Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Syrian Conflict: Antiquity used in Warfare

Citadel at Aleppo (taken from
In my junior year of college at Boston University I attended the first class where I never missed a lesson.  I mean, I would arrive to class no matter how sick I was because the subject was riveting.  The course was entitled "Warfare in Antiquity" and it discussed military and strategic thinking and battles in Classical history.  Now this post is not about how wonderful that course was, but rather, the current events in Syria made me think back on this class.

In ancient times (and current), armies, kings, commanders, etc. fortified strategic posts. Sometimes these sites served as such a strategic point that heads of armies use these same sites hundreds, even thousands of years later.  This is true in Syria and this brings me to the discussion of the ancient city of Aleppo that I briefly mentioned in my last post.

Brief History of the Ancient City of Aleppo
  • Location: Northern Syria
  • Strategic importance: Located at the crossroads of trade roots
  • Once was a capital of a kingdom called Armi in the third millennium BCE
  • Capital of Amorite dynasty of Yamhad (c.1800-1600 BCE)
  • The site was fortified by Arab armies against the crusaders and the citadel remains from this period
  • the Ottomans used the citadel for barracks
The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad's forces have positioned themselves in the citadel to fire on its enemies (Hauslohner and Ramadan, The Washington Post, 2013).  According to The Washington Post, rebel forces desperately try to take the citadel and "[t]hose who control the citadel have the power to alter the front lines" (Hauslohner and Ramadan, The Washington Post, 2013).

Aleppo is only one example of an ancient site used for modern warfare in Syria.  Below is a list of some of the sites:
  • Crak des Chevaliers: A crusader fortress
  • the Old city of Homs
  • al-Madiq: Another medieval/crusader fortress/castle 
Is this Right

The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict with Regulations for the Execution of the Convention 1954 (will refer to as Hague 1954 or the Hague Convention) stated that nations that signed the convention would not harm cultural property, use it for military means, respect cultural property, and all cultural property would bear a distinction (a blue shield) (The Hague 1954).  Obviously this does not hold true in Syria today.

I am not surprised that the Syrian regime is using archaeological sites as military posts.  This actually happens quite often.  I also think that once one party in a conflict uses a site for military means, the other party must overtake it, even if it means destroying the site.  I do not enjoy saying this but human survival trumps the integrity of a site.

I invite readers to comment about what they think of the Hague Convention.  Is it reasonable to expect armies not to use ancient sites for military purposes?

In my next post, I plan to discuss other ways the opposing forces in Syria use antiquity for purposes of war with a focus on looting.  Until then, please feel free to comment on the subjects I mention throughout the blog, as well as what topics of cultural property you might find interesting.

Videos about the battle for the Aleppo Citadel