The Syrian Archaeologist Who Was Brutalised & Beheaded By ISIS For Saving His City’s 2000-Yr-Old History

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In August 2015, the world was shocked as a grotesque photograph of 83-year-old Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad’s beheaded body surfaced on the internet. The devoted curator of Palmyra National Museum was publicly beheaded by Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists when they invaded the heritage city of Palmyra. His fault? He refused to reveal the secret location where he hid the historical artefacts, even after inhuman torture for nearly a month in ISIS custody.

His son Walid stayed back with his father when the rest of their family fled the city after ISIS attack. He helped Khaled in his daunting task of hiding the priceless tokens of their country’s history somewhere beyond the reach of ISIS. Till date, there is no news of what the terrorists did to Walid.

Khaled al-Asaad, the fearless man recognised by his trademark eyeglasses, nurtured an undying love for his country and declined to give in even at the helm of barbaric cruelty. Here is his story which demands to be resonated far and wide.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

A glimpse into the life of Asaad

Born in 1932, Asaad was not an archaeologist by degree, but one by love for the vocation. He held a degree in history from the University of Damascus. Asaad cherished every little bit of the rich history and heritage of his motherland, so much so that he had named one of his daughters Zenobia, after the historically famous Palmyrene queen. The citizens of Palmyra had christened their beloved keeper of history as “Mr Palmyra”, reported The New York Times.

Since 1963, Asaad had remained the head of antiquities at Palmyra, the 2000-year-old city. He spearheaded countless expeditions, excavations and exhibitions, highlighting the Palmyrian heritage, the seat of one of the oldest civilisations of history. In fact, it was due to Asaad’s efforts that Palmyra was uplifted to the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stated The Guardian.

He officially retired in 2003, but his love for archaeology remained unfazed, as he continued to take care of hundreds of relics and artefacts that defined Palmyra in all her former glory. He resided with his family in the neighbouring town of Tadmur but used to walk regularly to visit the ruins of ancient Palmyra. His son Walid followed his father’s footsteps and supervised the work.

ISIS invasion of Palmyra

Then came the fateful 2015. Since May, murmurs had been making rounds about the possible advent of Islamic State terrorists on Asaad’s beloved city. Apart from their notoriety for inhuman torture and cruelty on innocents, ISIS was already infamous for reducing historical cities and towns to rubbles. They plundered these heritage sites and raised money by smuggling the antiquities into the European market, referred to by historical experts as ‘blood antiquities’.

Asaad stayed back even as his family fled the city

Asaad knew his Palmyra would also not be spared the wrath of the Jihadi extremists. So, even when his family chalked out an escape plan and implored him to join them, Khaled refused to set foot outside Palmyra until and unless he ensured safekeeping of the priceless heritage.

Khaled was assisted by son Walid and a few other individuals. Together, they skipped meals and spent sleepless nights transferring the artefacts from Palmyra museum to an undisclosed secure location. He knew well what awaited him once the ISIS invades the city, but he remained unflinching from his duty.

“I’m not going to leave the city. I’m staying,” he told fellow citizen Abu Ahmed on June 13, when ISIS had summoned him for questioning, reported The Atlantic. Khaled had seasoned his son the same way, so he is prepared to face all forms of brutality from the militants without divulging the secret location till his last breath.

A legacy which death couldn’t mar

In June 2015, ISIS bombarded two ancient Palmyrene shrines, terming those as blasphemous. Soon after, Asaad along with Walid was kidnapped. For almost a month, they were subjected to gruesome torture, but the terrorists failed to extract any information.

Finally, on August 18, 2015, the militant group circulated the news of Asaad’s public execution throughout the city. Afterwards, he was dragged and beheaded in front of an agonised crowd. Later that day, his distorted body was hung publicly for a week, with a placard that accused him of “infidel conferences” and “idolatry”, among others. The whereabouts of his hidden artefacts still remains a mystery.

Much later, nations like France, Poland, Italy and Tunisia have honoured Khaled al-Asaad posthumously for his tremendous contribution. Syria also conferred the Order of Civil Merit on him.

The legacy of Khaled al-Asaad will reign for centuries in the pages of history. The keeper of the history at Palmyra gave the world a superhero to be celebrated till the end of time.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.

Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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