30.03.2016 Author: Martin Berger

Who is Celebrating the Recapture of Palmyra?


There’s little doubt that the recapture of Palmyra is the biggest victory in the ongoing struggle of the Syrian government against the Islamic State (ISIS). This victory opens the way for Syrian troops to launch an assault on the city of Al-Raqqah, the de-facto capital of ISIS. But the victory is extremely important because it means that the wisdom of the past has finally vanquished the delusional concepts of today’s so-called “Islamists” that have attempted to spread across the globe like wildfire.

ISIS militants had captured Palmyra, a invaluable “pearl of world civilizations” back in May 2015. They shocked the entire international community by laying waste to this priceless world heritage site that was supposed to be protected by UNESCO at all costs. According to documents that were found by Syrian troops after the recapture of Palmyra, ISIS was selling women slaves in this city on a regular basis. According to The Times, another example of the inhuman behavior of these militants was the beheading of the antiquities expert Khaled al-Assad who oversaw 50 years of study at Palmyra. They took his life once he refused to reveal where valuable artifacts had been moved for safekeeping. His mutilated body was hung on a Roman column in the main square of Palmyra, while the largest theater in the city was transformed into a site for public executions. Countless numbers of ancient statues had been toppled and defaced over the period of occupation.

After three weeks of operations Syrian forces supported by Russian warplanes pushed ISIS units away from Palmyra. It’s been reported that the Islamic State has lost over 400 militants while the remnants of their fighting force is now scatted in the area of Deir ez-Zor. The Times is convinced that this was the biggest defeat that the Caliphate suffered since its inception in 2014. The Palmyra Coordination Committee is saying over two weeks Russian pilots have made over 900 sorties to support advancing Syrian troops.

The fall of Palmyra has suddenly changed the dynamics of the war in Syria. ISIS is losing both the territories it controls and its manpower at a catastrophic rate, at this point its “soldiers” would rather lay their weapons down and run, instead of facing an enemy they are now terrified of. The fact is that what seemed a few months ago a distant goal is now within one’s reach, notes La Stampa. The recapture of Palmyra – is a strategic goal, since this city had the strongest ISIS military contingent after Raqqa. The city is an important hub connecting the western and eastern parts of Syria and Iraq. Moreover, this area is extremely rich in hydrocarbons. Palmyra has also been associated with yet other ISIS stronghold near the border with Lebanon – Al-Qaryatayn . In the coming days a striking blow will be dealt in this area as well.

With a special reference to the Director of the Syrian Antiquities Department, Mamun Abdulkarim, Spanish ABC International notes that almost 80% of the ancient ruins in Palmyra have survived ISIS occupation. At the same time, the Spanish archaeologist Jesús Gil Fuensanta, who is a prominent expert on Syria’s historic monuments, underlines that we must not forget that there’s at least 20 endangered sites within Syrian territory like Palmyra, and the total number of sites that can be potentially destroyed by ISIS across the whole region reaches a staggering number of 200. Those are situated in Yemen, Libya, Maghreb, the Sahel, and on the Sinai peninsula. And therefore it is necessary to carry on with the cleansing of the cultural monuments of the “black curse” that has got a hold of them. In this respect the expert believes that UNESCO’s role in this story is controversial to say the least, especially since there was a Turkish representative, Selami Yildiz, involved in it. Jesús Gil Fuensanta underlined that the scientific community will always question the role of a person with no scientific background whatsoever who is involved in the protection of historical monuments. He added that the Turkish journalist Pelin Unker has recently published an article, which states that Turkey benefits the most from the illegal trade of rare antiquities and is a major “transit corridor” for smuggling operations.

The Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung underlines that the successful recapture of Palmyra was “an important strategic and propaganda victory for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

The British Daily Telegraph quotes the words of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who stated that the liberation of Palmyra is a story of Russian success. In turn, The Guardian provides a longer quote: The Mayor is convinced “that while the regime itself was “evil”, the victory of Assad is a victory for archaeology, a victory for all those who care about the ancient monuments of one of the most amazing cultural sites on Earth… It is alas very hard to claim that the success of Assad’s forces is a result of any particular British, or indeed, western policy.”

The Los Angeles Times is convinced that the recapture of Palmyra shows how effective the partnership between Moscow and Damascus has been. Yet, it presents US President Barack Obama with a certain puzzle. The newspaper adds: “For the Obama administration and its allies, the retaking of the storied city by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, backed by scores of Russian airstrikes, highlights a dilemma: Washington has endeavored to portray the battle against Islamic State as a project of the United States and its allies, while accusing Moscow of attacking “moderate” rebels instead of the extremists. Palmyra seems to embody an alternative narrative.”

A prominent alternative media source Global Research is going even further in its assessment of the events in Syria: “It has been an alliance between the leaderships of US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and UAE; but, regardless of whether it’s called “the US alliance” or “the Saudi alliance,” or even “the Turkish alliance”, it’s the jihadist alliance, and it now seems to be near its final defeat, by, quite clearly, the Russian alliance.”

The Norwegian media source NRK emphasizes the heroic actions of a Russian officer in the capture of Palmyra, when he, while being surrounded by terrorists and bearing the understanding that he wouldn’t come out alive from the battle, requested air strikes to be launched on his own position. He died as a hero for someone else’s land and for the cultural values of this world, while receiving recognition not as just a Russian or Syrian hero, but as the fighter of the civilized world.

Against this background, the British The Independent is asking a timely question as to why Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama have not reacted in any fashion to the recapture of Palmyra. “The biggest military defeat that ISIS has suffered in more than two years, the recapture of Palmyra, the Roman city of the Empress Zenobia and we are silent yes… , folks, the bad guys won, did they not? Otherwise, we would all be celebrating, would we not?”

Even though it’s but a step, no matter how major it is, in the fight against ISIS, it has already been shown in this article who is praising those determined to fight terrorism and who is seething with anger for their own failure to act, even though “fidelity to fight against terrorism” is pronounced daily in the West. It’s clear those are just words and words alone, since no fight ever follows. So let’s let history be the final judge, deciding who did take a stand for the universal values of mankind and who ran for cover while all while claiming to be the world’s champion while clearly being nothing of the sort.

Martin Berger is a freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.