Today, St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater Orchestra performed on Palmyra’s 2,000-year-old Roman stage in a surreal scene among the desert ruins, which ISIS had used as an execution site. The orchestra played Bach and a symphony by Sergei Prokofiev to a crowd of Russian and Syrian soldiers and civilians, beneath a facade where the Roman Emperor Nero had once ordered a statue of himself placed.
The concert, titled “A Prayer for Palmyra,” was broadcast live by Russian state television. The concert’s conductor, Valery Gergiev, told the audience the concert was protesting “against barbarians who have destroyed monuments of world culture.”
After Palmyra was retaken, the Russian military de-mined the ruins, removing thousands of ISIS booby traps, according to the country’s defense ministry.
Moscow and the Syrian government have trumpeted Palmyra’s recapture as a symbol of how their campaign is rescuing civilization in Syria after five years of savage warfare. Today’s concert seemed intended to underscore that idea.
Monitoring groups estimate over 400,000 people have been killed in Syria since 2011, the great majority by forces loyal to Assad, many through indiscriminate barrel bombing and airstrikes. Leaked documents acquired by international rights groups have shown tens of thousands have been brutally tortured by Assad’s security services, beaten, suffocated, electrocuted, some with limbs drilled, their eyes gouged out.
Russia has been supporting Assad’s government with a ferocious air campaign targeting rebels, as well as with advisers on the ground. Russian aircraft in Syria have been accused by rights groups of indiscriminately bombing hospitals in rebel areas and causing hundreds of civilian casualties. Rebel groups last week blamed Russia for airstrikes on a hospital in Aleppo that killed at least 27 people.
Although Aleppo was quieter today, rebels reported shelling in villages near the city, according to The Associated Press. ISIS fighters, meanwhile, seized gas fields in the desert near Palmyra, the first advances by the group there since the city was retaken, Reuters reported.