Before and After: This Is What's Happening to Historic Sites in the Middle East

On September 24, Asia Society New York presents "Culture Under Threat: Antiquities Trafficking and Terrorist Financing", a high-level forum aimed at finding regional solutions to the recent surge in the destruction and looting of antiquities across the Middle East. Learn more

The emergence of the Islamic State terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria has not only led to a vast array of human rights abuses and war crimes — it has also accelerated the destruction of historic sites and the looting of antiquities across the Middle East. This process — characterized by ISIS' May capture of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Syria — has resulted in the loss of some of humanity’s greatest cultural treasures.

The capture of valuable antiquities reflects more than just a desire to destroy artifacts — it's also about money. Terrorist groups like ISIS routinely trade ancient artifacts on the black market in order to finance their operations. This development has presented formidable political and security challenges for the international community, along with important questions about cultural preservation and coordinating an effective response.

Organizations such as the Antiquities Coalition are working to address these questions and raise awareness. To learn more, tune in to at 8:30 am New York Time tomorrow, Thursday, September 24, for a live webcast of the Asia Society program Culture Under Threat: Antiquities Trafficking and Terrorist Financing.

Use sliders to scroll through the “before and after” images below to catch a glimpse of the cultural heritage lost in the Middle East and North Africa since 2011.


Mallawi Museum
Minya, Egypt

The Mallawi Museum in Minya, Egypt houses more than 1,080 artifacts from the region, including Greco-Roman period Egyptian sculptures, animal mummies, and other religious artifacts. In July 2013, the Mallawi Museum was targeted for looting by extremists protesting the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. Over 1,000 artifacts were stolen or destroyed and the museum building was set ablaze. While recovery efforts have led to more than half of the artifacts being returned to the museum, many rare and most historically resonant pieces remain missing.



Umayyad Mosque
Aleppo, Syria

Over 1,200 years old, the Umayyad Mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Aleppo was constructed in 717 CE by the Umayyad Caliph Suleyman, and is the largest mosque in the city of Aleppo, Syria. Its destruction occurred during in 2013 when it fell following a barrage of heavy gunfire between Syrian forces and anti-government rebels.



Omari Mosque
Tripoli, Libya

Dating back to the seventh century, the Omari Mosque in Daraa, Syria is one of the oldest mosques in the world, and has also been called one of the birthplaces of the 2011 Syrian Revolution, serving as a headquarters for demonstrators throughout clashes and the siege of Daraa. However, in April 2013, Syrian government forces destroyed the minaret after the Omari Mosque sustained several days of shelling from Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s military.



Sidi Sha’ab Mosque
Tripoli, Libya

Tripoli’s Sidi Sha’ab Mosque is one of the most important mosques in Sufi Islam, serving as a prominent religious center for the city's Sufi community. In August 2012, Salafist extremists who had infiltrated the Libyan government bulldozed the famous Sufi mosque and tomb.

All images courtesy of the Antiques Coalition

Through compelling keynotes and in-depth panel discussions, the 2015 Arts & Museum Summit, November 19-20 in Hong Kong, will probe the key ethical questions facing the preservation of cultural heritage and explore the technologies, methods, and practices used to keep these traditions intact and relevant into the 21st century. Learn more