Abu Ahmad’s name, like those of other Syrians interviewed for this story, has been changed for security reasons.
Khalil al-Hariri, a relative of Asaad’s, said that the scholar’s deep connections with “every artifact and every stone” in Palmyra meant he would not abandon his home. “Asaad refused to leave the city, although he was aware of the danger he was facing,” Hariri said. “They brought him to the square in a black van, then used loudspeakers to call for people to come and watch the execution,” Palmyra resident Abu Mohammed al-Tadmuri said after news of Asaad’s killing broke.
More than 150 people, including women and children, watched as ISIS militants read out their decision to “execute” Asaad, according to Tadmuri, before a masked militant beheaded the scholar with a sword.
“His body was left on the ground for more than six hours, from 11 a.m. until after five o'clock in the evening,” Tadmuri said. “After that, they strung up his body on a pole.”
A graphic photo shared by ISIS accounts on social media purported to show Asaad’s bloodied and headless body hung by an orange rope on what looks like a traffic light. The elderly man’s head, its spectacles still intact, had been placed on the ground between his feet. A handwritten placard tied to the body identified the victim as “the apostate Khalid Muhammad al-Asaad” and accused him of being loyal to the “Nusayri regime,” a derogatory term for the Alawite government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
According to Arabic media reports, the placard listed five “crimes” that ISIS deemed Asaad to have committed, including acting as a representative of Syria at “infidel conferences,” acting as director of “idolatry” in Palmyra, and visiting Iran. Pro-government and opposition figures, activists, and thinkers were unanimous in condemning the slaying. Asaad’s successor, current director of the General Department of Antiquities and Museums Maamun Abdul-Karim, told SANA that ISIS had murdered his predecessor “in cold blood.”
Samah Hadaya, the minister of culture in the Syrian Interim Government, an alternative government body formed by the opposition National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, also condemned the murder, as did Syrian philosopher Ahmed Barqawi, who said it was “aimed at killing civilization, modernity, and all of humanity,” Syrian philosopher and thinker Ahmed Barqawi said.
“Don’t tell me that we shouldn't focus on the killing of a scholar … because the Assad regime has already killed thousands of people,” Barqawi wrote on his Facebook page on August 19. “Yes, the regime committed unprecedented hideous crimes and atrocities, but we should not remain silent because of the crimes of [ISIS].”
The scholar was a member of the ruling Baath Party, a fact that would certainly have helped his career. But the mark that he made on the world of archaeology was undeniable. As UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova put it, ISIS “murdered a great man, but they will never silence history.”
This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.