Khaled al-Asaad

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Khaled al-Asaad
Khaled al-Asaad in 2002
Khaled Mohamad al-Asaad

1 January 1932[1]
Died18 August 2015 (aged 83)
Palmyra, Syria
Cause of deathMurder by beheading
Alma materUniversity of Damascus
Known forHead of antiquities in Palmyra

Khaled Mohamad al-Asaad (Arabic: خالد الأسعد, Arabic pronunciation: [ɐlʔæsʕæd], January 1932 – 18 August 2015) was a Syrian archaeologist and the head of antiquities at the ancient city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. He held this position for over forty years.[6] Al-Asaad was publicly beheaded by the Islamic State on 18 August 2015, at the age of 83.[6]

Early life, education, and family[edit]

Al-Asaad was born in 1932 in Palmyra, where he spent most of his life.[7] He held a diploma in history and was educated at the University of Damascus.[8] Al-Asaad was the father of six sons and five daughters, one of whom was named Zenobia after the well-known Palmyrene queen.[8]



During his career, Al-Asaad engaged in the excavations and restoration of Palmyra. He became the principal custodian of the Palmyra site in 1963, a position he held for forty years.[9] His own expeditions focused on the late third-century ramparts of Palmyra,[10] and worked with American, Polish, German, French, and Swiss archaeological missions. His achievement is the elevation of Palmyra to a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[8] He was also fluent in Aramaic and regularly translated texts until 2011.[6]

From 1974 onward, Al-Asaad organised exhibitions of Palmyran antiques.[11]

When he retired in 2003, his son Walid took over his work at Palmyra. They both were reportedly detained by the Islamic State in August 2015 – Walid survived.[12][13]


It is believed that he joined the Syrian Ba'ath Party around 1954.[8] However, it is unclear whether he was an active supporter of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.[13] According to The Economist, some have claimed he was a "staunch supporter" of Assad.[14]


Memorial for Khaled al-Asaad in Italy

In May 2015, Tadmur (the modern city of Palmyra) and the adjacent ancient city of Palmyra came under the control of the Islamic State.

Al-Asaad helped evacuate the city museum prior to the Islamic State's takeover,[8] but was himself captured by the terrorist organisation. The Islamic State then tortured Al-Asaad in an attempt to discover the location of the ancient artifacts that he helped hide.[15][16] He was murdered in Tadmur on 18 August 2015 at the age of eighty-three.[17]

The New York Times reported:

After detaining him for weeks, the jihadists dragged him on Tuesday to a public square where a masked swordsman cut off his head in front of a crowd, Mr. Asaad's relatives said. His blood-soaked body was then suspended with red twine by its wrists from a traffic light, his head resting on the ground between his feet, his glasses still on, according to a photo distributed on social media by Islamic State supporters.[18]

Following al-Asaad's death, the Islamic State hanged a placard on his corpse listing his alleged "crimes": being an "apostate", representing Syria at "infidel conferences", serving as "the director of idolatry" in Palmyra, visiting "Heretic Iran", and communicating with "a brother in the Syrian security services".[18]

His body was reportedly displayed in the new section of Palmyra (Tadmur) and then in the ancient section, the treasures of which the Islamic State had already demolished.[16][18][19][20][21]

In February 2021, Syrian state sources reported the discovery of al-Asaad's body in the countryside 10 km east of Palmyra.[22]

Along with al-Asaad, Qassem Abdullah Yehya, the deputy director of the DGAM Laboratories, also protected the Palmyra site, and was murdered by the Islamic State while on duty on 12 August 2015. He was thirty-seven years old.[23]


  • The Chief of Syrian Antiquities, Maamoun Abdulkarim, condemned al-Asaad's death, calling him "a scholar who gave such memorable services to the place Palmyra and to history". He called al-Asaad's killers a "bad omen on Palmyra".[21]
  • Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, announced that the flags of all Italian museums would be flown at half-mast in honor of al-Asaad.[24][25]
  • UNESCO and its general director Irina Bokova condemned al-Asaad's murder, saying "They killed him because he would not betray his deep commitment to Palmyra. Here is where he dedicated his life."[26]
  • The United Kingdom and France released statements condemning the murder and destruction at Palmyra.[27][28]
  • The Aligarh Historians Society said: "Civilized people, irrespective of country or religion, must unite in their support for all political and military measures designed to achieve this end, especially those being made by the governments of Syria and Iraq."[29]
  • Persian-American poet Kaveh Akbar published the poem "Palmyra" in response to al-Asaad's death. The poem's dedication reads "after Khaled al-Asaad".[30]

Honours and medals[edit]

Syrian honors[edit]

Foreign honors[edit]


  • A 2019 film titled Dam al Nakhl (Blood of the Palm Trees) portrays al-Asaad's brave resistance against the Islamic State.[34]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Asaad, Khaled (1980). Nouvelles découvertes archéologiques en Syrie [New archaeological discoveries in Syria] (in French). Damascus: Direction générale des antiquités et des musées. OCLC 602249622.; 2nd edition 1990.
  • Asaad, Khaled; Bounni, Adnan (1984). Palmyra. Geschichte, Denkmäler, Museum (in German). Damascus: Direction générale des antiquités et des musées.
  • Gawlikowski, Michael; Asaad, Khaled (1995). Palmyra and the Aramaeans. ARAM periodical. Vol. 7. Oxford: The ARAM Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Studies. OCLC 68075497.
  • Asaad, Khaled (1995). "Restoration Work at Palmyra". ARAM Periodical. 7 (1): 9–17. doi:10.2143/ARAM.7.1.2002213. OCLC 4632456923.
  • Asaad, Khaled; Yon, Jean-Baptiste (2001), Inscriptions de Palmyre. Promenades épigraphiques dans la ville antique de Palmyre (= Guides archéologiques de l'Institut Français d'Archéologie du Proche-Orient Bd. 3). Institut Français d'Archéologie du Proche-Orient, Beirut 2001; ISBN 2-912738-12-1.
  • Asaad, Khaled; Schmidt-Colinet, Andreas (eds) (2013), Palmyras Reichtum durch weltweiten Handel. Archäologische Untersuchungen im Bereich der hellenistischen Stadt. 2 vols. Holzhausen, Vienna 2013; ISBN 978-3-902868-63-3, ISBN 978-3-902868-64-0.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hubbard, Ben (19 August 2015). "Syrian Expert Who Shielded Palmyra Antiquities Meets a Grisly Death at ISIS' Hands". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  2. ^ "Profile: Khaled al-Asaad". BBC News. 19 August 2015. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  3. ^ "President Al-Assad Grants Archeologist Khaled al-Asaa'd Syrian Order of Merit of Excellent Degree". 3 September 2015. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
  4. ^ a b c The martyr of Palmyra Khaled Al Asaad (PDF). International Council on Monuments and Sites. 2016. p. 13.
  5. ^ "داعش يذبح أهم شخصية للآن ويعلقه على عمود بالطريق - منوعات". Archived from the original on 3 October 2015. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
  6. ^ a b c "Syrian archaeologist 'killed in Palmyra' by IS militants". BBC News. 19 August 2015. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  7. ^ "Khaled al-Asaad: Authority on the antiquities of the Syrian city of Palmyra who was devoted to studying and protecting its treasures". The Independent. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d e Davies, Caroline (19 August 2015). "Khaled al-Asaad profile: the Howard Carter of Palmyra". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  9. ^ Paraszczuk, Joanna (24 August 2015). "ISIS Killed Khalid al-Assad for Refusing to Betray Palmyra". The Atlantic. Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  10. ^ "Khaled al-Asaad obituary". Telegraph. 2 September 2015. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  11. ^ Pierre Leriche. "Khaled al-Asaad, the martyr of Palmyra". The Conversation. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  12. ^ [user-generated source]
  13. ^ a b "Profile: Khaled al-Asaad, Syria's 'Mr Palmyra'". BBC. 19 August 2015. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  14. ^ "Islamic State and antiquities: Nothing is sacred". The Economist. 22 August 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  15. ^ "Isis beheads Palmyra scholar and hangs him from ruins he spent his life restoring". The Independent. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  16. ^ a b Aji, Albert; Mroue, Bassem (19 August 2015). "Islamic State beheads Syrian antiquities scholar in ancient town of Palmyra". U.S. News & World Report. Associated Press. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  17. ^ Domingo, Plácido (December 2016). "End the International Destruction of Cultural Heritage". Vigilo (48). Din l-Art Ħelwa: National Trust of Malta: 30–31. ISSN 1026-132X.
  18. ^ a b c Hubbard, Ben (19 August 2015). "Shielding Syrian Antiquities, to a Grisly Death at ISIS' Hands". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  19. ^ Islamic State militants behead archaeologist in Palmyra – Syrian official, Reuters, 18 August 2015.
  20. ^ IS tötet früheren Chef-Archäologen von Palmyra,, 19 August 2015.(in German)
  21. ^ a b "Beheaded Syrian scholar refused to lead Isis to hidden Palmyra antiquities". The Guardian. 19 August 2015.
  22. ^ ruaa-jazaeri (7 February 2021). "Three corpses found east of Palmyra, one believed to be for archeologist martyr al-Asa'ad". Syrian Arab News Agency. Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  23. ^ "Article: Two more 'EverySyrian' heroes murdered while protecting our shared cultural heritage". OpEdNews. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  24. ^ "Italy's museums honour archaeologist murdered by Isil". Archived from the original on 22 August 2015. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  25. ^ "Franceschini: "Bandiere a mezz'asta nei musei italiani in memoria di Khaled Asaad"". Il Secolo XIX. 20 August 2015. Archived from the original on 25 August 2015. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  26. ^ "UNESCO condemns ISIS beheading of Palmyra archeologist". Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  27. ^ "FCO Minister Tobias Ellwood condemns ISIL's destruction of historic temple in Syria". GOV.UK. 24 August 2015. Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  28. ^ "France condemns Daesh's murder of Syria antiquities scholar". France in the United Kingdom - La France au Royaume-Uni. 19 August 2015. Archived from the original on 8 February 2021. Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  29. ^ "All civilised people must condemn murder of al-Asaad by IS: Aligarh Historians Society". The Times of India. 21 August 2015. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  30. ^ Segal, Corinne (21 December 2015). "Poet remembers the man who fought -- and died -- to save Palmyra". PBS NewsHour. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  31. ^ "Legislative decree on granting archeologist Khaled al-Asaad Syrian Order of Merit of excellent degree". Syrian Arab News Agency. 19 August 2015. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  32. ^ "داعش يذبح أهم شخصية للآن ويعلقه على عمود بالطريق – منوعات" (in Arabic). 19 August 2015. Archived from the original on 3 October 2015. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  33. ^ "Mattarella all'inaugurazione degli Arsenali "Pisa importante per il Paese"" (in Italian). Pisatoday. 17 October 2015. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  34. ^ "Anzour puts final touches to his film "The Blood of Palm"". Sana. 27 May 2019. Retrieved 12 September 2020.