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Victim of Assad

4:09 PM, Apr 11, 2012 • By VICTORIA COATES
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The "Krak des Chevaliers," a beautifully preserved citadel from the crusader era, is not far from Homs. In his 1910 volume on medieval architecture, T.E. Lawrence called this structure the "most wholly admirable castle in the world," and made it his prime example of crusader buildings in Syria. It has survived largely as Lawrence of Arabia saw it a century ago, and as at Palmyra, a range of artifacts from the early Kurdish settlers, crusaders, and later Islamic civilization are preserved there. It offers now no protection, however, for refugees fleeing from Homs, and, apparently occupied by troops, is also the scene of gunfire and carnage.

Palmyra and the Krak de Chevaliers are two of six UNESCO World Heritage sites in Syria, and in recent weeks an opposition group has pleaded with the U.N. organization for help preserving them along with other locations damaged or endangered by the fighting. Ironically, Syria remains a member of UNESCO (membership is automatic when a nation joins the U.N.) with Assad's ambassador to Paris serving as a permanent delegate to the organization while the regime is deliberately targeting its own cultural heritage. The situation threatens to disintegrate further in coming days, as Assad ratchets up attacks on the rebels, and sadly the United Nations has proven powerless to protect civilians or cultural treasures.

The loss of Syria's patrimony would be a great loss to the civilized world, but over the course of the last year Bashar al-Assad has made it painfully clear that his trappings of civilization and polish are just that. His sole motivation is—as it was for his father before him—survival. The people of Syria and the nation's treasures are clearly expendable if their extermination preserves the Assad regime. His callous indifference to the destruction of Syria's cultural sites is yet another crime to lay at the feet of the dictator—and a sad reminder that not all the casualties of war are human.

Victoria Coates is an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a consulting curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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