Terrorists have rampaged the ancient town of Palmyra in Syria and bombed the ‘Temple of Baalshamin,’ and plundered the treasures of once famous country.
In more than one way, the seizure of Palmyra by the ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq of Syria) will pose a serious threat to the political stability of the region, which has already suffered the adverse effects of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and historic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians dating back to the 1940s.
Strategically located, Palmyra is at a crossroads between Damascus, the capital of Syria, Homs, a supply center for the Syrian army, and Deir Al Zor, a government stronghold.
According to the Wall Street Journal, money is a major motivating factor for the terrorists.
Palmyra is an ancient city that has been occupied for thousands of years and has seen many civilisations pass through it. The city is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many valuable artefacts.
Speaking to ‘Business Insider,’ an American business, celebrity and technology news website,
Jonathan Schanzer, Vice-President for Research at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said that ISIS makes most of its money from racketeering, which includes collecting ‘taxes’ from the residents who live within the borders of the territory it has taken over, plundering people’s homes, and looting historical sites and selling antiquities on the black market.
“It is a racket and that is how ISIS continues to survive and thrive. They need to jump from community to community in order to sustain themselves financially,” he said.
Smugglers who talked to ‘BuzzFeed News’ described Palmyra as a potential windfall to their business. One Syrian smuggler said he was sure ISIS would sell the artifacts they could get their hands on in Palmyra.
Museum workers reportedly removed as many artifacts as they could before Palmyra fell last month, but there are likely many antiquities left behind that ISIS could still plunder.
As Mr Schanzer said, the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad is trying to mitigate the damage and perhaps prevent ISIS from being able to cash in on the antiquities in Palmyra.
He said that there is major profit to be gained from treasures that can be taken to market. Analysts are unsure of specifics, but ISIS could make tens of millions of dollars from one archaeological area.
According to the ‘New Yorker,’ there is also evidence of ISIS digging up archaeological sites in other areas and taking whatever they can. One archaeologist said that some sites looked like ‘Swiss Cheese’ because of all the holes.
“ISIS likely works with smugglers who have networks in the Middle East and can transport looted goods into Turkey and other countries where there is a black market demand for them. There are almost certainly going to be antiquities dealers waiting in the wings to spirit this stuff out of Palmyra,” Mr Schanzer said.
No one denies that the Syrian crisis should be resolved soon and that developed countries. It is time for the world leaders to mobilise their resources and do the needful without delay.