Seeking Common Ground: Digging for Answers


Heritage experts from government, academia and NGOs came together in Washington on April 17 at a workshop and public seminar to explore possible solutions to the critical issues surrounding protection of heritage in times of conflict. The conference, titled “Cultural Heritage: Conflict and Reconciliation” was held at the Smithsonian Castle and the Freer Gallery of Art and co-hosted by the Smithsonian and University of Chicago’s Cultural Policy Center.

The speakers identified concerns related to how best to work with the role of the military and law enforcement during times of conflict, how best to define the scope of illicit trafficking, and how best to coordinate among the three pillars of government, academia and NGOs in order to promote cooperation, not competition. While many of issues surfaced, no clear path was decided upon for moving forward and encouraging greater cooperation.

In the public portion of the program, David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group and Regent of the Smithsonian, moderated a distinguished panel including the event’s host, Smithsonian Under Secretary Richard Kurin, Mounir Bouchenaki, Director of the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage, Emily Rafferty, President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and George Papagiannis, the U.S. Representative of UNESCO.

The panelists all agree that the field is facing a crisis with the destruction and looting of heritage sites in the Middle East by extremists. And while action needs to be taken, it is a challenge even for major global organizations to help during times of active conflict. The discussion can be viewed here.

The interview was followed by a moderated discussion of the day’s themes that included Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, Maria Kouroupas, State Department Director of the Cultural Heritage Center, Patty Gerstenblith, Distinguished Professor of Law at DePaul University, Bill Ivey, former head of the National Endowment of the Arts and China Liaison for the American Folklore Society and Deborah Lehr, Chairman of the Antiquities Coalition. The moderator was Rob Albro, a Research Associate Professor at American University and Washington DC representative of the University of Chicago Cultural Policy Center.

The discussions focused on two key questions: is there a growing awareness of the need to protect heritage and how can we establish a better policy mechanism in the US to promote greater interagency cooperation and international outreach to address this growing challenge?

Overall, the discussants agreed that with the advent of extremism in the Middle East and the subsequent attacks against cultural heritage, there was increased awareness among policy makers internationally and the general public about antiquities looting, trafficking and destruction. There is still a need for those in the heritage field to come together to develop strategies of how best to support countries during times of crisis, and certainly how to execute those strategies.

The Antiquities Coalition (AC) was honored to be part of the overall discussion. Its themes provide an excellent foundation for an upcoming event hosted by the AC in Cairo. In cooperation with the Arab Republic of Egypt, The Middle East Institute, and UNESCO, the Antiquities Coalition will be co-hosting a conference in Cairo addressing “Culture Under Threat” May 13-14, 2015. You can find more information about the conference HERE. The Antiquities Coalition is dedicated to finding solutions to the threats of looting, trafficking and destruction that are facing cultural heritage today.

The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (H.R. 1493/ S. 1887)

DC - Capitol Building - Katie (2) (1)The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act—which was signed into law by President Obama on May 9, 2016—is a critical first step towards fulfilling the United States’ obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2199 and 2253. These resolutions were passed with unanimous support in 2015.

The legislation restricts the import of Syrian antiquities illegally removed from the country since March 15, 2011, building on restrictions in place for Iraqi antiquities since 2004. It additionally provides for additional measures to safeguard cultural heritage at risk from “political instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters.” Passage of this legislation signals the United States’ intention to take the lead in the global fight against cultural racketeering, while cutting off a major source of demand for illicit antiquities. In addition, the current legislation allows for the import of otherwise restricted Syrian antiquities for “protection purposes,” so long as doing so would not contribute to illicit trafficking or terrorist financing.

Read our Letter of Support for H.R. 1493/ S. 1887

IS looting provokes call for global response

BBC News header

IS looting provokes call for global response
By Jane O’Brien – BBC News, Washington
17 April 2015

Islamic State (IS) may have released images of destroying ancient artefacts, but sales of black market antiquities are likely benefitting the group
Islamic State (IS) may have released images of destroying ancient artefacts, but sales of black market antiquities are likely benefitting the group

Looting and destruction of artefacts from ancient sites is rampant across Islamic State-controlled areas in Iraq and Syria, and there’s little stopping traffickers from selling them to fund the militant group.

Authorities in New York this week have taken custody of more than $107m (£72m) worth of art thought to be looted from India and other parts of southern Asia.

The collection of 2,622 objects recovered from warehouses around the city is the biggest antiquities seizure in US history and is part of an investigation into an American art dealer awaiting trial in India.

The case is representative of how large-scale commercial looting is threatening cultural heritage around the world.

And experts say that laws to prevent the sale of stolen artefacts are wholly inadequate to deal with the crisis.

Looting satellite 1 - Credit BBC News


Looting holes now cover the ancient site of Dura-Europos in Syria (seen before in 2011, above) on the banks of the Euphrates (red circles indicate vehicles inside the site)
Looting holes now cover the ancient site of Dura-Europos in Syria (seen before in 2011, above) on the banks of the Euphrates (red circles indicate vehicles inside the site)

“The art market is very patient,” says Tess Davis of the Antiquities Coalition.

“We know that dealers and some collectors are willing to wait years or decades until public attention has looked the other way before trying to slide these things in and introduce them to the market.”

She studied looting patterns during Cambodia’s eight-year civil war and says there are similarities to the pillaging under way in Syria and Iraq.Tess Davis quote - BBC News

And she warns that trafficking may get even worse when the fighting stops.

“One of the big lessons we learned from Cambodia is that we have to be prepared for the post-conflict phase.

“As bad as the damage was during the war itself, once it was over, by no means did looting stop.”

She says the trafficking networks who established themselves during the war thrived in peace time.

“I think that is something we have to be very prepared for in Iraq and Syria.”

The illegal trade in Middle East is a major source of funding for Islamic State (IS), and pressure is mounting for a tougher global response.


A Sufi temple in Raqqa destroyed.
A Sufi temple in Raqqa destroyed.

Earlier this year the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling on countries to prohibit the trade in illegally removed cultural materials from Syria and Iraq.

And US lawmakers are looking at new measures to halt illegal imports to the US and stifle the flow of cash to IS.

But experts say the only way to prevent looting is to stigmatise the international market for antiquities – an approach that has helped animal rights organisations such as WildAid reduce poaching.

“As long as someone is willing to pay money for an antiquity and they don’t care what the cost is to the country or to the people who live there and they don’t care that their money will be supporting organised crime and perhaps terrorist organisations, there is going to be a trade,” Davis says.

“Much like the demand for ivory, looting has to stop with the market.”

Satellite images show that many historic sites in Syria are being ransacked almost daily. In the area surrounding the ancient ruins of Apamea, near Hama, looters dug more than 15,000 pits in one year.

“Apamea is famous, it’s a World Heritage Site and I expected it to be the focus of looters,” says Katharyn Hanson, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Cultural Heritage Center.

“But looting is also happening at sites that nobody has ever heard of, that don’t even have a name.”

How much has been stolen is impossible to tell because objects illegally removed from the ground aren’t documented. It could be decades before anybody even finds out they exist.


Katharyn Hanson in Iraq.
Katharyn Hanson in Iraq.

Patty Gerstenblith, professor of law at DePaul University, says it’s not enough to stop the object from reaching the market.

“You want to stop the whole smuggling enterprise and dismantle an international network of criminals who engage in money laundering and, we believe, support ISIS.

“That simply is not happening,” Gerstenblith says.

“Even if an object is recovered and returned, that’s a booby prize – it should be prevented from leaving the site in the first place.”

There are a number of treaties and laws aimed at protecting cultural heritage – including the 1954 Hague Convention which the US ratified in 2009.

The 1970 Unesco convention was the first international treaty against looting and a special provision for Iraq was made in 2003.

But such agreements are difficult to enforce in times of crisis while the Hague Convention applies only to artefacts that are listed as part of a museum collection or similar institution.


Satellite imagery shows the destruction of Nebi Yunis in Mosul, Iraq, in less than two weeks
Satellite imagery shows the destruction of Nebi Yunis in Mosul, Iraq, in less than two weeks

“The inability to respond quickly and effectively in situations that are true emergencies is definitely a major gap in the law,” says Gerstenblith.

In March, Islamic State destroyed Nimrud, one of the most famous archaeological sites in Iraq dating to the 13th Century BC.

Unesco branded the attack a war crime and issued fresh condemnation this week.

And the AAAS Geospatial Technologies Project recently released satellite imagery confirming that Nebi Yunis, the tomb of the Prophet Jonah in Mosul, Iraq, was obliterated by Islamic State last year.

The group attempts to justify the destruction of such sites on the grounds that they are idolatrous.

But in both Nimrud and Mosul, any artefact that could be sold was reportedly removed first.

PDF of article here

“Cultural Heritage: Conflict and Reconciliation” Smithsonian Webcast (VIDEO)

Smithsonian and CPC logoCPC logo

“Cultural Heritage: Conflict and Reconciliation” Smithsonian Webcast

Friday, April 17, 2015

2:00-3:00 p.m. Leadership Panel
3:00–4:00 p.m. Discussion Panel

Meyer Auditorium
Freer Gallery of Art
Smithsonian Institution
Washington D.C.

The Smithsonian Institution and the University of Chicago’s Cultural Policy Center will webcast live an afternoon event on the ways that cultural heritage is increasingly implicated in conflict and is also used to aid societal reconciliation and revitalization. This event will bring together academic, government, intergovernmental, civic and private sector leaders to discuss the global state-of-affairs for cultural heritage protection and promotion, and to consider forms of cooperation in research and professional practice around this increasingly important dimension of international affairs.

Leadership Panel, featuring:

Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

Mounir Bouchenaki, Director of the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage

Richard Kurin, Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture at the Smithsonian Institution

Emily Rafferty, President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Interviewed by David Rubenstein, Smithsonian Regent and University of Chicago Trustee and co-founder of the Carlyle Group

Discussion Panel, featuring:

Patty Gerstenblith, Distinguished Research Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Art, Museum and Cultural Heritage Law at DePaul University

Bill Ivey, China Liaison for the American Folklore Society

Maria Kouroupas, Director of the Cultural Heritage Center, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the U.S. Department of State

Deborah Lehr, Chairman of the Capitol Archaeological Institute at the George Washington University and Senior Fellow of the Paulson Institute at the University of Chicago

Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute and Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Chicago

Interviewed by Rob Albro, Associate Research Professor in the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies at American University

More Than Collateral Damage: The Systematic Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Yemen’s Civil War

Yemen map


The current fight for Yemen’s future comes at a very high price for its citizens. Yemenis are suffering loss of life, loss of their homes and possessions, and a systematic loss and destruction of their rich and unique heritage. The protection of human life takes first priority in times of conflict, but the loss of Yemen’s culture and history is far from collateral damage. It is an irreplaceable resource, integral to Yemenis and part of the story we all share. And the fate of Yemen’s sites, objects, landscapes, and folkways are under threat caused by all out civil war.

What is at Risk?

Yemen is a country with a rich heritage and background. Called Arabia Felix or Arabia Eudaimon by the Romans and Greeks, (that’s Happy Arabia in English), the flourishing cities of South Arabia are mentioned several times in the Bible Today the area is mainly known as the legendary land of the Queen of Sheba, known locally as Bilqis, and her capital at Marib. In the 1st millennium BCE, South Arabia became home to four major kingdoms (Saba, Ma’in, Hadramaut, and the Qataban). Most of these kingdoms were involved in the trade of incense and other spices, leading to legendary wealth. Archaeological fieldwork uncovered traces of much older civilizations as well.

The province of Marib northwest of Yemen’s capital Sanaa has a multitude of sites including the ancient city of Sirwah, but also other imposing temples, mosques and residential buildings. The great dam, al ‘Arem, is an engineering masterpiece, and is featured on local currency as a sign of construction and prosperity. Construction of the first Marib dam began around 750 BCE. In later times, the dam height was increased to 45 feet with walls of 25 feet. The dam was designed to divert water into channels, which allowed the irrigation of 25,000 acres. Yemeni heritage professionals, with contributions from German colleagues, have long collaborated in the preservation of sites in the Marib region.

Yemen’s magnificent cultural and natural patrimony includes entire villages, a large number of museums, mausoleums, castles, churches, mosques, libraries, parks, and both land and underwater heritage sites. Entire camel cemeteries from the first millennium BCE have been identified. There is an extremely wide array of sites and intangible and tangible heritage traditions in Yemen and the islands in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean (Socotra).

By 2014, Yemen had four UNESCO World Heritage sites, while ten more sites and regions have been on the tentative list since 2002. South Arabian architects and artists produced extraordinary temple architectures, bronze-work and alabaster statues. There are exceptional collections of manuscripts and Korans kept in museums and libraries, information on some of which has been compiled in the recent international collaborative Yemeni Manuscript Digitization Initiative (YMDI), and by European colleagues working in collaboration with Yemeni colleagues.

What’s Been Lost

During civil unrest in 1994, entire museums were emptied, showcases were broken and materials looted from Lahej/Hawta, Habilayn and the Wadi Beihan. Thousands of inscriptions, alabaster statues from graveyards and cemeteries, and manuscripts were sold into the black market by cultural racketeers.

A new heritage crisis developed after the toppling of Ali Abdullah Saleh, during the Arab Spring. A transitional period began in 2011 when citizens, particularly young people, protested on the streets against corruption and traditional political parties. In April 2012, Abdullah Awbal, then Yemeni Minister for Culture reported on looting and the illegal sales of cultural materials. Concerned officials have repeatedly stated that the country’s heritage is at risk of looting from specialized and highly trained groups, focused particularly on manuscripts and antiquities that can be easily moved. Limited local and international support and funding leads to a lack of security in some of the regional museums, as well as key heritage sites.

Many archaeological sites, especially prehistoric cemeteries, remain undiscovered or improperly documented, and are thus vulnerable. Losing more of the ornate sculptures that once adorned the sanctuaries and tomb complexes to further looting and trafficking would do irreparable harm to the future of South Arabia and to the loss of our common heritage.

The Situation Today

Interest in Yemeni antiquities and materials is in part due to the association of sites or personalities with biblical stories and Islamic traditions. The devastation of Yemen’s cultural heritage caused by the illicit trade in antiquities is among the most severe in the Arab-speaking world. Citizens driven by poverty and the interests of rich collectors destroy Yemen’s most valuable non-renewable resource.

With the advent of new conflict, Yemen’s cultural heritage is in grave danger. The combined crisis of a lack of security for heritage, a crippling economic situation and a battle for control of the country puts this region’s rich and unique history at severe risk. It is unfortunately following in the footsteps of other regions in the Middle East, including Iraq and Syria, where their precious heritage is being sold to the highest bidders in international markets. It is time for leaders in the region — and the international community — to come together protect Yemeni heritage in this time of crisis.

IS kassiert mit illegalem Kunsthandel wohl Millionen


IS kassiert mit illegalem Kunsthandel wohl Millionen

The IS destroyed unique cultural heritage of great Assyrian times, as this screenshot shows a video of the terrorist militia. Smaller art treasures are sold. Photo: Islamic State / dpa
Der IS zerstört einzigartige große Kulturgüter aus assyrischer Zeit, wie dieser Screenshot aus einem Video der Terrormiliz zeigt. Kleinere Kunstschätze werden verkauft. Foto: Islamic State / dpa

Die Extremisten der Terrormiliz Islamischer Staat (IS) zerstören vieles, was ihrer radikalen Ideologie widerspricht – auch einzigartige altorientalische Kulturgüter und Kunstschätze. Große Stücke werden zertrümmert, kleinere abtransportiert und verkauft.

Der IS nutzt organisierte Verbrechensnetzwerke, das Internet und Auktionshäuser, wie die US-Expertin Deborah Lehr erklärt. So habe die Terrormiliz schon viele Millionen eingenommen, schätzt die Gründerin des Verbands Antiquities Coalition, der die internationale Gemeinschaft dringend zum Handeln auffordert.

Wie groß ist das Ausmaß des illegalen Handels mit antiken Kunstwerken, den der IS betreibt?

Deborah Lehr: Es gibt leider so gut wie keine Statistiken, denn es handelt sich um einen Schwarzmarkt und es ist sehr schwer zu unterscheiden, was legal und was illegal ist. Aber alleine der legale Handel mit Antiquitäten aus Ländern, in denen der IS aktiv ist, bringt Milliardensummen ein.

Außerdem haben wir vor kurzem in Ägypten recherchiert und herausgefunden, dass seit der Revolution 2011 Stücke im Wert von drei Milliarden Dollar geplündert worden sind. Wenn man das vergleicht mit dem Irak und Syrien, wo es viel größere Zerstörungen und viel mehr Plünderungen gab, muss man glauben, dass die Zahlen dort noch viel höher sind.

Auch bei den Statistiken über den legalen Handel sehen wir starke Anstiege und das sagt schon sehr viel aus: Zwischen 2012 und 2013 ist das Importvolumen für Kunst und Antiquitäten aus der Türkei in die USA um rund 80 Prozent gestiegen, aus Ägypten um 56, aus Syrien um 134, aus dem Irak um 492 und aus dem Libanon um 58. Für diese fünf Länder liegt es jetzt zusammengerechnet bei 95,2 Millionen Dollar.

Was verkauft der IS und aus welchen Ländern?

Deborah Lehr image
US-Expertin Deborah Lehr. (Foto: dpa)

Deborah Lehr: Der IS benutzt Zerstörungen und Plünderungen als Mittel der Einschüchterung. Er geht gezielt gegen Kulturen vor, die ihrer Einschätzung nach ihrem Glauben widersprechen. Den Informationen zufolge, die wir aus unseren Quellen vor Ort bekommen, nehmen sie meist alles mit, was sich von diesen Kulturstätten wegschaffen lässt. Entweder plündern sie selbst oder rufen andere dazu auf. Größere Strukturen zerstören sie. Solche Plünderungen und Zerstörungen wurden schon aus Ägypten, dem Irak, Syrien, dem Jemen, Libyen, Mali und Tunesien gemeldet, es ist ein Problem in der gesamten Region. Uns besorgt nicht nur die Zerstörung der Kulturgüter, sondern auch der Aspekt der Einschüchterung, denn der ist ein Hinweis darauf, dass es hier um kulturelle Säuberung geht – und das wiederum ist ein Frühindikator für ethnische Säuberung.

Wie läuft der Handel ab?

Lehr:  Der IS schafft die Stücke über ein Netzwerk aus den Ländern, unseren Erkenntnissen nach häufig über die Türkei oder den Libanon. Dann geht es über organisierte Verbrechensnetzwerke, die sind überall auf der Welt sehr hoch entwickelt und verkaufen alles mögliche. Wenn diese Kanäle erstmal etabliert sind, kann man darüber alles laufen lassen – Drogen, Waffen, Menschen, oder eben Antiquitäten. Im Fall von Ägypten wurden kleinere Stücke über Ebay verkauft, größere über Auktionshäuser. Bei Syrien sehen wir, dass es einen großen Internetmarkt über Fotos und E-Mails gibt. Die einzelnen Stücke kosten bis zu einer Million Dollar oder sogar noch mehr.

Wer kauft solche Antiquitäten?

Lehr: Es gibt eine große Nachfrage in Europa, den Vereinigten Staaten – dem größten Markt für legale Antiquitäten – den Golf-Staaten, Japan und China.

Wie kann dagegen vorgegangen werden?

Lehr: Es muss gemeinsame Anstrengungen geben. Wir unterstützen, dass die Unesco die Vorgänge als “Kriegsverbrechen” einstuft und dass der Internationale Strafgerichtshof dagegen vorgeht. Der UN-Sicherheitsrat hat eine Resolution verabschiedet, die alle Länder auffordert, ihre Grenzen für syrische Antiquitäten zu schließen. Wir fordern, dass dieses Verbot auf alle betroffenen Länder in der Region ausgeweitet wird. Außerdem organisieren wir gemeinsam mit der Unesco, der ägyptischen Regierung und dem Middle East Institute in Washington eine Notfall-Konferenz in Kairo, wo darüber beraten werden soll, was die Region gemeinsam unternehmen kann. (dpa)
German PDF of article here

Cultural Property: Current Problems Meet Established Law

By: Tess Davis

A Conference jointly presented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation and the Penn Cultural Heritage Center, University of Pennsylvania

Thursday 26 March 2015 – Friday 27 March 2015

As the looting and destruction of archaeological sites and museums reaches unprecedented levels in Iraq and Syria — a crisis that Egypt, UNESCO, the Middle East Institute, and the Antiquities Coalition will be tackling head on in Cairo next month — the role of law in mitigating these atrocities has never been more significant.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP) explored this topic at their 6th annual conference, “Cultural Property: Current Problems Meet Established Law,” last week in Philadelphia. This event, graciously hosted by the Penn Cultural Heritage Center at the University of Pennsylvania, sought to address a wide range of heritage issues — from treasure hunting and underwater looting, to collecting ethics among museums, to emergency responses in times of conflict. The conference assembled a group of highly regarded speakers including lawyers, curators, archaeologists, scholars, and Antiquities Coalition Executive Director Tess Davis.

The first keynote address was given by Dr. Patty Gerstenblith, Distinguished Research Professor of Law at DePaul University, on the adequacy of US law, policy, and practice in preventing the looting and trafficking of antiquities. Dr. Gerstenblith surveyed the current state of the field, highlighting key cases in the courts, and illustrating the top legal tools for combatting cultural racketeering. The second keynote address was delivered by Dr. Mariano J. Aznar-Gomez of the University of Jaume I in Castellon, Spain and is legal expert on the protection of underwater cultural heritage for the Spanish Government. Dr. Aznar-Gomez investigated the compatibility of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS) and the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage 2001, demonstrating how policymakers can prevent underwater looting in accordance with both Conventions.

The other panels included topics such as archaeological site looting and the legal response from Cambodia to Iraq to Spain and beyond, both terrestrial and underwater. This was followed by a lunchtime discussion on collecting ethics and the museum response to the legal environment by three museum directors and senior curators. The discussion then turned to methods and responsibilities to due diligence in provenance research and finally to how the law may enable international support in the case of Syria.

The conference concluded on the note that criminal litigation, public awareness, and communication among those working in the heritage field are paramount in devising strategies to protect the world’s cultural heritage. It was also clear from the day’s proceedings that such strategies are needed more now than ever, as the world’s cultural heritage falls under increased attack from crime and conflict. Numerous speakers warned that the situation has reached crisis levels in the Middle East, with ISIS and other terrorist networks trafficking countless antiquities to fund their campaign, and destroying countless others for propaganda.

In response to this ongoing plunder, the Antiquities Coalition is partnering with the Arab Republic of Egypt, UNESCO, and the Middle East Institute to shut down ISIS funding from antiquities looting and trafficking. We will launch this initiative with an emergency conference in Cairo from May 13-14, 2015. Please stay tuned for more information about this 2015 Cairo Conference.

In the meantime, the Antiquities Coalition thanks the LCCHP and PCHC for last week’s informative event, and looks forward to their future collaborations!

LCCHP PCHC Penn logos