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Russian orchestra's memorial for Syrian artefacts, not human lives

Conductor Valery Gergiev led Saint Petersburg's Mariinsky orchestra in Palmyra on Thursday [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 May, 2016

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As scores of civilians, including children, are killed and wounded across Syria, Russian musicians staged a classical concert in Palmyra in remembrance of its destroyed culture.

On Thursday, airstrikes hit a refugee camp in Syria's Idlib, killing scores of civilians who had attempted to find a safe refuge after fleeing ongoing fighting.

On the same day, Russian musicians staged a classical concert at the ancient theatre of Palmyra as a "sign of gratitude, of remembrance, of hope". 

"Thank you for today's amazing humanitarian act," said Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose air force is pounding Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad.

The performance - entitled A Prayer for Palmyra - was intended to send a message that Russia's presence in Syria would bring hope and stability.

The very Russia that has destroyed at least 27 medical facilities, hit residential areas and schools, has used cluster and napalm bombs and is responsible for the deaths of at least 1,400 people.

Conductor Valery Gergiev led Saint Petersburg's Mariinsky orchestra through pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Sergei Prokofiev and Rodion Shchedrin in front of a crowd of Russian soldiers, government ministers and journalists.

And as strains of the symphony echoed through the Roman amphitheatre - the war raged on elsewhere.

Images posted on social media of the aftermath of the airstrike that tore through the Sarmada camp in rebel-held territory close to the border with Turkey, showed tents burned to the ground, charred bodies, and bloodied women and children being loaded onto a pickup truck.

The footage of burnt corpses and desperate men pouring buckets of water to try to douse the flames was in stark contrast to the concert, its upbeat tone at variance with the brutality of violence. 

A double-suicide bombing in central Homs province, meanwhile, killed at least 10 civilians, and a fierce rebel assault on a government position in the north overshadowed a shaky ceasefire imposed over the city of Aleppo, where nearly two weeks of violence has killed at least 200 civilians.

Where was their prayer? Where is their sign of gratitude, their remembrance, their sign of hope? 

Yes, the Palmyra battle was an important one. 

The world-famous UNESCO archaeological site was badly damaged by Islamic State group militants, who held Palmyra for 10 months before Syrian forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, retook it in March.

But there are still many battles that need to be won in Syria before any form of celebration - the biggest one being the complete end to the war now in its sixth year.

Sadly, it seems in current circumstances, the loss of artefacts are far more important than the loss of innocent human beings.

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