCO was formed to build networks among nations through solidarity that preserves and acknowledges man’s achievements. UNESCO’s World Heritage sites are divided into two categories, natural wonders of the world and man’s accomplishments. Among its goals are “protecting freedom of expression: an essential condition for democracy, development and human dignity.”

In the world of ISIS, human dignity goes unrecognized and, therefore, destruction is a means of domination, control and power.

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UNESCO describes Palmyra as “an oasis in the Syrian desert, north-east of Damascus.” It contains “the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.”

Strategically, Palmyra—Tadmur in Aramaic—is significant because it is provides highway access to Damascus and Homs from Deir ez-Zor, an important ISIS base between Syria and Iraq that the Islamic State captured about a year ago.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says, “The Islamic State organization has now established almost complete control over the area from Palmyra to the Syrian-Iraqi border and onwards to the Syrian-Jordanian frontier.”

With the fall of Ramadi to ISIS in Iraq earlier this week, the ISIS jihadi advances appear to be growing and in the wake of that progression will come more brutal killings and the possibility that Palmrya, as we know it, will cease to exist.

Regardless of how large or how destructive ISIS becomes, it will be impossible for it to wipe out the entire global museum of UNESCO sites. But symbolically their goal to eradicate any evidence, other than their own, of human presence on earth is devastating to comprehend.

The Tomb of Jonah and Islam itself swallowed by ISIS

ISIS is an enemy unlike any other in history. It has no regard for anything other that its own identity and its belief that it alone represents the purity of Allah’s words. Yet in the process of achieving that clarity, ISIS destroys everything in its path, be it human beings, cultural treasures or historic landmarks.

ISIS is a contradiction of itself, an oxymoron that magnifies man’s inhumanity to man in a relentless pursuit of its goals.

One has to wonder whether, if ISIS actually did succeed, given the unceasing hatred ingrained in the souls of its followers, would that be enough to produce the supposed nirvana they seek?

For ISIS there will always be an enemy; otherwise it has no reason to exist.

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News. Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod.

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