Who was Khaled al-Asaad and why should we remember him?
Today, it was reported that Syrian art scholar Khaled al-Asaad, 82, was beheaded by ISIS refusing to lead them to hidden artifacts they intended to destroy or sell. al-Asaad was held by ISIS for a month and tortured for his knowledge of the artifacts locations.
"They killed him because he would not betray his deep commitment to Palmyra," said Unesco Director General Irina Bokova. "His work will live on far beyond the reach of these extremists. They murdered a great man, but they will never silence history."
al-Asaad worked for 50 years as the head of antiquities in the Syrian city Palmyra, where he was killed.
“Just imagine that such a scholar who gave such memorable services to the place and to history would be beheaded … and his corpse still hanging from one of the ancient columns in the centre of a square in Palmyra,” said Maamoun Abdulkarim, the Syrian state antiquities chief. “The continued presence of these criminals in this city is a curse and bad omen on [Palmyra] and every column and every archaeological piece in it.”
“He was a fixture, you can’t write about Palmyra’s history or anything to do with Palmyrian work without mentioning Khaled Asaad,” said Amr al-Azm, a former Syrian antiquities official. “It’s like you can’t talk about Egyptology without talking about Howard Carter."
He had a huge repository of knowledge on the site, and that’s going to be missed. He knew every nook and cranny. That kind of knowledge is irreplaceable, you can’t just buy a book and read it and then have that.
There’s a certain personal dimension to that knowledge that comes from only having lived that and been so closely involved in it and that’s lost to us forever. We don’t have that anymore.
Though they're known for their destruction of ancient monuments, ISIS uses much of their looted artifacts as a way to fund themselves. Unesco has said the Islamic State is looting ancient sites at an "industrial scale."