Since 2011, the armed conflict in Syria has unsettled and drastically changed the Middle East. Millions of Syrians are displaced, more than 250.000 people lost their lives up to now.
Syria's unique cultural heritage is currently under significant threats and sustained severe damage nationwide, including the six UNESCO World-Heritage Sites and twelve sites on the Tentative List and a lot of other important archaeological sites.
Heavy artillery, airstrikes and bombardments destroyed large parts of the historical city centres of , Homs and other urban centres and monuments. An entire cultural landscape of diverse intangible heritage covering traditional crafts, music and peaceful multi-religious / multiethnic coexistence faces possible annihilation.
No comprehensive digital archive of Syria's material cultural heritage is available up to now. Currently, Syrian and international initiatives attempt to compile the numerous researchers and photographically documentation conducted over the past decades by many specialists.
Two German institutions cooperate in the Syrian Heritage Archive Project: the and the , both funded by the .
This detailed documentation of Syria's cultural heritage facilitates detecting the current destruction and creates the basis for any possible prospective reconstruction. Promoting awareness on shared cultural heritage represents an indispensable asset for national reconciliation one day. Possible post-conflict reconstruction initiatives should employ a bottom-up approach by collaborating with civil society and empowering national capacities.
The Syrian Heritage Archive Project (SyrHer) is currently digitizing research data on Syria. The project uploads data to database, which is a comprehensive tool for scientific internet research. More than 100,000 slides, photos and plans about Syria have already been scanned, systematized and made publicly available.
iDAI objects data can be exported via interfaces into other international platforms. The digital place-dictionary , which is an open internet-based platform, serves to manage and geo-locate the Syrian sites, places and monuments.
The SyrHer Project cooperates with the Syrian Antiquities Authority () to contribute to a Syrian cultural heritage register – used for Syria, based on data from all over the world. Within the Syrian Heritage Archive Project, detailed data on damage & destruction obtained online or via activists is collected, evaluated and linked to the project’s archival materials.
Syria, as a cradle of civilisation, is a unique and comprehensive cultural archive and has outstanding international importance. In the times of war, conflicting parties disregard completely the country's cultural heritage.
Further, Jihadist groups deliberately destroy Syria's cultural identity. Illicit excavations throughout the country cause irreversible damage. Archaeological sites are being systematically looted for illicit trading. Perpetrators are destroying the sequence of layers necessary to prevent cultural knowledge from loss forever. Looted archaeological findings, antiquities etc are offered on the international art market and sold to collectors worldwide. The increasing demand on such ‘profitable’ trade will contribute to prolonging the Syrian war.
The Syrian Heritage Archive Project is observing the online market and keeping records of compiling information on looted objects and informing the prosecution authorities in Germany. International organisations should be encouraged to adopt additional measures to face the illegal trade, also from the collectors’ end of the problem.