Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in March 2011 up till now, everything on the Syrian territories of humans, trees and even stones are permissible. Even cultural antiquities in the light of the ongoing conflict in Syria, were looted and vandalized despite their size, where the damage to these antiquities vary from site to site and from region to another.
In Afrin, for example, which is located in northern Aleppo countryside, there are about 100 archaeological sites and monuments distributed between the registered and unregistered in the regular records, including sites inscribed on the list of the Syrian National Heritage such as Ein Dara, Tal Jendiris, Nabi Hori, Cave of Dodriya and Samaan Castle. All of them have been systematically excavated by various missions, in addition to sites that have been inscribed since 2011 on the UNESCO World Heritage List such as Brad site, which includes a collection of landmarks like churches, shrines and tombs.
During the early years of the Syrian crisis, some of these sites witnessed several encroachments, most of which were minor ones, but the number gradually increased with the Turkish invasion of Afrin on January 20, 2018, where the archaeological temple of Ain Dara was the first victim according to the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR).
ASOR explained how the bombardment that targeted the temple by the Turkish fighter jets on the first or second day of the military operation and how it had severely damaged it; in addition, sites as Prophet Hori, Brad and Deir Meshmash were subjected to Turkish and artillery shelling later.
After the Turkish occupation of the city of Afrin, Turkey and its affiliated armed opposition groups continued to encroach on the archaeological sites through search and excavation of the antiquities using heavy engineering machineries and advanced detection devices, which caused severe damage to the levels and layers of these sites.
The number of sites affected by these illegal acts reached about 35 out of 92 sites, according to the Violations Documentation Center in northern and eastern Syria.
The number has recently risen to 41 sites, including some archaeological sites used as military outposts and training camps for Turkey and its affiliated armed groups, such as Tal Jendiris, Tal Ain Dara and Samaan Castle.
Under the guidance of Turkey, the pro-Turkish groups have recently unleashed the civilians and military archaeological prospectors and merchants to search and excavate Afrin archaeological sites in exchange for huge sums of money, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which also confirmed the extraction and transfer of thousands of artifacts to Turkey without return.
As violations against cultural property in Afrin have increased dramatically, the Directorate of Antiquities and Museums in Damascus has appealed to the concerned authorities to intervene to stop the unjust Turkish attacks on these antiquities and to stop the excavation and systematic destruction, which is carried out at the archaeological sites, but to no avail.
What is happening to the cultural property in Afrin is undoubtedly cultural genocide and falls within the framework of war crimes according to Security Council Resolution 2347 of 2017.
It is totally incompatible with international laws, covenants and conventions, especially the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property.
It is primarily the responsibility of the relevant bodies and institutions of the United Nations and the international community, led by UNESCO, since it's the regulator of these laws and legislations, and its silence towards what is happening makes it a partner, while it should intervene directly to rein in the Turkish State and those involved in stealing Afrin's heritage and destroying its culture.