Watch: Putin’s Conductor of Propaganda Plays a Show in Palmyra

Music is once again wafting through the ancient monuments in Palmyra, Syria.

epa04963902 (FILE) A file picture dated 12 November 2010 shows a general view of the historic site of the ancient city of Palmyra, central Syria. According to media reports on 05 October 2015, militants of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS or IS) have blown up Palmyra's ancient Arch of Triumph. Few months ago, the jihadist group blew up the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel, the Baalshamin Temple and some of the famed tower tombs in Palmyra, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site. Islamic State extremist militia, which controls large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, has been reportedly destroying building sites with no religious meaning, including the Arch of Triumph. Palmyra, some 240km (150 miles) northeast of Damascus, emerged to become a powerful state after the Romans took control, serving as a link between the ancient Orient and Mediterranean countries.  EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
epa04963902 (FILE) A file picture dated 12 November 2010 shows a general view of the historic site of the ancient city of Palmyra, central Syria. According to media reports on 05 October 2015, militants of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS or IS) have blown up Palmyra's ancient Arch of Triumph. Few months ago, the jihadist group blew up the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel, the Baalshamin Temple and some of the famed tower tombs in Palmyra, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site. Islamic State extremist militia, which controls large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, has been reportedly destroying building sites with no religious meaning, including the Arch of Triumph. Palmyra, some 240km (150 miles) northeast of Damascus, emerged to become a powerful state after the Romans took control, serving as a link between the ancient Orient and Mediterranean countries. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
epa04963902 (FILE) A file picture dated 12 November 2010 shows a general view of the historic site of the ancient city of Palmyra, central Syria. According to media reports on 05 October 2015, militants of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS or IS) have blown up Palmyra's ancient Arch of Triumph. Few months ago, the jihadist group blew up the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel, the Baalshamin Temple and some of the famed tower tombs in Palmyra, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site. Islamic State extremist militia, which controls large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, has been reportedly destroying building sites with no religious meaning, including the Arch of Triumph. Palmyra, some 240km (150 miles) northeast of Damascus, emerged to become a powerful state after the Romans took control, serving as a link between the ancient Orient and Mediterranean countries. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI

Russia wants the world to know that its robust military role in Syria is reintroducing beauty to the war-torn country.

In the ancient city of Palmyra, the contrast could not be greater: A month-and-a-half ago, before Syrian forces retook it with the help of Russian airpower, the Islamic State still reigned there, able to destroy invaluable Roman monuments and pre-Islamic artifacts on a whim.

Now, with the city back in the hands of government forces, the pro-Putin conductor Valery Gergiev is making hearts sing where they once wept. On a sunny Thursday afternoon, Gergiev led his St. Petersburg-based Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra in a concert remembering the sacrifice of a Russian special operator who called in an airstrike on his own location as the Islamic State surrounded it during the campaign to recapture Palymra. Gergiev played Bach and a cello piece by Soviet composer Rodion Shchedrin to an audience of Syrian and Russian soldiers.

Russia wants the world to know that its robust military role in Syria is reintroducing beauty to the war-torn country.

In the ancient city of Palmyra, the contrast could not be greater: A month-and-a-half ago, before Syrian forces retook it with the help of Russian airpower, the Islamic State still reigned there, able to destroy invaluable Roman monuments and pre-Islamic artifacts on a whim.

Now, with the city back in the hands of government forces, the pro-Putin conductor Valery Gergiev is making hearts sing where they once wept. On a sunny Thursday afternoon, Gergiev led his St. Petersburg-based Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra in a concert remembering the sacrifice of a Russian special operator who called in an airstrike on his own location as the Islamic State surrounded it during the campaign to recapture Palymra. Gergiev played Bach and a cello piece by Soviet composer Rodion Shchedrin to an audience of Syrian and Russian soldiers.

Last November, Islamic State militants chose the same Roman theater to make a dramatic show of executing Syrian teenagers. Gergiev is paid a reported $16.5 million per year to perform around the world — and dispense Kremlin propaganda with the beauty of music.

Watch the orchestral show below:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9b0hFIf4Zaw&w=560&h=315]

Photo credit: YOUSSEF BADAWI/EPA

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. Twitter: @HenryJohnsoon

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