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Japan Conference Seeks to Separate Reconstruction of Syria’s Palmyra from Political Settlement | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The Roman amphitheater in the Syrian city of Palmyra, pictured on March 31, 2016 (AFP)

Nara (Japan) – The dispute over Syria’s “Pearl of the Desert”, Palmyra, has not been limited to the military conflict between Damascus and Moscow and between ISIS, but a cultural competition has emerged between international archaeologists to rebuild the historic city.

Palmyra has long occupied the imagination of Orientalists and the public and control of the city has shifted between the various warring factions in Syria until Russia President Vladimir Putin announced a “historic victory” earlier this year when it was seized from the hands of the terrorists.

Since then, about a hundred archaeological expeditions have sought to register their names in the history books and overcome the political barrier blocking them from returning to Syria.

Japanese archaeologist Kiyohide Saito holds the key to the secrets of the “Pearl” because he has recreated a digital 3D reconstruction of Palmyra’s Baal Temple that was destroyed by ISIS.

Saito, who has for years been obsessed with Palmyra, does not care about politics or Putin’s exploitation of the city’s Victory Arch in his political propaganda. He is instead concerned with rebuilding the city and shifting attention to the dozens of sites that have been destroyed in the war.

One of the surprises during the recently held Silk Road friendship project conference that was held in the Japanese city of Nara was the discovery that one of the archaeological pieces, believed to be destroyed by ISIS and sent to Italy for reconstruction, turned out to be actually destroyed by the Syrian regime.

The predicament here lies in whether reconstruction can take place before a settlement can be reached in Damascus.

The discussions at the conference have yielded a call for “solidarity with the Syrian people to preserve its cultural heritage.” The gatherers also demanded that an international conference be held to resolve the “clash” between those competing for Palmyra.