Modern research and scholarship are grounded in an ethical respect for human life as an ultimate goal. In that context, the purpose of archaeology is to shed light on humankind by studying the formation of social and cultural identities, as well as our contemporary collective memory. At the core of archaeology lies the respect for humanity and the aspiration to contribute to peace and coexistence, and even more so in societies that are victims of an armed conflict.
The suspension of international archaeological missions in Syria was, first and foremost, the consequence of a moral concern that values human life and the Syrian people’s right to live above all. Unfortunately, a group of colleagues at the University of Rome “La Sapienza” have chosen to ignore these ethical concerns. This year they have started work on a new archaeological project at Tell Ferzat, in the Damascus countryside (Ghouta). In doing so, they have ignored the appeals of institutions and scholarly figures not to take such a troubling step. We should all remember that Tell Ferzat lies only a few kilometers away from the area that was attacked with chemical weapons in 2014, a region whose population was later either displaced against its will or forced to flee in order to escape a brutal war. The displaced inhabitants of the area have not yet been able to return to their homes.
These Italian colleagues have also announced their intention to resume their archaeological work at another site (Tell Mardīkh, ancient Ebla). The villages and towns in that entire region are now virtually destroyed and have also been emptied of their population. Moreover, the colleagues could have lent a helping hand to the local community, that had appealed to them for cooperation to preserve the site of Tell Mardīkh and the artifacts housed at the Idlib Museum (including the royal archives of Ebla). By contrast, a group of Syrian archaeologists the Idlib province launched several initiatives and projects through the Idlib Archaeological Center and in cooperation with the SIMAT Association “Syrians for Heritage” (e.g. the protection of mosaics at the Ma‘arat al-Nu‘mān Museum and the preservation of the Idlib Museum). Thus, it is with complete indifference for the suffering of the local communities that our Italian colleagues adamantly insist on starting a new archaeological project in Tell Ferzat and continuing their work at Tell Mardīkh. This only shows a lack of academic responsibility and constitutes a violation of the basic ethical principles that govern archaeological research. Both projects place themselves beyond the acceptable limits of archaeological work, as they also contribute to promote the current Syrian political regime, whose narrative and propaganda they endorse. Both archaeological missions will add fuel to the political conflict by turning archaeology into another tool in a military arsenal, rather than an instrument to help build peace.
In accordance with the ethical principles of archaeological research and the most basic sense of responsibility, solidarity, and sympathy towards the Syrian people, the signatories of this statement –Syrian archaeologists, along with the international community of scholars of Syrian archaeology– condemn the blatant disregard for the suffering of the Syrian people on the part of the colleagues in charge of the two said projects. We also condemn the ongoing archaeological projects (especially the Hungarian mission in the Syrian Coast) as well as any future attempts to develop others in Syria, as humanitarian conditions cannot be guaranteed in the current context. We furthermore express our deepest concern about the financial support that is being provided to these two projects, which can only harm the stature and reputation of the University of Rome “La Sapienza”. In consequence, we call for a complete boycott of these two projects and of those in charge of them. We demand that Italian officials reconsider their financing and support for these projects and that all parties involved respect the endeavors of the international community to achieve a just political solution for the Syrian conflict.
SIMAT association “Syrina for Heritage”
Idleb Antiquities Center
Several Syrian archaeologists
The purpose of this statement is to defend human rights in Syria and archaeological ethics. We do not have any intention of defamation or libel towards our Italian colleagues. On the contrary, we invite them, by virtue of colleagiality and fellowship, to revise their decision and we hope to collaborate together in the service of scholarship and humanity. You can sign the statement by clicking here