Anhar Kochneva: ''The second Palmyra capture, as well as the first one, was the result of betrayal and incompetence''

What has remained after the twice ceded Syrian city to the terrorists and who is to blame? A point of view from the Middle East

Anhar Kochneva: ''The second Palmyra capture, as well as the first one, was the result of betrayal and incompetence''

There have been disturbing messages from Syrian Palmyra again: in the twice captured ancient city by the fighters the terrorists are destroying the monuments that they had not destroyed before. A columnist of Realnoe Vremya Anhar Kochneva, who has visited this city-museum dozens of times and taken tourists there, in her new newspaper column explains what Palmyra looked in days past and what has left of it. She also shares her thoughts with our readers why this place was so quickly ceded to the rebels and how to return it under the rule of Damascus.

''I have been in Palmyra nearly 40 times''

Oh, I wish I'd never written this text… Back in May, I was happy that the theater and tetrapylon were safe — they were mined, but they just didn't have the time to blow them up… I have been in Palmyra for nearly 40 times. For the first time in October 1999. The last time — on the eve of New 2012 Year. Together with a small group of tourists (probably, there were one of the last tourists in Palmyra), we were about to get into troubles. It was Friday, a day off. The day, when the ''protesters'' became active, who shot for Al-Jazeera a video with a simulation of a civil unrest. A bunch of teenagers (among them there were noticed adults) climbed over the ancient walls of the blown up 4 years later ancient temple and were actively posing against the backdrop of the ruins with the flags of the French occupation of Syria times.

We didn't want to be found by chance by jackals who were crushing everything in the city (hotels, shops, etc. were forced to close and to obstruct the entrances with concrete blocks). We scratched at the door, and a ticket collector who barricaded himself in his room helped us to leave the dangerous place.

Later, I wanted to go to Palmyra several times. But it did not happen: despite the fact that the city was under the control of the Syrian army, the road there (230 km from Damascus through the desert) were extremely unsafe. Every morning in front of a column with cars and buses in the direction of Palmyra and from there there was a car with bomb disposal engineers: fighters did night raids and mined the road. But they could sneak up and fire at vehicles traveling on the road. So, my friends-military highly recommended me not to go there. And it did not happen.

Back in May, I was happy that the theater and tetrapylon were safe — they were mined, but they just didn't have the time to blow them up…

The city destroyed by barmaleys

And then it was captured by ISIS (ISIS — an organization banned in Russia — editor's note). The neighbour, who have relatives on the maternal side living there, could barely reach the captured the city by phone, he told about mass executions (in the first days there were killed more than 700 people) and the new ''orders''. On one of these days he found out that barmaleys ripped in half one of his cousins by tying the legs to the aimed in different directions vehicles.

In brief, fun reigned in the city. The bandits arranged executions in the ancient theatre and mined other objects of the archaeological park, threatening to blow them up in case of proximity to the city of the army. The barmaley still destroyed several objects (taking everything that they subsequently sold through Turkey to Europe). The world has lost the unique triumphal arch (the building was built with the effect of optical illusion, visually transforming converging at an obtuse angle two streets in a line). Unique funerary towers (once there were many, but only three survived in a good condition).

They blew up two churches: the tiny Temple of Baalshamin and the main temple of the city — the Temple of Bel (it was unique because the ancient temple was built with a number of not typical for Classical antiquity local ancient Semitic oddities). As a result of these barbaric acts, Palmyra, which literally was hovering over hiding it for 17 centuries sand, wilted, once again hugging the ground.

After the city was liberated by the Syrian army in the spring of 2016, a number of foreign restorers visited Palmyra. Having assessed the tremendous damage, they developed an action plan for restoration of what once was still possible to recover albeit not to the original state but at least to recreate using miraculously survived authentic fragments. Something was going to be restored by the Czechs, something by the Italians, the restorers from the Hermitage were also going to restore.

They blew up two churches: the tiny Temple of Baalshamin and the main temple of the city — the Temple of Bel

Betrayal and incompetence

The second capture of the city, as well as the first one, most likely was the result of what I have said and I will say it again and again — betrayal and incompetence. Some people are writing to me in different forums that supposedly the city was defended by some 4000 Syrian soldiers. Where have they got these figures? I know rough numbers of forces that are fighting in Syria and how many forces are blocking the militants in the occupied enclaves. Believe me, there are no even a thousand of them! In 2013, when in the Crusader castle Krak des Chevaliers there were fighters, ready at any moment to come down to the Christian towns, not many defenders of these settlements had even a gun…

I know most of the soldiers who were holding the blockade of Old Homs in person. This is not a war from a movie where someone is constantly attacking and sitting in the trenches, fighting back. There is the line of contact (in Palmyra it was not, in fact, the city just ended and the desert started) where people on duty sit. A fairly small contingent of military plus local militia, who from the fact that they have in their hands weapons, did not automatically learned how to fight.

There are many calls in different forums to ''declare mobilization''. Dear comrades: in a civil war, where in one family three siblings can have three opposing political orientation, there cannot be any general mobilization by definition. Because there is a chance to take an agent of his enemy in the service. Given the fact how much money ISIS has, as well as that someone's relatives may be held hostage to manipulate and receive strategic information, the theme of double agents in the notorious case of mobilization will only become more acute. It is a dubious pleasure to mobilize cannon fodder, who are not able to fight.

There is only one way out: to increase the efficiency of existing troops. To arrange minefields and impregnable fortifications. Day and night ''to train'' soldiers, to do their physical training. To feed the soldiers better, after all (my stepson who died two years ago in the battle with ISIS under Deir ez-Zor told that he ate no meat at all more than a year and asked us to send him oil for a tank!!!). The city, despite the support of the Russian and Syrian air forces, was again ceded in less than two days. In other words, since the first occupation of the city they have not made any conclusions.

Syria has an excellent example of effective officer in all terms — Brigadier General Isam Zahreddin. He and a small military contigent have been successfully restraining the aerodrome in Deir ez-Zor for three years, while ISIS is constantly attacking

Who, if not Russia?

The death of people adrift in a captured by the barmaleys city (it is fortunate that a few returned), the loss of the masterpieces of ancient history and, at the same time, the destruction by the bandits of equipment of gas fields, which are now the reason of power outages in Syria in some settlements for 18 hours a day — the result of connivance, corruption, imitation of feverish activity on the part of some Syrian officials. And the leadership of Russia, which with perseverance is ignoring the signals about the need to raise the issue of ''purges'' and reforms.

Moreover, Syria has an excellent example of an effective officer in all terms — Brigadier General Isam Zahreddin. He and a small military contingent have been successfully restraining the aerodrome in Deir ez-Zor for three years, while ISIS is constantly attacking. Cut from the other part of Syria and receiving food and ammunition dropped to the aerodrome by helicopters, the guys are effectively protecting the entrusted site. In 2012, I worked with them in the area of Damascus: then they successfully took over quite many settlements from the Free Syrian Army, which were given back to militias by other people.

Syria has not illustratively punished any ineffective or incompetent functionary that harmed the country yet. Even those two whose dismissal was required in the first anti-governmental demonstrations in 2011 feel fine and are at liberty. Syrians tell they need to make reforms that the country needs by getting rid of those people who entered it through the buddy system, not thanks to their knowledge and skills. Then the army will become effective, and the economy will be saved. And only Russia is able to push the Syrian president to make long-awaited and important reforms today, but it doesn't want to do it.

Who, if not Russia?

Anhar Kochneva. Photo: by the author