Egypt Organizes an International Conference to Combat the Looting of Culture Heritage in the Arab World

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt intends to organize an international conference addressing the looting of culture and heritage of the Arab world in May, titled “Cultural Heritage under Threat” in Cairo. Several international organizations are participating, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). On Thursday, the Minister of Antiquities Mahmoud El-Damaty released a statement that the conference, held in cooperation between the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Antiquities, and with the participation of UNESCO, will invite several Arab countries, including Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

The Minister added that this well-timed conference is organized specifically to highlight the significant amount of destruction on irreplaceable identities and heritage of these countries. He said that the conference would discuss cooperative policies in various areas of archaeological work, particularly facing the looting and smuggling of antiquities.

He added that the conference seeks to come up with effective solutions that should be announced on the international level. The conference will also highlight the frameworks dealing with the cultural property markets- both licit and illicit.

Earlier on Thursday, El-Damaty met with Deborah Lehr, chair of the Antiquities Coalition, and Kate Seeley, vice president of the Middle East Institute, both in Washington DC.

Much of the cultural heritage, which includes ancient antiquities and monuments, have been subjected to looting, destruction, and theft during the past few years because of the lack of security and stability in several countries in the Arab region.

*The Antiquities Coalition and the Middle East Institute are also co-sponsors of the “Cultural Heritage under Threat” conference, as both organizations focus on the preservation of cultural heritage in the Arab world.


(original statement can be found in Arabic here)

ISIS Video Purports to Show Militants Smashing Ancient Iraq Artifacts

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ISIS Video Purports to Show Militants Smashing Ancient Iraq Artifacts
FEB 26 2015, 3:55 PM ET

ISIS released a video on Thursday purportedly showing militants using sledgehammers to smash ancient artifacts in northern Iraq, describing the relics as idols that must be removed. The destructions are apparently part of a campaign by the ISIS extremists who have destroyed a number of shrines — including Muslim holy sites — in order to eliminate what they view as heresy. They are also believed to have sold ancient artifacts on the black market in order to finance their bloody campaign across the region.

The video does not indicate where the destruction of the artifacts occurred aside from being in Nineveh Province, but Laith Alkhouri, director of MENA research and analysis at Flashpoint Global Partners, told NBC News he believes it took place at the Mosul Museum in northern Iraq. The five-minute video shows a group of bearded men inside the building using hammers and drills to destroy several large statues, which are then shown chipped and in pieces. The artifacts are Assyrian and date back to as early as the 7th century, Alkhouri said, including the statue of the Assyrian King Sargon, which appears destroyed in the video. The beginning of the video also shows what appears to be the burning of books or manuscripts or scripture. The video was posted on social media accounts affiliated with ISIS. NBC News has not independently verified that the antiquities in question have been destroyed.

The desecration is “an affront to any civilized person anywhere,” Peter Herdrich, co-founder of The Antiquities Coalition, told NBC News by email. “These objects are part of humanity’s shared cultural heritage and help to tell the story of all of us. Since they are irreplaceable, it’s impossible to put a value on them, so it is safe to say they are priceless.” In New York, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N.’s cultural agency, UNESCO, is examining the video. “The destruction of cultural heritage is reprehensible and criminal,” Dujarric said, adding that it robs current and future generations of their past.
PDF of article here

Egypt Takes the Lead to Combat Looting

The Antiquities Coalition commends the Egypt government’s leadership in the global fight against cultural racketeering – the systematic looting and trafficking of antiquities by criminal organizations or terrorist networks.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, previously Egyptian Ambassador to the United States – speaking at the Embassy in Washington, DC in 2011.
Photo Credit: The Capitol Archaeological Institute

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was in Washington the week of February 15 to build support for Egypt’s efforts to combat extremists.  In his discussions with the White House and the U.S. State Department, he stressed the importance of cutting off sources of funding to groups such as ISIL and al Qaeda, including from cultural racketeering.  These terrorist organizations, as well as organized criminals, are benefiting from the sale of looted antiquities, including those from treasured archaeological sites in Egypt.

Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, Momdouh el Damaty, in partnership with the Egyptian Foreign

Kate Seelye - Senior Vice President of the Middle East Institute, Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh el Damaty, and Deborah Lehr - Chairman, the Antiquities Coalition
(Left to right} Kate Seelye – Senior Vice President of the Middle East Institute, Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh el Damaty, and Deborah Lehr – Chairman, the Antiquities Coalition during recent trip to Cairo, February 2015. Photo Credit: Antiquities Coalition

Ministry, has mobilized their embassies in countries where demand is high for Middle Eastern antiquities. They are actively partnering with auction houses, internet companies and private collectors to stop the sale of looted antiquities. Egyptian artifacts have been seized as far afield as Belgium, Israel, Spain and the United States.  Christies and eBay, for example, have taken steps to ensure they are not sources of illicit antiquities.

In addition, Egypt is convening the countries of the Middle East to develop regional solutions to fight against these terrorist networks. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Antiquities, supported by the Antiquities Coalition and the Middle East Institute, will host a Cairo Summit in May to explore ways to halt terrorist financing though antiquities looting. This Summit will bring together nine countries of the region suffering from cultural racketeering – Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Lebanon, Jordan, and Libya – to join forces in the fight.

The Egyptian government is taking a proactive role in the fight against the cultural racketeers. Ministers Shoukry and el Damaty understand the complexity of the problem and are bringing the resources of two ministries to seek solutions.  Bringing together the combined resources of their government in this fight is an important model that we hope all the invited countries will emulate – as well as cooperating government to government to develop regional solutions that will stop this multi-billion dollar industry from putting money into the pockets of organized criminals, armed insurgents, and terrorists.