March 27, 2016

Fakhr-al-Din al-Ma'ani Castle and the Exigencies of War

Pre-Conflict Condition
Image Credit: Syrian Ministry of Tourism
The exigencies of war is oftentimes very unkind to mankind's cultural heritage, but especially so when its a historic battlement structure.  Fakhr-al-Din al-Ma'ani Castle, which sits on a high hill overlooking the UNESCO World Heritage Site of of Palmyra in Syria is thought to have been built by the Mamluks.

This newly-liberated castle gets its current name from the Lebanese Maanite Emir, Fakhr al-Din (1590 - 1635), who himself is believed to have occupied the castle strategically during wartime and having extended the present structure from an earlier castle which stood on the rocky outcropping, perhaps dating from the 12th century.

Fakhr al-Din used the castle for a military vantage point to defensively test the limits of Ottoman rule, having expanded his area of territorial control from Mount Lebanon to as far east as the deep Syrian desert. Things didn't turn out so well for al-Din either as he was ultimately captured and subsequently executed by the Ottomans in 1635.

In evaluating the impact of the the current conflict on Syria’s cultural heritage, especially the use of heritage with tactical value like the Fakhr-al-Din al-Ma'ani Castle, there is much to consider legally.

The term ‘armed conflict’ is context-dependent in that the criteria for determining the existence of an armed conflict differ according to whether the armed violence is one fought between two or more states.  An international armed conflict (IAC) is defined by criteria derived from Common Article 2 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions as being between one state and one or more organised non-state armed groups.  

A non-international armed conflict (NIAC) is defined by criteria derived from treaty law as well as key ad hoc tribunals.  The term is used when a situation of violence involves one or more organised non-state armed groups or between two or more such groups.  When a conflict is deemed to be a NIAC it triggers the application of the law of armed conflict (LOAC).  LOAC and international humanitarian law (IHL) are often used interchangeably.

Legal qualification of the armed violence in Syria: a non-international armed conflict (NIAC)

The extent and sustained nature of armed violence, and the level of organisation of the various non-state armed groups fighting against one another or the current Syrian governing authority, have defined the situation across Syria as an NIAC as an armed conflict of a non-international character as of 2012. (See the assessment made by the International Committee of the Red Cross --ICRC).

Under the Hague Convention, as an official state party to the Convention and the First Protocol, the Syrian government is obliged ‘respect’ cultural property in their or other territory. The Convention prohibits their targeting cultural property, unless it is of ‘imperative military necessity’, a term subject to differing interpretations.  When a site is exploited by non-State actors, in situations where those structures prove to be militarily strategic to the opposing force, state military actors are still obliged to take into consideration precisely what substantive content of international law does and does not apply if targeting the site during wartime.

The Second Protocol, which Syria is not a State Party to further elaborates the provisions of the Hague Convention relating to safeguarding of and respect for cultural property and the conduct of the military during hostilities.  Both the First and the Second Protocols lead to the question of applicability of customary international law, of other sources of international law and local law and what they require of waring parties.

The collection of images below show one example of how one heritage site, specifically one with battle attributes that are considered militarily valuable to waring factions, can become a cultural causality of war.

Whether that damage was ‘imperative military necessity’ is something that will be debated for years to come. 

Pre-Conflict Condition
Image Credit: Christophe Charon/AFP
Inside the structure there are several levels and numerous rooms.  The best (and also most vulnerable) Military vantage points are from from the highest terrace to the south.

Pre-Conflict Condition
Image Credit: Syrian Ministry of Tourism
Photo taken January 2011
Image Credit: @lucialessi
Post Conflict - Image Date March 26, 2016
Image Credit Syria DGAM
Post Conflict - Image Date March 26, 2016
Image Credit: Twitter User 

Post Conflict - Image Date March 26, 2016
Image Credit: Sham International
Images of the bridge, replacing the original drawbridge, which gives access over the moat to the castle gate.

2015 Image approaching Castle gate
Image Credit Da'esh
Post Conflict - Image Date March 26, 2016 I
Image Credit: Sham International
Post Conflict - Image Date March 25, 2016
Image Credit: Still from Drone Video Rossiya 24 TV


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