Report: Turkish airstrikes destroy archaeological site of Brad in Syria’s Afrin

A bombardment by Turkish fighter jets has reportedly destroyed the archaeological site of Brad, which lies 15 kilometers south of the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin and has been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2011.

According to a report by the pro-Kurdish Fırat news agency on Saturday, the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums under the Syrian Arab Republic’s Ministry of Culture has stated that a Turkish military campaign targeted Syrian archaeological and religious sites after Turkish fighter jets bombarded the archaeological site of Brad.

The report said the Turkish airstrikes destroyed many important archaeological buildings including the Tomb of St. Maron, the patron saint of the Maronite sect, and the Julianus Church, which includes a mausoleum and is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world. The church is believed to have been built at the end of the fourth century. The sites also include many Byzantine churches and monasteries as well as a temple, a bath, a house and tombs dating to the Roman period in the second to third centuries CE.

Stating that this aggression came after the destruction of several archaeological sites in the Afrin region, including the Temple of Ain Dara, the location of the Prophet Hori (Qurosh) and Tal Jendyres, the report claimed that this indicates a systematic plan to eliminate the Syrian heritage and all elements of Syrian civilization.

The Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums has reportedly appealed to the relevant international organizations that have registered these sites on their lists to carry out their moral and humanitarian duty to condemn the continuing Turkish military aggression on the sites of Syria’s archaeological heritage and expose it to the world.

A French archaeological mission had discovered the tomb of St. Maron in the village of Brad in 2002, and from that time it was an attraction for tourists from all over the world. The Maronite community has also conducted a number of activities and rituals at this cultural and religious site.

It was previously claimed that the approximately 3,000-year-old Ishtar Temple in Ayn-Dara was also virtually destroyed by Turkish military bombardments. Former Director General of Antiquities and Museums Maamun Abdulkerim told AFP that this place represents one of the most beautiful aspects of Christian history. “Not even the Mongols did that,” he said, describing the recent attacks.

Meanwhile, the Turkish government has denied the reports claiming Turkish warplanes bombed the archaeological site of Brad on Saturday. Reports published on March 23 in the Lebanese media claimed that Turkish airstrikes destroyed the Julianus Church and the Brad Monastery in the ancient site of Brad near Afrin.

In a written statement Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy termed the reports “completely untrue,” the state-run Anadolu news agency reported. “No airstrike targeting the ancient site of Brad, the Julianus Church or the Brad Monastery has been carried out by the Turkish Armed Forces,” he added.

He claimed it could be easily proven that the Julianus Church was destroyed by armed groups in 2013. “Contrary to the claims, every kind of measure has been taken not to damage regional and cultural structures, historic artifacts and archeological sites since the start of the operation,” Aksoy said. The spokesman said Turkey had taken necessary steps to prove such reports were wrong.

Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to capture Afrin from People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants. On March 18, the Turkish armed forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) declared full control over the city. Turkey considers the YPG to be the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

A Turkish army source on Saturday said Ankara’s military and its Syrian rebel allies have gained “full control” of Syrian Kurdistan’s Afrin region. Reuters quoted a military source as saying that “the last remaining villages had been seized and control established overnight.”

“Control has been completely achieved in the Afrin region and search operations are continuing so that local people can return safely to their houses,” the Turkish army source added.

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