Sunday, June 5, 2011

Relics Ruined by Revolution?

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Will Mohmmar Gaddafi leave quietly, surrender or fight to the death? Will his family armed supporters and mercianry army give up or fight with him to the end?

When the revolution gets to Triopli, as it eventually will, the ancient castle fort that is the centerpiece of ancient Tripoli is the stage for Martyr's Square, which will be rallying point for all.

The old castle fort is also the home to the Tripoli museum, and contains thousands of ancient artifacts that date back four thousand years to pre-Roman eras. There are also dozens of ancient Greek, Carthidge ruins, a Roman Arch and theater that are all in danger of being destroyed if the upcoming battle of Tripoli gets out of hand.

Just as the Baghdad museum was plundered, and the Cairo museum was ransacked before the revolutionaries could secure it, Tripoli is in serious danger of losing one of its most precious national resources - its ancient archelogical heritage.

A petty tyrant hides behind the relics of a magnificent civilisation

Historian Bettany Hughes worries for the future of Leptis Magna, as Colonel Gaddafi moves his tanks among the treasures.

By Bettany Hughes

For the past four months I’ve been trying to access the ancient site of Leptis Magna, but geopolitics have rather got in the way. Seventy-five miles or so from Tripoli, Leptis has not seen any active conflict – yet. Still, it would have felt not a little self-indulgent for me to drift around the ancient monuments taking notes while all about was on fire.

Now I wish I’d travelled before the conflict began. Rebel forces in Libya reported this week that Colonel Gaddafi is using the site as an archaeological shield. Missiles, launchers and troops are, they say, snuggled among columns, corridors and archways. Nato forces – in Gaddafi’s reckoning – won’t bomb them, or his men. Clever. They won’t. But if Gaddafi is holding explosives in this World Heritage Site, a single stray cigarette butt could kick start a sequence that sends it all up in smoke.

The loss of Leptis would be unthinkable. Founded by Phoenician traders in the Bronze Age, the city-complex has been a theatre of power and pleasure, of indulgence and intellect for more than 3,000 years. It is one of the best-preserved ancient sites in the Mediterranean. Ruled by Carthage for centuries, the Romans quickly conquered it. Recent discoveries include an eye-wateringly exquisite series of Roman-period mosaics, where warriors hound animals and a spent gladiator lords it over the corpse of his sparring partner. It was a local boy, Septimius Severus, who in the 2nd century AD really made Leptis roar, rebuilding the forum and the port – as Roman emperor he promoted the city to the premier league. Leptis is a megalithic incarnation of this region’s high-octane, personality-driven history.

Fittingly, I heard the news that Gaddafi had rebranded Leptis as an arsenal at the end of a 26-hour journey back from north-east India, where I’d been investigating the Mahabodhi Temple. The 6th-century AD building marks the spot of the Buddha’s enlightenment, but is claimed by both Buddhists and Hindus as a sacred site, and is the source of much acrimony.
Archaeological sites become significant in times of turmoil. The most recent, shocking example of monumental muscle-flexing has been Iraq. Apart from the wartime looting of 4,000 treasures (now a feature of Egypt and Syria too; tomb-raiding pits are pock-marking the sands around sites like Giza), while still in power Saddam Hussein crudely reconstructed the monuments of Babylon.


Just as the original builder, King Nebuchadnezzar, had done 25 centuries before, he stamped bricks for the monument with: ''In the era of President Saddam Hussein, the protector of Great Iraq, reproducer of its awakening and the builder of its civilisation.’’

Fifteen years later, US forces positioned their camp over the ancient city, cutting across the foundations of the Tower of Babel. Stone and brickwork, pottery and human remains were bulldozed to dig anti-tank trenches. Despite their vandalism, US soldiers talked of the comfort of operating in the shadow of buildings that had endured millennia.

Gaddafi is playing an old game. While he might end up crushing his country’s treasures, he is also styling himself as their saviour by placing his arms in their midst. The Khmer Rouge resolved to destroy every last wicker-basket’s-worth of national culture, but left the giant palace complexes of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom to stand proud. The Taliban announced they were preserving the purity of Afghanistan by dynamiting the Buddhas of Bamiyan, two 6th‑century monumental statues.

Occupying the corridors of bygone power is even more sinister, more telling, than simply razing them to the ground. Last year I travelled to the steppes on the borders of Siberia and Kazakhstan, where a new Bronze Age civilisation is being discovered. At least 40 lost city-settlements are lying under the grasslands – and the startling thing is that they are all swastika shaped. The most fully excavated, Arkaim, has yielded pots and stonework also decorated with swastikas. There is a strong chance that this is the location of an early Aryan civilisation.

I found myself in extraordinary company there, with many trying to stake their claim to the discoveries, including Russian nationalists, a contingent of the reformed Cossack army plus a scattering of neo-fascist mystics. Russia’s Putin and Medvedev have been photographed at the digs. The appeal is clear. As one Cossack told me: “The Nazis were right to look for an Aryan master race, they were just searching in the wrong place. It is here. Arkaim shows the master race is us.”

Gaddafi’s move at Leptis is unavoidably totemic. The Colonel has the megalomaniac tendencies of the Roman emperors – so what better to afford him protection than the halls of Roman power?

Safeguarding remains such as Leptis is vital not just because of their aesthetic delights but because they remind us of the scale of mankind’s ambition – and of the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary folk who spent and lost their lives realising such monuments. The accumulated human back story of archaeological sites has great mass. It is why men like Gaddafi – who talk big but whose strength, in truth, is one man small – have a love-hate relationship with the triumphs of the past. They either try to hide behind them or wipe them out of existence.

Columns and lintels from Leptis Magna, given as a gift in the early 19th century to George IV, are an anachronistic decoration in our own Windsor Great Park. This weekend it is probably the safest place for them to be.

Bettany Hughes presents a special documentary about the site at Arkaim, 'Tracking the Aryans’, on BBC Radio 3 June 26 at 9.35pm

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi hides Grad missiles from NATO raids in the ruins of Leptis Magna

ONE of the greatest abandoned cities of the Ancient World is at risk of destruction after Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces took over the ruins of Leptis Magna as a base for operations, rebel leaders claimed yesterday .

Rebel commanders in the city of Misrata said that Libyan government troops had moved Grad rockets and munitions into the World Heritage Site, on the coast between Misrata and Tripoli, to avoid NATO bombing.

"We received information yesterday that Gaddafi's forces are hiding inside Leptis Magna," said Abu Mohammad, the overall commander of rebel forces for the nearby town of Zlitan.

The commander, who is based in Misrata, declined to give his full name because Zlitan is still largely under the control of Colonel Gaddafi's forces and fighters fear reprisals against their families.

Leptis Magna is one of the best preserved and most spectacular Roman ruins in the Mediterranean, with a theatre, baths, forums and numerous triumphal arches.

At its zenith, in 200BC, Leptis Magna was the third greatest Roman city in Africa after Alexandria and Carthage. It was also the birthplace of Emperor Lucius Septimus Severus.

Citing reports from a network of informants, the rebel commander claimed: "There are more than five Grad rocket-launcher trucks among the ruins. They are inside the old buildings because they know that NATO will never destroy the area."

BM21 Grad rocket-launchers fire up to 40 rockets from tubes mounted on the back of a vehicle and have been used to deadly effect over recent days against Misrata.

The commander added that some of the vehicles were covered in tree branches to camouflage them. The branches are regularly replaced to maintain their green colouring. Rebel leaders also claimed that munitions, including hundreds of Grad rockets, were being stored by government forces amid the ruins.

"It wouldn't be surprising if Gaddafi was storing missiles there," an alliance source said. "He is actively storing all sorts of military equipment at schools, next to hospitals and in mosques, anywhere where it would be embarrassing for NATO if we were to hit these targets."

Other rebel leaders reported that Gaddafi forces are using civilian areas to deter NATO air attacks. A commander named Ali, who cannot be named fully because his family remain in Zlitan, said: "In Zlitan there are government forces inside schools, the hospital and the summer camp."

Leptis Magna is 15 miles from Zlitan, which is the target of an expected rebel push in the coming days. The Grad missiles will be able to hit rebel forces up to 20 miles away. A spokesman for the rebels in Misrata confirmed yesterday that part of Zlitan was under rebel control after local people rose against the government.

"They are surrounded by government forces and they are in danger now," said Ibrahim al-Betalmal. It was reported that rebel fighters had advanced to within six miles of Zlitan yesterday as fighting continued along the front lines around Misrata.

A rebel spokesman said that their forces would seek to avoid damaging Leptis Magna. "This is not our mission, this is a mission for NATO," said Mr al-Betalmal.

"For now we are far from Leptis Magna, we have not yet captured Zlitan, but our fighters would not fight inside Leptis Magna because these are historical buildings."

Gaddafi plans retaliatory attacks if forced from leadership
From ANI

Tripoli, June 1: Retaliatory attacks are being plotted by the Libyan regime if Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is forced to quit as leader.

His government has handed out thousands of weapons to ordinary civilians, saying they would turn Libya into a "living hell" if NATO ground forces invade, The Telegraph reports.

He is also gathering a group of young members of his own tribe around him to make a last stand as defections and Nato bombing deplete his regular forces, the paper added.

Anti-Gaddafi activists fear they could unleash a wave of killings and revenge attacks if Gaddafi is forced out whether by western military might or negotiations.

"The reason why people are given guns now is because Gaddafi wants it to be chaos whether he is in power or out of power," said an activist living in Tripoli.

According to the paper, when NATO no-fly zone was imposed, Gaddafi said he was issuing a million guns to people across the country.

In the days afterwards, journalists were introduced to teenagers and young men proudly brandishing their new Kalashnikov assault rifles.

But the Tripoli activist said that the purpose of the distribution had since become clear. Families applying for weapons had to prove their pro-regime credentials, the paper said.

Those with identity cards showing they were from areas where there had been anti-Gaddafi demonstrations were automatically refused.

"It is another trick by the regime. They only give weapons to supporters. This is what worries us now," said the activist.

According to several residents, fighting has already broken out in some parts of the city, as the once ever-present plain-clothes police have now drained away, the paper reports.

By Simon Denyer, Published: June 5

TRIPOLI, Libya – Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim says he will personally pick up his AK-47 if he has to.

“When it comes down to it, we will all take our guns and Kalashnikovs and fight,” he said at a news conference last week. Moammar “Gaddafi’s departure is the worst-case scenario for Libya. If Gaddafi disappears for any reason, then the safety valve has disappeared and you will have a civil war.”

Government scare-mongering perhaps — but rhetoric that worries some business leaders from Libya and the West, who fear for the future of this divided and volatile North African country if Gaddafi no longer is in power.

Gaddafi’s government says it has distributed weapons to a million loyalists and is playing on ancient tribal rivalries to stoke fears of a takeover by people from eastern Libya.

“Our biggest problem even if Gaddafi goes will be the tribal conflicts, which will continue the fighting,” said an American energy executive who declined to be named to protect his investments in Libya. “For all of the companies waiting to resume operations in Libya, it looks like it will be a long wait. Even if the Gaddafi regime falls, the civil war in Libya will continue.”

Foreign businesses sometimes value stability above human rights, and many ordinary Libyans say that anything short of Gaddafi’s departure would be a betrayal after 41 years of repression at his hands. But the foreigners’ fears are shared by some Libyan business leaders, who say the West needs to do more to promote peace and dialogue instead of simply war.

“If Gaddafi leaves tomorrow, it will be blood, up to here,” said Abdulatif Teer, general manager of Saba Consulting & Engineering Services in Tripoli, pointing to his knees. “The international community should help us solve our problems peacefully, through dialogue. . . . We need an arrangement between all the Libyan people, and a transition period.”

One concern in many people’s minds is that the West has left little or no room for a face-saving exit for Libya’s “Brother Leader,” making it very likely the colonel will fight to the last bullet.

Indeed, last week Gaddafi turned down an offer from South African President Jacob Zuma to find him a safe haven in Africa, insisting he was determined to stay with his own people, CBS reported, citing an unnamed South African official.

“He is not a quitter, and his pride is more important than anything else,” said Pierre Bonnard, a business consultant who has been visiting Libya since 2003 and is now trying to promote a peaceful solution to the crisis on behalf of two French oil companies. “If you are imposing something from outside, he will never accept that.”

Talk peace, not war

The government’s propaganda machine has left many Gaddafi loyalists and western tribal leaders worried that a rebel victory would leave them at best sidelined and at worst dead.

So far, Western governments have done little to calm those fears.

“We need to talk a little bit more about peace and a little less about war,” said Noman Benotman, a former Libyan Islamist militant who renounced violence and is now an analyst with the Quillam Foundation, a London think-tank.

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