Khaled Al-Asaad was an archaeologist with a lifelong dedication to the preservation of the history of his city Palmyra. He was a historian and doctor of archaeology and had six sons and five daughters.
Palmyra, the ancient “city of the palm trees” as named by the ancient Romans, was a desert oasis also called Tadmur, the first written records in stone tablets dating back 4000 years ago. When a trade route was built through it in 300 BC, it became an important point of connection between the Roman and Mesopotamian worlds.
It became available for excavation in the 1930s when the main city was shifted. A modern city lay near the ancient site, where life continued weaving threads of continuity from ancient times. It was an extraordinarily well-preserved site for its era, until its destruction by militants in 2015.
Asaad played a very important becoming a principal custodian of the Palmyra excavation site from 1963 to 2003, when he retired with his son Walid succeeding his position. He was able to read the ancient Palmyran langauge and dedicated his life to understanding and preserving its treasures. Through his dedication, the Palmyra site became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980.
Asaad in many ways personified Palmyra itself. Professor Paolo Matthiae describes him as “a thorough scholar, but above all he was a typical person of the families of the desert cities”, who was “strongly rooted in the city” and with which he identified himself.
Palmyra’s principal archaeologist, Asaad was the authority for all those interested in its ancient history. He worked together with archaeologists from countries all over the world who came to study the site.
Asaad’s contributions to human history have been well recognised during his life and after his death. He was awarded the Order of Civil Merit of the Syrian Arab Republic (excellent class), National Order of Merit of France, Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland and Order of Merit of the Republic of Tunisia.
When Syria was invaded, Asaad helped to hide the contents of the Palmyra museum, which were hidden in the desert. His captors tortured him to try to get him to reveal the location of the artefacts, which he would not reveal. A number of fellow workers were also killed.
When he was publicly beheaded in a public square near the museum. His body was then displayed at two sites. His gruesome death and the public display of his body drew worldwide shock and condemnation and became a focal point in highlighting the attack on Syria.
A number of important heritage sites were destroyed during the same invasion, many of which are of irreplaceable cultural value.
Palmyra and the region surrounding it also contains some of the oldest and best preserved heritage in the world. His death became symbolic of the destruction of priceless heritage and the human endeavours to preserve and honour them. He was 83 when he was murdered, having spent his life and given his life to that cause.
Even his death was like something from another era. With the use of ancient methods intended to intimidate and subjugate opponents, but which have often lead to instead invoked martyrdom. A timeless story of one man’s loyalty to his city and its history, to which he is now forever bound himself.
Because the subject is well-known and covered widely, it’s very easy to get a lot of information about him from conventional sources.
There are many options to draw sources from newspaper articles, news magazines, scholary papers, statements by organisations, statements by politicians, human rights agencies, official commemorations and so on.
Cross-referencing with other sources helps to ensure that the information is correct. The reputation of the source is a factor, but is not always reliable. Newspapers and academic journals for example have many writers and their biases and quality of work vary. Getting basic information on “facts” such as places, names, dates, times and so on, it is relatively simple to work out what is factually correct and aligns with other sites.
It starts to get more complicated where strong political narratives play a part, although these kinds of sources can often be the most interesting to read. Although interesting and potentially true, many of these articles may be unuseable in terms of references, due to them including a great many unproveable assertions and speculation. This is true of many articles related to this topic, for example on the Syrian war and Middle Eastern wars in general. In some cases, however, alternative sources successfully discredit and disprove official sources (for example Julian Assange in relation to the Iraq War). Many alternative websites and writers seem reputable or well-intentioned, speculating on various topics such as the sources of funding for militants and motivations behind the wars.