ISIL retook Palmyra: how the hell that happened?

[Jakarta, LttW] War never has a positive side, no matter how we look at it. It’s an atrocity that gives nothing but agony, revenge, destruction, and death. The life-taking conflicts and war in the Middle East and some parts of Africa have again (and again) reminded us how destructive war is.

The War in Syria has also resulted in the demolition of Palmyra, one of historic ancient civilization sites that possesses a great significance to human life. Palmyra is a piece of human history that cannot be repeated, and that’s what makes it so invaluable to the world. The ignorant ISIL recently retook the site from the Russian-backed Assad regime, and based on their previous act, we already know what they are going to do with the site; what else but to destroy it.

The retaking of Palmyra by ISIL from the Russian-backed Assad regime raises big questions. Is the site not important to the Assad regime and Russian? If it were, then why didn’t they safeguard the site once they kicked out of ISIL? They certainly have more than enough armed forces to do so. The Russian even showed a positive cultural gesture when they organized a Classical music concert on site when they captured Palmyra. While we let the Russian and the Assad regime answer these questions, let’s take a look at the importance of Palmyra featured in the article below. [Ed.]

Why Palmyra was such a spectacular and unique archaeological site

The city’s major monuments were destroyed by so-called Islamic State who took back the city this week.

by Lea Surugue, IBTIMES, UK, December 15, 2016

The ancient city of Palmyra in the Syrian desert has seen renewed fighting in recent days after the so-called Islamic State recaptured it on 11 December.

Before Palmyra was ravaged by the war, it stood as one of the most important cultural centre of the ancient world. Its monuments displayed impressive artistic and architectural features associated with several different civilisations. It remains on the UNESCO World heritage list.

“Palmyra was worth being on the UNESCO list because it was one of the best preserved classical sites anywhere, it had a lot of unique architecture, and combined many different cultural elements, including from the near-East, Europe and elsewhere”, Mark Altaweel, reader in Near East Archaeology at UCL, told IBTimes UK.

The history of Palmyra is very ancient and goes back to Neolithic times. First mentions of the site are documented on tablets that date as far back as the 19th century BCE. However, Palmyra rose to prominence when it was established as a caravan oasis, after it came under Roman control in the mid-first century AD as part of the Roman province of Syria.

While the city lost some of the former autonomy that it had enjoyed for much of its early history, it also became an important point of passage situated on the trade route between the East and the West.

It connected the Roman world with Mesopotamia and other Eastern civilisations like China and India, so it quickly turned into an important cultural hub, and a crossroads of the different civilisations of the ancient world. “It was a diverse place of traders connecting the incense route and silk road and for this reason, it was wealthy”, Altaweel added.

Palmyra was also the capital of Queen Zenobia’s Empire – the queen who challenged the authority of Rome between 235 and 284 CE.

Monuments with multiple cultural influences

The different cultural influences that shaped the city were visible in all of Palmyra’s landmarks.

A grand colonnaded street formed the monumental axis of the city, linking together Palmyra’s most important monuments such as the Temple of Ba’al, the Agora, the Theatre, other temples and urban neighbourhoods. Architectural ornaments of these structures combined Greco-roman art with indigenous and Persian influences, giving the city a very original and unique style.

Remembering Palmyra

Because the so-called Islamic State believes ancient temples and artefacts to be idolatrous, there was great concern that the group would cause significant damage when it occupied the town in May 2015. In August 2015, they beheaded the archaeological director of the city before turning against the city’s buildings.

That same month, the group released pictures that appeared to show the Temple of Baal Shamen being demolished with explosives, and in September 2015 the United Nations released satellite photos showing the Temple of Bel nearly completely destroyed. The terrorists also demolished Palmyra’s arch and funerary towers that gave it a distinctive skyline.

Archaeologists around the world have condemned the destruction of the site, saying that it was “unique and irreplaceable”. Digital reconstructions of the site may nevertheless be possible based on pictures taken over the years, allowing for the reproduction of the monuments – in September 2016, a copy of Palmyra’s arch was unveiled in New York.

Dr Emma Cunliffe, an archaeologist whose studies focus on the damage sustained by archaeological sites in the Middle East in peace and war, told IBTimes UK: “The recent 3D reconstruction of Palmyra’s arch has shown that not everything is lost. However, most these reconstructions are done from tourist pictures and not from images carefully taken as part of archaeological research, so it is not known what level of reconstructions of the other buildings will be possible”.

Civil March to end Human Tragedy in Aleppo

Humanitarian activists began their daring steps yesterday to end the war in Aleppo, Syria. The walk started in Berlin and headed for Aleppo. It is going to be the longest march ever covering a distance of 1,800 miles.

[Jakarta, LttW] Carrying a white flag with “We Are All Human” message on it, the activists demand peace in Aleppo, the rest of Syria, and elsewhere that experiencing war. The group also urges international help for the civilians caught up in life taking conflicts.

The number of human casualties in Syria is quite staggering; according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recently, the number of children killed has reached almost 16,000, while for women reached 10,500. The United Nations and Arab League Envoy to Syria has estimated the death toll in Syria at 400,000. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 4.6 million Syrians have fled the country, and 6.6 million have been internally displaced, in addition to 1 million who have requested asylum to Europe.

This humanitarian march is initiated by Anna Alboth, a Berlin based refugee activist who refuses to stay silent over the killings in Aleppo. The walk itself will journey through Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey. If you think that this movement is a noble act, you can give your support through their website:

The world has gone conscienceless and irrational; it would take a daring and real action to re-rationalize the minds and heal the inner voice. The more irrational and conscienceless we are, the more dying our humanity will be.

Daniel Barenboim opens Berlin music academy for Middle East students

Musician and conductor says school, which will take in 90 new talents from the region each year, is ‘attempt at creating peace through music’

by Kate Connolly, Berlin, Germany, The Guardian, December 8, 2016

Daniel Barenboim has called it an “experiment in utopia”, a project that marks the culmination of the leading musician and conductor’s life’s work in bringing together musicians from the Middle East.

The Barenboim-Said Academy, which opened on Thursday evening in Berlin, will offer 90 talented students from the Middle East the chance to study classical music under the maestro himself as well as a raft of other top musicians and composers.

Housed in the former sets and props depot of Berlin’s Staatsoper (state opera), the academy – which is being largely funded by the German government, including students’ tuition fees and accommodation – will aim to nurture new recruits for 74-year-old Barenboim’s acclaimed West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which for the past 17 years has brought together musicians from across the region and is now considered world class.

Barenboim, the artistic director of the Staatsoper next door, said that just as with the orchestra, the academy was inspired by conversations he had had with his friend, the late American-Palestinian professor of literature Edward Said.

“The academy is an attempt at creating peace through the means of music,” said Barenboim, who holds Argentinian, Israeli and Palestinian citizenships. “But it is not a political project, it’s a humanistic project.

“Here we hope the young musicians will find a protected place far from the everyday of war and crisis. The students should not only learn to become professional musicians but also to become ambassadors of peace.”

Barenboim and Said’s joint vision had been for the academy to be built in the Middle East. “It should have been founded in Tel Aviv, Damascus or Ramallah. But because we cannot have it in those places, here at least the musicians can meet in a place that evens out the differences, at eye level.”

For now the aim is to give the students a chance to develop their musical skills and encourage dialogue between them. The academy’s unique four-year bachelor of music programme offers accredited degrees in all orchestral instruments, piano, conducting and composition. As well as courses in ear training, music history and physiotherapy (for repetitive strain injuries typically suffered by musicians), a quarter of the degree involves a humanities component, comprising courses in philosophy, ethics, history and literature.

The academy has also reached out to musicians who arrived in Germany from Syria as refugees, with five enrolled in a preparatory scheme where exceptional students can be promoted to the degree programme.

Next to the academy is its €35.1m (£29.6m) concert hall – designed by the American architect Frank Gehry and the Japanese acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, both of whom waived their fees for the project. Due to be inaugurated in March 2017, it has been named after the late composer and conductor Pierre Boulez.

Gehry said during a recent visit to Berlin that he had become involved in the project after meeting Barenboim, and out of a conviction that the arts offered “an understanding of humanity that transcends all rhetoric”. He recalled showing a model of the concert hall to Boulez two months before he died. “It became a very important thing for him at the end of his life,” Gehry said.

Gehry’s ellipsis-shaped hall appears to be suspended in mid-air, with a stage made of Canadian cedar, whose vibrations have been compared to the sounds of a Stradivarius and which are meant to enhance the musical experience. A sense of intimacy has been created by ensuring that no audience member is more than 14 metres away from the conductor.

As the academy’s foyer buzzed on Thursday afternoon with the sound of musicians tuning up and conversing in a mix of languages – from German to Arabic and Urdu to Farsi – several of the students reflected on what being a part of the school, which started teaching last year, meant to them.

Yamen Saadi, a 19-year-old violinist from Nazareth who started his course in October, said he first met Barenboim when he was 10, when he told him it was his dream to join the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

“Here I can express my thoughts and I have started to have Israeli friends,” he said. “What I’ve learned so far is to play music better, how to think better and how to become an all-round better musician, I have improved my ability to analyse.”

Viola player Sadra Fayyaz, 24, from Tehran, said he was relieved that the focus was on the learning and not the politics. He said: “We don’t discuss the political situation. We’re beyond that. Maybe do we so at home, but in the school it’s all about learning.”

Miri Saadon, 29, a clarinettist from Israel who completed the pilot scheme, said she had learned the importance of putting the music into context. “It’s crucial for all of us I think, to be able to consider not only the music we play but to look at it in a broader way, at life in general,” she said. “Here our understanding about everything becomes a lot deeper.”

The academy’s location just off Bebelplatz – the site of the 1933 book burning – underscores the sense of historical responsibility felt by the Berlin government, which added to the federal government’s extensive support by giving a grant towards the academy’s maintenance as well as gifting it the 99-year-lease of the building in which it is housed.

Barenboim said: “As a Jew, I would not be able to live in Berlin if I did not have the feeling that the German people had come to terms with their past. As for the government’s generosity towards the school, I have to say I lived for 15 years in London where none of the politicians had much interest in the musical life. In Germany, Mrs Merkel … and her finance minister [Wolfgang Schäuble], and other top politicians, regularly come to classical concerts. And we are grateful that they clearly saw this academy as fitting in with their wider idea of what culture means.”

Why Rock Star Greg Lake Will Be Remembered Beyond Emerson, Lake and Palmer

The progressive rocker, who died Wednesday at 69, was sometimes prickly but had a deep well of empathy for others

by Richard Stellar (Hollyblogs), The Wrap, December 8, 2016

I still wince when I recall how one of my rock gods cursed at me when I made the mistake of calling him directly for a quote on a story I was working on — back when I should not have been writing stories about anyone.

Greg Lake, who died Wednesday of cancer at age 69, had a distinctive temper that was a thin protective veneer shielding this sensitive man from the world.

As one third of progressive rock super-trio Emerson, Lake and Palmer,  his signature baritone was a bridge between the listener and what was to become the progressive rock movement. Backed by the late Keith Emerson and percussionist Carl Palmer, Lake’s voice would on one song lull the listener into a somnambulistic zone of quiet romanticism — and on the next track disembowel the senses with a battle cry that was a harbinger for the times.

There are many biographies out there on Greg. He was a founding member of King Crimson and along with Robert Fripp and Peter Sinfield was responsible for landmark albums like “In the Court of the Crimson King” and songs like “20th Century Schizoid Man.”

However, it is what he accomplished with Emerson, Lake and Palmer that will be how Lake is remembered. In ELP’s “Battlefield” from the Tarkus album, he wrote, “Confusion will be my epitath.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Lake was focused on staying relevant in an industry that all but forgot great songwriting. With then-manager Bruce Pilato, Greg Lake would hit the road and perform — sometimes with his old bandmates, and sometimes without. It was his solo appearances that connected him to his audience. Greg was like us. The years molded him as the years molded us. When Greg took the stage, we would see ourselves. The years, maybe not so kind to Greg — but his voice, that voice — was familiar and safe. When Greg sang ‘Watching Over You’, it was like he was watching over us.

Greg’s penchant for empathy was how I hope he’s remembered. Since 1994, Lake has worked tirelessly for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. After seeing a segment of “America’s Most Wanted” episode on the abduction and murder of 12-year-old Sara Ann Wood, Greg wrote the song “Daddy” which became the anthem for the organization. Greg has toured on behalf of abducted children and raised well over $100,000.

Greg’s outrage at animal cruelty was voiced in this statement, that inspired many fans to become involved in working with foundations that supported the rights of all sentient beings. “Human cruelty towards animals is the most base form of human behavior and often the precursor to acts of cruelty and violence towards other human beings,” he wrote.

My own experience with Greg didn’t end with that early encounter telling me to “F— off.” I connected with him again a couple of years ago on a promotional assignment, and after reminding him who I was and of our encounter, he laughed heartily and we had a great conversation that led to his involvement in a situation of an old college roommate of mine who had suffered a debilitating stroke.

The world will miss Greg Lake.