El mapa del patrimoni cultural amenaçat per Estat Islàmic


El mapa del patrimoni cultural amenaçat per Estat Islàmic

L’ha elaborat el grup Antiquities Coalition

Diumenge 31.01.2016 02:00

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Arran de la destrucció i l’expoliació de patrimoni cultural i arqueològic a les zones del Llevant i el Magrib on actuen grups gihadistes, els membres de l’Antiquities Coalition ja fa temps que treballa per mirar de protegir museus i jaciments dels atacs.

Una de les últimes iniciatives que ha impulsat és el Culture Under Threat Map, un mapa on es documenten els espais amenaçats per grups com Estat islàmic (ISIS) a l’Irac, Síria, Egipte, Líbia i Tunísia, com també els que ja s’han destruït i saquejat.

De cada atac al patrimoni i els béns culturals (com el conjunt de Palmira, les ruïnes de Nimrud i la biblioteca central de Mossul), el mapa de l’Antiquities Coalition en dóna fotografies (si se’n tenen), les circumstàncies, la descripció dels desperfectes…

El mapa també indica amb colors l’amenaça dels grups gihadistes i salafistes sobre centres museístics i indrets arqueològics de les dues regions, molts dels quals declarats Patrimoni de la Humanitat.


PDF of the article here


Last Koh Ker piece coming home


Last Koh Ker piece coming home

A temporary exhibition of Koh Ker pieces was opened at the National Museum in 2014. Heng Chivoan
A temporary exhibition of Koh Ker pieces was opened at the National Museum in 2014. Heng Chivoan

Sat, 30 January 2016 Audrey Wilson

Cambodia is set to reclaim the last of the statues looted from the Koh Ker complex known to be kept in public collections, with a US museum agreeing to relinquish the piece from its permanent collection.

The statue of the warrior god Rama has been held by the Denver Art Museum for nearly 30 years. However, museum representatives said this week that the artefact will soon make its return to Cambodia, though an official agreement has not yet been reached.

The Rama torso – missing its head and its feet – remained on display in the museum’s Asian art gallery until last month.

“The Denver Art Museum is currently in the process of returning the 10th century Khmer sandstone sculpture to the Kingdom of Cambodia,” Christoph Heinrich, the museum’s director, wrote in an email to Post Weekend.

“During the course of research into works in the Museum’s collection and following outreach to our colleagues in Cambodia, the DAM became aware of new facts related to the piece’s provenance that were not available to the museum when the object was acquired in 1986.”

Repatriations of relics from the remote Preah Vihear province complex’s Prasat Chen temple first captured international attention three years ago, following an archaeological dig that uncovered a number of empty pedestals.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2013 volunteered to return two statues from the temple’s western gopuram. Later that year – and following a court dispute – Sotheby’s, Christie’s and the Norton Simon Museum announced that they would repatriate their pieces.

Last May, the Cleveland Museum returned its figure of the monkey god Hanuman, from the temple’s eastern side – part of a representation of the Hindu epic Ramayana. The US museum had previously insisted that the statue did not come from Prasat Chen.

Three statues remain unaccounted for, likely in private collections. An official announcement from both the Denver Art Museum and Cambodia was set “for the near future”, according to a museum spokesperson.

National Museum director Kong Vireak said a complete memorandum of understanding had not yet been reached between the US museum, the National Museum and the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. He declined further comment.

Thai Norak Sathya, secretary of state for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, also confirmed that the statue would make its return, but could not provide an exact date.

If repatriated, the Rama torso could join its counterparts in the Koh Ker room at the National Museum.

The Cambodian government has focused on the return of the Koh Ker statues because it was a set that could be made whole, said Tess Davis, the executive director of the Antiquities Coalition and a lawyer involved in the 2013 court case. “Those are all pieces that we all know were stolen contrary to law in the civil war,” she said.

Davis pointed out that as late as the 1960s, significant Khmer art collections did not exist beyond Cambodia and France. Today, museums across the US have artefacts on display. “For the most part, their pieces only appeared on the market in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. And how do you think they reached the market, many missing their feet and any paperwork?” she said.

Additional reporting by Vandy Muong.


PDF of the article here

STATEMENT: Antiquities Coalition Says Senate Action Taken is Key to Stem Blood Antiquities

Senate_in_sessionToday the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations moved forward on the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, legislation that would help curb funding for ISIS by cracking down on the trafficking of artifacts looted from cultural sites in Syria.

The United States is one of the largest destinations worldwide for black-market artifacts stolen from the cradle of civilization in the Middle East and North Africa. This legislation imposes import restrictions on looted Syrian artifacts, preventing them from entering the United States to be sold for ISIS’ profit.

Swift passage in the Senate will help stem the flow of blood antiquities, dry up ISIS funding, save lives in the region, and help preserve irreplaceable pieces of cultural heritage. It also helps send a message to demonstrate the United States government’s commitment and leadership in the fight against terrorism.

We applaud Representatives Royce and Engel for introducing this bipartisan legislation into the House and Senators Perdue and Casey for leading today’s efforts in the Senate. The Antiquities Coalition looks forward to seeing this legislation pass into law.

Mapping the Terrorist Threat to Middle Eastern Architecture

City Lab

Mapping the Terrorist Threat to Middle Eastern Architecture

Culturally significant monuments and museum are being razed to the ground.

Tanvi Misra | @Tanvim | 12:54 PM ET


Last week, ISIS razed the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq. The St. Elijah monastery was 1,400 years old and stood in the South of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and a current ISIS stronghold. Unfortunately, it was just the latest casualty in the ISIS-led campaign to wipe out culturally and historically significant architecture in regions under their control; via The Associated Press:

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The Washington, D.C.-based Antiquities Coalition, a group fighting to protect cultural artifacts and monuments around the wold, has been tracking such instances of “cultural cleansing” by terrorist organizations operating in the Middle East and North Africa. Using this data, they’ve now created the Culture Under Threat Map, which shows which heritage sites are under threat, and which ones have already been destroyed and damaged.

“Our knowledge of this problem is incomplete and often presented on a case-by-case basis,” says Deborah Lehr, coalition chair and founder, via email. “We wanted to create a visual representation of the full sweep of the problem—one that showed not only the extent of cultural crimes but also its intensity.”

Their map plots 700 museums (in yellow) and other architecture (in blue) designated as UNESCO heritage sites. The little red bulls-eyes on the map show the location of sites that were damaged and destroyed. This is architecture that ISIS and other violent groups have deliberately targeted since 2011, not collateral damage of the conflicts in the region. According to the coalition’s estimate, 230 sites have already been wiped out—including monuments from ancient, Greco-Roman, Islamic, and modern periods of architecture.

The map also shows hotspots where ISIS and other such groups have been particularly active, giving a sense of which sites in that vicinity might be under attack next. Here’s Lehr explaining via email why the threat to these monuments is a cause for global concern:

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Complete as it is, the coalition map illustrates just a sliver of an incredibly huge problem. The heritage sites shown make up just a fraction of the 3-to-5 million important archeological sites in the region. “The ‘cradle of civilization’ is in imminent danger of destruction,” Lehr says.


PDF of the article here

Mapping Culture Under Threat

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mapping Culture Under Threat


In the Middle East and North Africa ISIS is not only attempting to destroy lives and communities it is also targeting many cultural and historical artifacts in an attempt to destroy cultural histories which fail to conform to their narrow interpretation of the Koran. These attacks have targeted important historical sites and artifacts of Muslims, Christians and many other ethnic groups.

Mapping Culture Under Threat is an attempt by the Antiquities Coalition to map the hundreds of cultural and historical sites destroyed by ISIS in its campaign of cultural cleansing. The Antiquities Collection has identified over 230 sites that have been deliberately targeted or destroyed by ISIS and other extremist groups, including significant monuments from the ancient, Greco-Roman, Islamic, and modern periods.

The map shows heritage sites which have been attacked, targeted or destroyed, using red circular markers. The map also shows the locations of UNESCO Worlds Heritage & Tentative List sites. The heat map layer shows areas which are under the direct control of terrorist groups or which are threatened by areas they have been occupied between January and October 2015.


PDF of the article here

Une carte interactive du patrimoine en péril au Proche-Orient


Une carte interactive du patrimoine en péril au Proche-Orient

Romain Capelle

Publié le 28/01/2016. Mis à jour le 28/01/2016 à 13h51.

Aperçu de la carte interactive des sites archéologiques et culturels menacés du moyen-orient

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ous sommes régulièrement alertés par les médias de la destruction en Syrie ou en Irak d’un site archéologique majeur, d’un monastère pluricentenaire, d’une mosquée ou d’un musée par un groupe terroriste, au premier rang desquels, Daech. Pour se rendre compte de l’ampleur du désastre, un groupe d’expert a réalisé une carte interactive.

Celle-ci est le fruit d’un travail commencé il y a environ deux ans, comme nous le rapporte Newsweek, par The Antiquities Coalition, un rassemblement d’experts luttant contre le trafic d’œuvres d’art et d’objets archéologiques. Pour la méthodologie, les experts indiquent n’avoir utilisé que des données accessibles publiquement, « ne voulant pas créer une carte menant aux sites archéologiques » que pourrait utiliser les terroristes eux-mêmes… 700 sites sur 22 pays sont tout de même recensés sur la carte, dont 230 qui ont déjà été détruits ou endommagés. Ce qui reste encore peu au regard des probables « 3 à 5 millions de sites archéologiques » sur ce même territoire. The Antiquities Coalition promet d’ailleurs aussi de mettre à jour régulièrement cette carte, au fur et à mesure que des mauvaises nouvelles concernant le patrimoine historique des pays en question leur parviendront.

Les cercles rouges signalent les sites attaqués, visés ou détruits, les petites colonnes bleues les sites classés par l’UNESCO, les petits bâtiments oranges, les musées (cliquez dessus pour plus d’informations). Les parties colorées de la carte signalent les zones menacées ou controlées par des groupes terroristes.

Pour aller plus loin, et si une simple carte ne suffit pas, The Antiquities Coalition a aussi mis en ligne une série de photos de destructions « avant/après » particulièrement parlantes.


PDF of the article here

‘Conflict and Cultural Destruction: Why Totalitarian Regimes Seek to Destroy Cultural Memory’ – Deborah Lehr at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars

January 28, 2016

Antiquities Coalition chairman and co-founder, Deborah Lehr, spoke on the importance of preventing cultural racketeering and the need for practical legal and policy solutions at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars for the opening of the art exhibition, “Last Folio: A Photographic Memory.”

The Woodrow Wilson Center commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27, 2016) by hosting the photography exhibition “Last Folio: A Photographic Memory” by the celebrated artist and photographer, Yuri Dojc, and film producer, Katya Krausova.  The exhibition has been seen on both sides of the Atlantic, throughout Europe, Russia, and several cities in the United States. Making its Washington, DC debut, the exhibition is a collection of images on the books and culturally significant buildings that were destroyed in Slovakia during the Holocaust and includes a documentary on first-hand accounts by Holocaust survivors and their families. The exhibit is co-sponsored by the Embassies of Slovakia and Canada and the Friends of Slovakia.

Wilson CenterThe opening was preceded by a panel discussion, “Conflict and Cultural Destruction: Why Totalitarian Regimes Seek to Destroy Cultural Memory.” The distinguished panel included Cristina Bejan (researcher, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), Peter Black (historian and scholar, previously Senior Historian and Director of the Division of the Senior Historian, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), Deborah Lehr (Chairman and Founder, the Antiquities Coalition), and Azar Nafisi (visiting professor, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies), moderated by Christian F. Ostermann (director of History and Public Policy Program and Global Europe Program, Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars). The discussion centered around how the control of art lends itself to totalitarian suppression and superiority, and how the destruction of the diversity and “multi-vocality” of culture paves the way for totalitarian power.

Following the attacks in Paris, the disarmed bomb at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor in Egypt, and the targeting of libraries, shrines, and museums by terrorist groups, the destruction of cultural heritage has never more systematic and pervasive. The destruction of heritage, Ms. Lehr stated, isn’t simply the demolition of statues and monuments, but an attack on our shared history, the elimination of economic opportunity, and a precursor to ethnic cleansing. While the looting of and illicit trafficking of antiquities to finance terrorism poses an enormous threat to the integrity of our material culture, there are things that individuals, organizations, communities, and nations can do to prevent this from continuing. In the past two years, the Antiquities Coalition has convened heads of state, government officials, experts, business and legal professionals, and leaders of institutions to advocate ending the global destruction and illicit trade of cultural heritage to finance terrorism. In September 2015, the Antiquities Coalition co-convened a gathering of foreign ministers, ambassadors, and leaders in the archaeological, law enforcement, and museum communities to explore joint solutions to the crisis in Syria and Iraq.

Wilson Center PresentationA few key recommendations for action we can take to stem this trade include not buying conflict antiquities, building capacity and training in conflict countries, preventing the spread of cultural heritage destruction as front page news, creating jobs and economic opportunities for local populations, and raising global awareness about the consequences of purchasing conflict antiquities that might be funding terrorist activities.

We have a collective responsibility to protect not only our shared cultural heritage but also our right to express art, language, and free speech. We urge you to join the Antiquities Coalition in the fight against the destruction of our shared heritage.



For more details on the event, please click here.

Situation Report: More Problems for Syria Peace Talks; U.S.-backed rebels lose ground in Syria; old hands back in town; European Command aiming at Russia; Iraqi troops continue to struggle; and lots more

Foreign Policy featured image

Situation Report: More Problems for Syria Peace Talks; U.S.-backed rebels lose ground in Syria; old hands back in town; European Command aiming at Russia; Iraqi troops continue to struggle; and lots more

By Paul McLeary | January 27, 2016 – 7:57 AM | @paulmcleary

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 3.14.46 PMy Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Syria talks in danger? In a move many had feared, Syria’s main opposition coalition told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon late Tuesday that it will not participate in peace talks with Damascus until the Syrian government and its allies stop air and ground assaults on civilians, lift the sieges of towns, and provide humanitarian access to civilians, a U.N.-based diplomat told FP’s Column Lynch and John Hudson.

“The letter by lead opposition coordinator Riad Hijab drew a line in the sand for peace efforts as Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, made a final push for negotiations to begin in Geneva on Friday,” the two write. But Hijab’s letter, translated into English for FPhe said that he was open to continuing to try and find a way to hold talks.

Bad day. The move comes just as U.S. officials acknowledge that Russian airstrikes against anti-government forces — often backed by Washington — are having a real effect. The Syrian government was “in a worse place before, and the regime is in a better place now,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told reporters earlier this month. Thanks to hundreds of Russian airstrikes, Assad has “regained some small amounts of ground,” he said.

One of the worst defeats for Syrian rebels came Tuesday, when government forces and allied ­militias, backed by Russian airpower, retook the southern town of Sheikh Miskeen, which sits at a critical crossroads that provides control over a southern supply route between Jordan and the Syrian capital of Damascus. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a mix of regime troops, fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iranian officers took the town, which is less than 10 miles from the rebel stronghold of Nawa, another target for regime forces.

Continental drift. Deterring Vladimir Putin is job No. 1 in U.S. European Command (Eucom), according to its latest theater strategy, but the combatant command says it’s having a few resource problems in the meantime. In the 12-page document, commander of Eucom and NATO forces Gen. Philip Breedlove laments that the 65,000 U.S. troops in Europe just aren’t enough to counter Russian aggression, and rotating more units in on a temporary basis to make up the shortfall doesn’t quite cut it.

“The size of the military presence requires difficult decisions on how best to use limited resources to assure, stabilize, and support the…mission in the new European security environment,” the paper says. Breedlove also calls for a “reformulation of the U.S. strategic calculus” on the continent.

The boys are back in town. A few former Bush and Obama administration stalwarts have been back in the news this week, and they don’t appear thrilled with the U.S. national security landscape.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates took aim at the current crop of Republican presidential hopefuls at an event Monday evening, saying “the level of dialogue on national security issues would embarrass a middle schooler,” Without naming names, he continued, “people are out there making threats and promises that are totally unrealistic, totally unattainable.”

Appearing at the same event, President Barack Obama’s former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon predicted that the U.S. is “going to become more deeply involved in both Iraq and Syria going forward” including becoming “fairly deeply involved” in the fights to take the ISIS cities of Mosul and Raqqa.

Donilon, who served as national security adviser between 2010 and 2013, said U.S. forces will likely have to begin “taking direct action against ISIS, [in] operations in Iraq and Syria, but also in Libya,” where ISIS has gained a foothold. Over the past several weeks, about 200 U.S. commandos arrived in Iraq to begin launching raids on ISIS leadership there and in Syria.

As the East Coast of the U.S. continues to dig out of a major blizzard, there’s plenty to keep us busy. As you know, we can never get enough information, so if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ! Best way is to send them to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or@arawnsley.


The AP spoke with analysts and former U.S. military trainers to get a sense of how the Iraqi military has performed in the fight for Ramadi. Despite training assistance from the U.S, Iraqi forces still appear to be struggling. Experts said the fight for Ramadi relied heavily on a small group of elite Iraqi counterterrorism forces working with U.S. airpower to carry out clearing operations normally reserved for regular forces — a reflection, analysts say, of the weakness of regular Iraqi military units and the difficulty in scaling the success in Ramadi to larger cities like Mosul.

The Antiquities Commission, a Washington-based nonprofit dedicated to stopping antiquities smuggling, has created the Culture Under Threat Map showing the loss of cultural heritage sites in Africa and the Middle East, Newsweek reports. The map overlays historical sites either destroyed or threatened by Islamist militant groups. Not surprisingly, the wars raging in Iraq and Syria have led to the greatest damage, as the Islamic State has destroyed or illicitly sold antiquities from the two countries to fund operations.


The fight against a resurgent Taliban in Helmand province is revealing cracks in the Afghan military’s leadership. The AP reports that Afghanistan is replacing a number of senior officers for “incompetence, corruption and ineffectiveness,” according to a spokesman for the U.S. coalition in the country. Former Afghan intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil told the country’s National Security Council in October that discipline and morale in the Afghan army had broken down in the fight for Helmand as the Taliban launched a number of attacks in the province.

F-16s for Bulgaria?

NATO member Bulgaria is looking to ditch its last remaining Soviet-era fighter planes and buy some new aircraft over the next several years, the country’s Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev has said. Nenchev indicated that he’d like to sign a deal by the end of this year, according to Defense News, which notes earlier reports that the Sofia government has been kicking the tires on U.S. F-16s, Sweden’s Gripen, and the Eurofighter Typhoon. When the country joined NATO in 2004, government officials said they wanted to replace six of its Mikoyan MiG-21 fighters with eight new aircraft by 2016.


Kenyan troops pulled out of two towns in southern Somalia Tuesday, and were followed in almost immediately by fighters from the Islamist terrorist group, al-Shabab, according to local reports. The withdrawal comes just a week after al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militants stormedan African Union base in the country, killing dozens of Kenyan soldiers. Back in November, FP’s Ty McCormick reported on allegations that elements of Kenya’s military have been “in business” with al-Shabab, and “Kenya’s military has done a brisk business in sugar and charcoal in Kismayo, Somalia, since pushing al-Shabab from the southern port city in 2012, but the trade has become a key financial lifeline for the terrorist group it is there to fight.”

North Korea

South Korean officials believe that the North may have tried to carry out cyberattacks, but against which targets and in what form, they’re not saying. Reuters reports that a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry mentioned the government’s suspicion that the North had been behind unspecific recent attacks but wouldn’t offer more details. Tensions between the two countries have been high since North Korea carried out a nuclear test, with South Korea responding by blaring loudspeaker propaganda across the demilitarized zone and North Korea buzzing the South with a drone.


PopSci reports on a new academic paper which says that, despite much hand-wringing, drones aren’t changing the nature of relations between countries — yet. The study, The Consequences of Drone Proliferation: Separating Fact from Fiction, argues that so far drones have had a much bigger impact on domestic counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home than in wars between nations, largely because of their vulnerability to air defense systems. But that could all could all change once stealth technologies allow drones to take on roles normally reserved for manned warplanes.

The business of defense

There’s been plenty of snow in Washington over the past couple days, but defense contractors have stayed warm by holding their fourth quarter earnings calls. Lockheed Martin has already reported, and Wednesday, General Dynamics, Boeing, and United Technologies will have their day. Northrop Grumman and Raytheon finish off the week with their earnings calls on Thursday.

Lockheed’s CEO Marillyn Hewson announced that the company was breaking off its IT business and combining it with Leidos Holdings Inc., another security firm, in a $5 billion trade. Leidos said in a statement that the combined company would have annual revenues of about $10 billion, making it the largest U.S. government services provider. In November, Lockheed also finalized a $9 billion deal to buy Blackhawk helicopter-maker Sikorsky from United Technologies.

The U.S. Special Operations Command has created a new technology incubator, SofWerX, near MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, National Defense Magazine reports. The goal of the project is to speed up the command’s access to advanced technologies and works much like the Pentagon’s Silicon Valley outreach outfit, DIUX, but has the ability to step around normally sluggish acquisition processes.

On the move

A pair of former U.S. diplomats are heading to an advisory firm led by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Wendy Sherman, the former under secretary of state for political affairs under John Kerry — who acted as the lead U.S. negotiator on the nuclear deal with Iran — will be a senior counselor with Albright Stonebridge Group.

Also readying a move to a new office is Daniel Feldman, who served as special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and will be a senior advisor at the firm. The move is a bit of a homecoming for Sherman, who was a vice chair at the firm before entering the State Department in November 2014.

PDF of the article here

State Department Spotlights Importance of Cultural Heritage in Cambodia

Secretary Kerry Takes Key Steps to End Trafficking of Antiquities

Secretary Kerry visits the National Museum in Phnom Penh

The Antiquities Coalition commended Secretary of State John Kerry for highlighting today the US government’s commitment to working with global partners to end the trade of blood antiquities in Cambodia and for underscoring the importance of combating cultural racketeering during his trip this week to Southeast Asia. The organization’s Executive Director played a role in recovering and repatriating stolen art from Cambodia prior to joining the Antiquities Coalition.

“The cooperation agreed to by Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Hun Sen demonstrates a commitment that the looting and trafficking of ‘blood antiquities’ will not be tolerated,” said Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, who was knighted in 2015 by the Royal Government of Cambodia for her work recovering treasures that Sec. Kerry viewed today.

Deborah Lehr, Chairman and founder of the Antiquities Coalition, said “Secretary Kerry is a leader on the issue of cultural preservation which is critical not only for protecting humanity’s shared heritage, but also for strengthening the foundations of peace and security in countries that depend on their cultural heritage for economic stability and a shared sense of national identity.”

Secretary Kerry met with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh today to discuss the importance of building democracy, fighting extremism, and enhancing economic development in the context of the U.S.-Cambodian partnership. As part of this broader effort, both leaders highlighted the importance of cooperation between the U.S. and Cambodia to preserve Cambodia’s rich heritage.

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Executive Director Tess Davis with the original pedestals from two of the statues visited by Kerry.

As Secretary Kerry stated, “In every meeting, I made clear that we are committed […] to building on the progress that we have already made in education, health, cultural preservation.” He added, “I had the privilege of visiting the national cultural museum earlier this morning where artifacts have recently been returned from the United States to Cambodia. And that museum is an extraordinary asset, a goldmine of treasure from the past.”

“Prime Minister Hun Sen has made repatriation of looted Cambodian antiquities a priority of his administration,” said Davis. “Secretary of State Chan Tani has tirelessly lead these investigations and negotiations. With their victories, Cambodia has played David to the international art market’s Goliath.”

The Antiquities Coalition was honored to host His Excellency Chan Tani in May 2014 at a roundtable discussion, along with Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, on how the international community can best support Cambodia’s efforts.

“Cambodia is a model of the good and the bad that happens to a country’s heritage during a time of crisis and instability,” said Deborah Lehr, Chairman of the Antiquities Coalition. “There are many lessons to be learned from their experience as we work to prevent similar destruction and looting in the Middle East.”

Secretary Kerry was photographed admiring a series of 1000-year-old Khmer masterpieces, which the kingdom has recently recovered from the United States in cooperation with the U.S. Government. article-doc-7e2z8-5F8jLoIRwX52fdce4d5a1259f66f-966_634x421Along with countless other antiquities, these treasures were plundered from Khmer Rouge territory during the Cambodian Civil War. They were then trafficked onto the international market, with some eventually landing at top American auction houses and museums. In 2011, the Royal Government of Cambodia launched a campaign to bring its looted antiquities home. They have since recovered major works — one both from Sotheby’s and Christie’s, two from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and one each from the Norton Simon and Cleveland museums.  They continue this effort today.

Prevention is the best protection

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Prevention is the best protection

Katie Paul has re-emphasized that cultural heritage is most vulnerable to depredation during times of conflict and civil disturbance. It is then that museums, archaeological sites and religious institutions are ransacked for their saleable contents – it is then that they are looted to feed the international demand for ‘cultural objects’. These are the so-called spikes in looting and theft that we are accustomed to reading about. As she observes, they are entirely predictable and they could happen anywhere, though just exactly where is a geopolitical uncertainty. They must be treated as a global problem. What can be done about it? The answer is hardly rocket science. We need to stop people buying and selling illicitly traded material. In other words, we need to reduce demand. And I am not just talking about material illicitly traded by Daesh, not just about material illicitly traded from Syria, not just about material illicitly traded from the MENA region. I am talking about material that has been looted and illicitly traded from anywhere in the world. We need a proactive global solution to a global problem, and we need it now. The best way to protect cultural heritage is to prevent people buying and selling illicit material. Prevention is the best protection.

Using Social Media to Predict When Precious Antiquities Are Under Threat


Using Social Media to Predict When Precious Antiquities Are Under Threat

By Katie A. Paul

Post-revolution graffiti marks the walls of the temple at the Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara, Egypt. Much of the graffiti was dated in 2012 and 2013 as the security situation at archaeological sites had diminished.
Post-revolution graffiti marks the walls of the temple at the Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara, Egypt. Much of the graffiti was dated in 2012 and 2013 as the security situation at archaeological sites had diminished.

This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State UniversityNew America, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. On Thursday, Jan. 28, Future Tense will host a happy-hour conversation in Washington, D.C., on using technology to preserve antiquities. For more information and to RSVP, visit the New America website.

For decades, antiquities crimes have had a devastating effect on cultural heritage and international security. The Nazis waged campaigns of theft and destruction throughout WWII, stealing art and antiquities; much remains lost, and pieces are still being returned today. Cambodia continues to seek the return of its priceless treasures stolen by the Khmer Rouge during the country’s genocide. These eras of historic heritage devastation are being repeated again, this time in the Middle East.

Cultural crimes have recently begun making headlines internationally because of their importance in the propaganda and funding of terror groups like ISIS. The group has shocked the global community by systematically destroying UNESCO World Heritage sites in Iraq and later again in Syria. Just this month, satellite images suggested that ISIS destroyed a 1,400-year-old Christian monastery in Iraq. The use of antiquities as a source of funding for their campaign of terror was confirmed in May 2015 when U.S. Special Forces raided the compound of Abu Sayyaf.

But ISIS is not the only threat to heritage in the Middle East and North Africa. Organized criminals across the region are wreaking havoc on archaeological sites and profiting from the plunder of history. The illicit trafficking of cultural heritage is believed to be a multibillion-dollar global trade; INTERPOL places it among the ranks of the illicit trade in drugs and weapons. But there is an information gap, and little data is available on the global magnitude of these crimes.

In an effort to find solutions to this growing challenge that can be adapted on-the-ground in nations facing crisis, the Antiquities Coalition—a nonprofit organization where I serve as chief of staff—conducted a study on the patterns of cultural heritage crimes in Egypt. Egypt has seen a massive increase in threats to antiquities following the instability of the January 2011 revolution. Egyptians are also active on social media—providing a wealth of free and publicly available information. All of the data examined was sourced from media or social media, government and civilian sources alike.

Reports from a variety of international media and social media archaeoactivists—as I like to call them—from January 2011 through December 2015 revealed patterns in illicit heritage crimes (including looting of museums, illegal digging at sites, trafficking at ports, and more) that could aid authorities in protecting antiquities. Major crises or conflicts almost always precipitated the looting, destruction, or attempted attacks of museums. Attacks on antiquities storage facilities followed upheaval immediately—sometimes, within hours—and once those resources were tapped or reasonably secured, archaeological sites became the focus of activity.

Looters pits and looters trash near Hatshepsut's temple.jpeg.CROP.promo-xlarge2
Looters’ pits and trash left behind by looters is visible form the air at an archaeological site near Hatshepsut’s Temple in Luxor, Egypt.

Today, Egypt is suffering financially from the significant drop in tourism, diminishing the revenue critical to government bodies charged with protecting these sites, including the Ministry of Antiquities and the tourist police force. Financial strain has left little funding available for resources to protect sites at a time when additional security is needed. Even with these challenges, Egypt’s authorities have made significant efforts in recent years to respond to these crimes. Security has been thinly dispersed across Egypt’s hundreds of cultural heritage sites to protect them with what resources remain available, but it seems that this approach has not been very helpful.

That’s where the recurring cycle of threats to heritage comes into play. Egypt and other countries at risk of crisis can use this pattern to anticipate the types of activities that may precipitate looting and other crimes, allowing them to calculate their responses for efficient allocation of their sparse financial and personnel resources.

This evolution in activity and the cycle it follows is not unique to Egypt. Attacks on museums and heritage institutions during the start of major crises and conflicts are seen elsewhere following all manner of crisis—economic downturn, natural disaster, and political upheaval. Anything that contributes to a breakdown in governance and civil order can serve as a catalyst for this cycle. In the midst of Greece’s 500,000-strong austerity protests in 2012, armed robbers attacked and looted the Museum at Olympia. In Mali in January 2013, the terror group Ansar Dine took over Timbuktu and quickly targeted the country’s historic and valuable Islamic manuscript collection. During the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution, the storage collections of the Museum of the History of Kiev were ransacked and looted. Haiti’s political uprisings in 2004 precipitated the looting of the downtown museum by rebels.

Although the evolution of this process is cyclical, it is also adaptable.  One of the most difficult elements of threats to heritage we are facing right now is the rapid pace at which criminal networks operate, often outpacing the efforts of authorities. The boom of technology and expansion of Internet access on a global scale has provided a new means of keeping up with these crises and the crimes that follow.

Jan. 25 marked not only the five-year anniversary of the Egyptian uprising but also the anniversary of the looting of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The threats to Egypt’s heritage today are even greater than they were five years ago. As the reach of terror groups like ISIS continues to spread beyond Iraq and Syria and into North Africa and Europe, their attacks have targeted heritage and tourism in Egypt, Tunisia, and across the globe. Their focus on these targets reminds us of how critical heritage is to economy, stability, and the fabric of society. We must continue to look toward innovative solutions and if needed, use unconventional resources, to find new ways to combat threats to the cultural heritage that defines our common history.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Katie Paul is an anthropologist and archaeologist focusing in the Middle East. She is chief of staff at the Antiquities Coalition, which is based in Washington, D.C.

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