William Dalrymple writes: Few forms of conflict are so damaging to a country or its people as a prolonged civil war. By 1939, when Franco’s forces had finished mopping up the last Republican resistance in Spain, more than half a million lay dead and some of the most beautiful city centres in Europe had been destroyed.
A similar pattern played out in 1970s Lebanon, which saw 150,000 casualties and the almost complete destruction of the elegant villas of Ottoman Beirut. In Afghanistan it was not Soviet invasion or occupation that killed most people or wrecked Kabul, but the internecine street fighting that followed in the early 1990s. In a few years, as Masood‘s rockets fell on Pashtun neighbourhoods of Kabul, and Hekmatyar’s forces emptied the Tajik suburbs, palaces and museums were looted; while in the Shomali plain, Gandharan Buddhist sites were serially plundered of their treasure.
Today, as Syria faces the desperate prospect of an open-ended civil conflict, traumatised by its 20,000 dead and 250,000 refugees – the human cost of the war – it may seem trivial to mourn the speed with which its astonishing archaeological and architectural heritage is disappearing. But while the human pain inflicted by torture and killing is immeasurable, the destruction of a people’s heritage is irretrievable: once a monument is destroyed, it can never be replaced. With modern weaponry it only takes a few months of concerted shelling for the history of an entire people to be reduced to rubble. [Continue reading…]