By Baran Hines
A Russian symphony orchestra under the leadership of famous conductor Valery Gergiev performed in Palmyra, Syria on Thursday to celebrate the city’s liberation from Islamic State terrorists. The concert performance was dedicated to the victims of the Islamic State’s brutal takeover of the ancient city.
The symphony orchestra concert titled “Praying for Palmyra – Music revives ancient ruins,” was performed in the Roman Theater of Palmyra. Islamic State, had previously used the theater for public executions as the site’s stunning visuals provided a backdrop for terrorist propaganda videos.
The theater is one of the few sites in the ancient city remaining largely intact amid Islamic State’s destruction of the city’s historic landmarks.
In March 2016, Syrian and Russian military forces launched a campaign to free Palmyra from Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL. The historic city had been under the control of Islamic State for nearly a year since May 2015. During the month of April, Russian engineers cleared Palmyra by defusing almost 3,000 explosive devices, and destroying “one of the largest jihadist arsenals” including more than 12,000 explosive devices.
Palmyra is a UNESCO heritage site protected by the United Nations but has suffered the destruction of numerous monuments such as the Arch of Triumph, the Temple of Baalshamin, and the Temple of Bel during the past year.
International news media called attention to the August 2015 murder of Khaled-al-Assad, a world famous scholar who earned the nickname “Mr. Palmyra” for looking over the city’s historical sites. Assad had been kidnapped and tortured by Islamic State fighters in efforts to learn where the city’s most valuable items were hidden by citizens before the group captured the city. However, Assad did not reveal the information and was later beheaded during a public execution. His body was then hung from a traffic light, according to the New York Times.
Islamic State terrorists also looted Palmyra’s many museums to sell the artifacts while destroying many other statues and exhibits.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, claimed that Islamic State had made more than $200 million from the sale of artifacts and had formed an “antiquities” division to monitor the transactions.
“The main center for the smuggling of cultural heritage items is the Turkish city of Gaziantep, where the stolen goods are sold at illegal auctions and then through a network of antique shops and at the local market,” according to Churkin. Many of the looted artifacts were also known to be sold in the United Kingdom, mostly in London.