Frustrated ISIS militants holding the city of Palmyra yesterday beheaded 82-year-old archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad.
When Islamic State fighters first began to move in on the city — a UNESCO World Heritage site which dates back to Roman times — Asaad, the director of antiquities for Palmyra, moved everything portable into hiding. Once the city had fallen into ISIS hands, the militants began looting the site, hoping to sell priceless artifacts to wealthy collectors in the US, Europe and Asia to help fund their activities in the region. They captured al-Asaad and tortured him for a month, before finally beheading him yesterday and leaving his mutilated body hanging from a post.
Khaled al-Asaad never revealed the hiding place of the treasures that he was holding in trust for future generations.
As an artist fascinated by history, places like Palmyra resonate for me on many levels; I can’t help but see its survival into my lifetime as a bridge reaching across two thousand years, connecting me with the Romans who built the city and created many of its treasures. People like me depend on people like al-Asaad to protect that bridge.
I’m not one of those people who believes that all victims are automatically heroes, but I think Khaled al-Asaad deserves to be called a hero.
* * *