Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 21, 2015

The Murder of a Scholar

Khaled al-Assad, one of Syria’s most prominent antiquities scholars, is dead. The 83 year-old bespectacled caretaker of the ancient treasures of Palmyra, a World Heritage Site, was brutally murdered by ISIS militants this week. Eighty-three years old, a lifetime devoted to discovering and protecting some of Syria’s greatest archaeological treasures, and now a grisly end to the life of a man whose passion was educating others about his country’s rich history.

Khalid al-Asaad
The news of Assad’s death has both saddened and outraged his colleagues in the international community. Assad was affectionately known as Mr. Palmyra because of his extensive knowledge of the many ancient sites in the region. When Unesco declared Palmyra a World Heritage Site, they called it “the consummate example of an ancient urbanized complex.” For years, Assad served as the chief archaeologist of this ancient city and its treasures.

And then along came ISIS — bringing with them their militant brand of darkness, destruction, and death. As in other places, ISIS set about destroying antiquities they deemed heretical according to their strict interpretation of Islam. What they don’t destroy they sell to finance their operations. Assad and his associates were smart enough to move and hide as many of their country’s archaeological treasures as possible to keep them from being destroyed or sold off by ISIS.

When ISIS arrived in Palmyra, Mamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s current antiquities minister and a friend of Assad’s, begged his old friend to leave “because [he] was very important.” Assad refused to go, thinking the jihadist group would not bother with someone his age. “He was a retired government employee and an old man,” his son said. “He was innocent, so he never thought ISIS would hurt him.”

Assad was mistaken. Determined to find out where the old scholar and museum workers had hidden Palmyra’s ancient artifacts, they questioned Assad to no avail. So, ISIS did what they do best — they murdered Assad. And they did so publicly. These thugs, whose collective IQ paled in comparison to Assad’s, dragged the old man into the streets and beheaded him in front of dozens of people. And then they hung his body from a traffic light with his severed head on the ground between his feet.

And now, the world is poorer because of the senseless death of a man who simply cared about preserving the treasures of the past for the benefit of future generations. Assad considered his life as expendable in order to preserve the legacy of his ancestors. As for ISIS, they can never claim to have broken the old scholar. All they can claim is to have murdered him — and there is no honor in that!

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