UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon spoke at Yale University on Tuesday. He called on universities and the international community to do more to protect ancient historic sites in the Middle East and north Africa from extremist groups, like ISIS.
Ban cited Palmyra in Syria and Timbuktu in northern Mali. Both areas have ancient historic sites. Both have been ravaged by extremist groups in the last few years. He also mentioned Bamyan in Afghanistan, where the Taliban destroyed two giant Buddha statues in 2001.
"Who could fail to be outraged by the destruction of the magnificent Buddhas of Bamyan? The monuments of Palmyra? The Mosques and cultural artifacts in northern Mali? This wanton vandalism and destruction is not collateral damage."
Ban said the UN has restored 14 historic mausoleums in Mali. The full extent of the damage in Palmyra isn’t known. ISIS seized the city in 2015. The Russian-backed Syrian army reclaimed it last month. Ban said now that it’s out of ISIS control, universities should start working to see what can be restored, and find ways to preserve it for future generations.
"There is a Syrian saying, I quote, without the old, there is nothing new," he said. "Universities have a critical role in preserving and sharing knowledge and instilling respect for cultural heritage and diversity."
Yale holds the world’s largest collection of ancient artifacts from a historic site in Syria called Dura Europos. That part of Syria is controlled by ISIS. Satellite photos show most of the historic site has been destroyed.