It was last August that the Syrian head of antiquities spoke movingly in Scotland about the immense task he and his colleagues faced, dealing with the devastating impact that war and turmoil was having on the country’s heritage.
Professor Dr Maamoun Abdulkarim, director general of antiquities and museum in Syria, appealed to Scottish experts to help him in the task of protecting the 10,000 important historical sites in his country.
Professor Abdulkarim was in Scotland for the Edinburgh International Culture Summit, and he spoke poignantly of the tragedy of the conflict in his country and the more than 300 sites destroyed or severely harmed by warfare.
At the time, he said that the most famous of these, the ruins of ancient city Palmyra, were 80% “good” despite being targeted for destruction by Islamic State (IS).
However, the site has been occupied by IS again, and recaptured again by the Syrian army since then.
His comments underlined words spoken by Sir Jonathan Mills, director of the summit, who pointed to Palmyra, as well as the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan – detonated by the Taliban, as examples of how culture was now in the “front line” and part of the “war zone”.
The work to be carried out by Edinburgh World Heritage in Turkey will not take place in a war zone – Adam Wilkinson, director of the charity, emphasised yesterday that Turkey, compared to its neighbour Syria, is a relatively stable state.
The two cities in which the EWH will work with Turkish colleagues have not been overrun by destructive forces, but have been hit by political and sometimes violent instablility. Neglect, however, is as much a problem as conflict.
But their historic work is part of the new Cultural Protection Fund, set up only in 2016 by the British Council in response to the kind of threats mentioned by Sir Jonathan and Professor Abdulkarim and funded with £30m.
Their work includes a £100,000 project to train Syrians to digitally document heritage at risk, as well as similar protective projects for Yazidi shrines, the nomadic Bedouin communities in the occupied Palestinian territories, and As-Samou, an ancient city on the West Bank.