Protecting the Past: Towards a Better Future with Cultural Heritage


Protecting the Past: Towards a Better Future with Cultural Heritage

A 2-day conference bringing together national and international experts to explore new approaches to monitor, protect and preserve the cultural heritage of Iraq and the Iraqi Kurdistan. 

Press Release

Sunday, Oct 31, 2016 – Sulaimani (KRG), Iraq: The first day of the international conference,  “Protecting the Past: Towards a Better Future with Cultural Heritage”, commenced this morning at The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), with opening speeches by Mala Awat and Qais Hussain Rasheed from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Iraqi State Board of Antiquities respectively.

The conference, jointly organized by the AUISCenter for Archaeology and Cultural Heritage (CACHE), the University of Oxford Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East & North Africa (EAMENA) project, and the University of Sulaimani, aims to draw upon the experience of projects and approaches that have been successful throughout the wider Middle East in protecting local heritage.

In his keynote speech, Robert Bewley, director of EAMENA, discussed future strategies for the project with specific reference to Iraq. Other speakers discussed the impact of similar projects, such as the ASOR and SHIRIN initiatives, to safeguard the cultural heritage in the region as well as the #CultureUnderAttack project by Washington based Antiquities Coalition. Local officials and practitioners discussed their own experiences of challenges facing cultural heritage in Iraq and practical approaches by the international community that can make the greatest difference on the ground.

 On the second day, the panels will discuss new approaches as well as local capacity building efforts. Part of the day will focus on destruction of heritage in Mosul, culminating in an open session discussing the future of Mosul by displaced archaeologists.

This conference has been made possible with the generous support of our partners, including the European Union Delegation to IraqThe Barakat Trust, and The Gerald Averay Wainwright Averay Fund.

More information on the conference, speakers and the program can be found at Follow us on Facebook @auisofficial and on Twitter @auis_news for latest updates, photos, videos and podcasts from the event.

For media enquiries or interview requests, please contact Mehr Zahra, director of communications, at or +964(772)339-9305.

PDF of article here 

Protecting the Past 2 – Podcasts

Protecting the Past 2 – Podcasts

The podcasts from the second Protecting the Past conference are now online and available via the University of Oxford’s MediaPub service. Please refer to the links below to access the individual files (in English, Arabic and Kurdish).

protecting-past-2-towards-better-future-cultural-heritageProtecting the Past in Iraq: Challenges and Needs (30 October)

  • Dr Robert Bewley (EAMENA, University of Oxford) – Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (English) (Kurdish)
  • Dr Abdelamir al-Hamdani (State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, Iraq) – Digitizing the Past: A New Atlas and Database of the Archaeological Sites in Iraq (English) (Arabic) (Kurdish)

Iraq in the MENA Region: New Approaches and Initiatives – Part 1 (30 October)

  • Prof. Graham Philip (SHIRIN, Durham University) – The Shirin Project: the development of tools to support collective action in heritage protection and damage mitigation (English) (Arabic) (Kurdish)
  • Ms Allison Cuneo (ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives) – Monitoring, Protecting, and Preserving Cultural Heritage: Recent Results of the ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives (English) (Arabic) (Kurdish)
  • Dr Kozad Ahmad (University of Sulaimani) – The Types of Danger to the Cultural Heritage of the Middle East (English) (Arabic) (Kurdish)
  • Dr Abdullah Khorsheed (IICAH) – Archaeological Conservation Programs at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and heritage (English) (Kurdish)
  • Dr Katie A. Paul (Antiquities Coalition) – Culture Under Threat: Developing and Implementing Solutions to Cultural Racketeering and Terrorist Financing  (English) (Arabic)

Iraq in the MENA Region: New Approaches and Initiatives – Part 2 (31 October)

  • Dr John MacGinnis (British Museum) – The British Museum’s Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme (English) (Kurdish)
  • Prof. Roger Matthews (RASHID, Reading University) – RASHID International: Formulating a Future for Iraq’s Past (English) (Kurdish)
  • Dr Bijan Rouhani (AMAL Project, ICOMOS) – AMAL in Heritage: A cultural emergency management tool for MENA region (English) (Arabic)

Cultural Heritage and Capacity Building in Conflict Zones (31 October)

  • Ms Layla Salih (State Board of Antiquities and Heritage) – The Destroyed Heritage of Mosul – Reality and Challenges (English) (Arabic) (Kurdish)
  • Dr Tobin Hartnell (CACHE, AUIS) – Capacity Building for Cultural Heritage in the KRG (English) (Arabic) (Kurdish)

Protecting the Past in the Face of Development: Defining Goals and Expectations (31 October)

  • Dr Ricardo Cabral (Kani Shaie Archaeology Project, Universidade de Coimbra) – Using Digital Technologies to Document the Endangered Archaeological Heritage of the Bazyan Basin in Slemani (English)
  • Dr Emma Cunliffe (EAMENA, Durham University)- Site Destruction in the Iraqi Jazirah: a satellite imagery assessment (English)
  • Dr Narmeen Ali Muhammadameen (Salahaddin University) – The Citadel of Kirkuk: Reconnaissance and Assessment of Its Archaeological Heritage (English) (Arabic) (Kurdish)

PDF of article here

Libya: Cultural Racketeering by the Actual Mafia and What it Tells Us about How It Should Be Fought


Libya: Cultural Racketeering by the Actual Mafia and What it Tells Us about How It Should Be Fought

Informative piece on Libya’s struggle to protect its archaeological sites in the absence of a strong centralized government. Several points to note:

  • international trafficking of antiquities is, as Deborah Lehr and the Antiquities Coalition have emphasized, racketeering in which the smugglers are mafia-like organizations — or in this instance, the actual Mafia!
  • high-end artifacts are being proffered, not just cheap pots.  It may well be the case that there are distinct smuggling channels, with the more violent ones operating at the higher end where the profit margin is the highest. This is at least a hypothesis to be tested.
  • Given the cost of weapons, and the apparently direct trade of weapons to terrorists in exchange for antiquities to the mafia, it makes sense for higher-end artifacts to be favored currency.
  • securing sites in the absence of central authority requires not SPI-style economic development projects aimed at gaining local buy-in, valuable as such projects are in peacetime situations in countries at peace, but rather the arming of local groups backed by rebel authorities.

Posted by Larry Rothfield at 2:08 PM 

PDF of article here

Incident Analyzer Wins Wichmann Innovation Award 2016


Incident Analyzer Wins Wichmann Innovation Award 2016

17 October 2016

The Incident Analyzer Smart M.App won the prestigious Wichmann Innovations Award 2016 for Best Software. Announced at INTERGEO in Hamburg, Germany, this Smart M.App helps a variety of different industries visualize trends and identify correlations in their incident data.

Incident Analyzer Smart M.App

Incident Analyzer revolutionizes the way we think about incident mapping. This Smart M.App provides an intuitive, user friendly environment for consuming incident data in a dynamic information experience. With Incident Analyzer and a few mouse clicks, almost anyone can create, manage, disseminate, share, and host a wide array of dynamic intelligence reports that depict meaningful spatial patterns within incident data sets in an interactive fashion.


What is a Hexagon Smart M.App?

A Hexagon Smart M.App is a focused, cloud-based geospatial application. It focuses on a specific business problem. It connects quickly to fresh content. It allows you to rapidly prototype new industry-specific workflows. It incorporates business-style analytics. It packages all of this into a dynamic and easy-to-understand information experience. The Incident Analyzer Smart M.App heralds the beginning of the new age of mapping. It performs incident counting, displays spatial distribution of incidents, helps identify repeat occurrences, and visualizes incident concentrations, known as “hot spots”. It can provide critical information for safety, infrastructure, emergency response, health, government, transportation and many other commercial uses.


Finding Patterns Across the Globe

“Understanding patterns is one of the first steps in understanding how to combat these issues,” said Katie Paul, Chief of Staff for the Antiquities Coalition, who uses the Incident Analyzer as the basis for their Culture Under Threat Smart M.App. “The Smart M.App has been very valuable because it’s allowed us to examine the data in a way we didn’t know was possible.”

They were able to synthesize six different data sources into a single, dynamic Smart M.App. It moved them beyond the static GIS map, and allowed them to look at different combinations of data. “Being able to collect all of that information and visually represent it gave us a broader look at what is happening over time, where they are occurring and the types of contexts they are occurring in,” Katie Paul continued.


The Incident Analyzer Smart M.App is an example of the Map of the Future. It has already been used to analyze a wide variety of data, from real estate records to political donations to fire and utility outages. It is easy to connect to a variety of data, and provides useful insights into your data which can then be used to make intelligent decisions and shape smart change.

Website Hexagon Geospatial

PDF of article here

War crimes, development, and the many threats to cultural heritage


War crimes, development, and the many threats to cultural heritage


The Conversation 

By Professor Ian Lilley, University of Queensland

Posted 14 Oct 2016, 4:04pm

Recently, the International Criminal Court (ICC) sentenced a Malian militant to nine years’ jail for his role in destroying heritage sites in Timbuktu. The conviction was the first of its kind.

Will other such cases follow, dealing with the destruction of priceless artefacts at Palmrya in Syria or in other war zones?

And what, more broadly, is the fate of our cultural heritage in an age driven by the imperative of continual global economic growth? Are wartime atrocities the chief threat to cultural heritage?

Or is it, in fact, everyday development in a rapacious world?

The ICC case concerned the destruction of World Heritage sites in Timbuktu, Mali, in 2012, by al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist insurgents. 

The former militant, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, admitted that he had directed the destruction of 14 holy 15th and 16th-century mausoleums considered blasphemous by the Islamists.

The presiding judge, Raul Pangalangan, described targeting Timbuktu’s cultural patrimony as:

… a war activity aimed at breaking the soul of the people.

Of course since time immemorial, people have been destroying and looting other people’s places and stuff — what we would now call cultural heritage — through both hostilities and ostensibly peaceful “development”. You can see the evidence all over the world, in cityscapes, museum collections and even whole landscapes as much as in specific archaeological sites.

In recent years, though, the link between extremism and the looting of cultural heritage has become more pronounced. Blood antiquities fund conflict, just like blood diamonds.

In April, the Antiquities Coalition in Washington DC launched a report, Culture Under Threat, which contained a set of recommendations to the US Government concerning the nexus between looting and violent extremism. The panel included various heritage professionals, ambassadors and the like, but also people from the intelligence and Special Forces communities.

Some of their evidence was jaw-dropping, such as the IS paperwork regarding looting permits for Palmyra. Not only were there the permits themselves, which authorised looting by so-and-so in area such-and-such, but there were also applications for extensions of the permits owing to problems in moving the volume of antiquities flooding the illicit market.

These were not scrappy handwritten notes, but duly notarised printed documents on “official” letterhead. The bureaucratic banality of evil!

The vast scale of the looting revealed was staggering too, with photographs of heavy earthmoving equipment excavating tons of archaeologically-rich deposits to be sifted through for saleable artefacts.

It is hard to know exactly how much money IS and similar groups make from blood screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-19-54-pmantiquities, but it is substantial. As one of the Special Forces people said: a historically-valuable artefact may now be seen chiefly in terms of the ammunition it will buy for IS.

For this reason, governments around the world are starting to clamp down heavily on heritage trafficking. There’s long been some effort in that direction: the Italians, for instance, have had a specialist police unit, now known as the Carabinieri Art Squad.

These days, though, in the eyes of intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, heritage ranks right up there with arms and human trafficking, as the same extremists and criminals are frequently involved in all three.

Monday it’s guns. Tuesday it’s sex slaves. Wednesday it’s blood antiquities.

While this intense focus on crime and security obviously attracts headlines, there is also a compelling link between heritage, identity and wellbeing. For instance, the Australian Government’s recently-released Australian Heritage Strategy points out that the Productivity Commission:

… found that reinforcement and preservation of living culture has helped to develop identity, sense of place, and build self esteem within Indigenous communities.

Such findings are not restricted to colonised minorities. This year, a department of the UK Heritage Lottery Fund released a research review of the “values and benefits of heritage”. About 70 per cent of respondents believed that:

… heritage sites and buildings play an important part in how people view the places they live, how they feel and their quality of life.

In my observation, much the same would be found in Australia and most other parts of the world. In broad terms, it was concern for such matters that drove the Mali prosecution.

Heritage destruction as a war crime

The sites destroyed by the Islamists in Timbuktu included the 16th century mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud, leader of the city’s celebrated Sankore University, and the shrine of Sidi Ahmed ar-Raqqad, a scholar and Sufi mystic who wrote a treatise on traditional medicine over 400 years ago.

Under the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court, war crimes include intentional targeting of historic monuments. Although this is the first time the ICC has prosecuted war crimes on this basis, its action is consistent with the various Hague conventions on war going back to the late 1800s.

The Mali trial builds on jurisprudence developed in the Nuremburg trials after WWII and on the war-crimes prosecutions by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia of those responsible for destroying cultural property in the Balkans war in the 1990s.

As in the case of Mali, the cultural World Heritage status of Dubrovnik’s Old Town was a determining factor in the convictions of Yugoslav People’s Army commanders Miodrag Jokić and Pavle Strugar following their 1991 shelling of the city.

In the Mali case, concern has been expressed that the ICC’s sole focus on heritage “stuff” is misplaced and should be expanded to include matters such as torture, rape and murder.

The International Federation for Human Rights, for example, welcomed the verdict but contended that “this victory does leave something to be desired”. The Federation called upon the ICC prosecutor to continue her investigations and to prosecute the perpetrators of other crimes committed in northern Mali, in particular, sexual and gender-based ones.

However, as Fatou Basouda, the ICC’s prosecutor, stated in September 2015 in relation to the Timbuktu case:

Let there be no mistake: the charges … involve most serious crimes; they are about the destruction of irreplaceable historic monuments, and they are about a callous assault on the dignity and identity of entire populations, and their religious and historical roots … It is rightly said that ‘cultural heritage is the mirror of humanity’. Such attacks affect humanity as a whole.

The importance that the prosecutor places on identity and dignity — in a word, wellbeing — is something that should focus our minds when we are discussing the place of heritage in other circumstances, even in “everyday” situations.

‘Everyday’ development destroying heritage sites

The destruction of heritage in the course of “everyday” development, in fact, does vastly more damage than war. This is either through large-scale projects such as mines or dams, or the cumulative impact of industrial expansion and smaller-scale projects such as housing and tourism developments.

One high profile international example is the Ilisu Dam on the upper Tigris River in southeastern Turkey. The project will create a 300 square kilometre reservoir that will force the resettlement of tens of thousands of mostly Kurdish people from nearly 200 villages.

The dam will also flood the extraordinary historic town of Hasankeyf, parts of which date back 12,000 years.

PHOTO: The Tigris river, with the minaret of a 14th century mosque, flows through the town of Hasankeyf. (Commons: Poyraz 72)

Despite being declared a major national monument by Turkey in 1978, Hasankeyf was identified by Europa Nostra, Europe’s peak heritage organization, as one of Europe’s “7 Most Endangered” heritage sites in 2016. Early in the long-running campaign to save the site, Turkish government engineers dismissed heritage concerns, stating that the dam was more important to the nation than some old minarets and a few caves.

In Australia, continual damage to the rock art on Western Australia’s Burrup Peninsula by the ongoing development of mining infrastructure is a woeful example of heritage seemingly doomed to “death by 1,000 cuts”.

The Burrup engravings are of great cultural significance to local Indigenous people and widely regarded as one of the most important bodies of rock art in the world. As Griffith University’s Paul Taçon has written, 1,700 engraved boulders were relocated and thus decontextualised from their cultural landscape in the 1980s to make way for infrastructure for the North West Shelf gas project.

In 2007, Woodside Petroleum started extending processing facilities for the Pluto Gas Field, having received permission from the WA Government to destroy a significant quantity of the Burrup rock art, against the advice of the government’s own statutory expert panel.

After international protests, the Burrup was then placed on Australia’s National Heritage List. Federal Environment Minister at the time — Malcolm Turnbull — nonetheless prioritised development and gave Woodside permission to destroy 200 rock art panels. The WA Government subsequently gave permission for an additional 170 panels to be relocated (and thus stripped of their cultural context).

In 2008, another company was fined under federal law for damaging three sites on the Burrup by blasting. As a final gesture of contempt, the WA Government then rescinded the Burrup’s longstanding formal status as a sacred site in 2014. In short, despite global recognition of the value of the Burrup rock art, “everyday development” continues to trump best-practice heritage protection of the site.

Damage to heritage heartbreaking for communities

Just about every country in the world, including Australia, has legislation of some sort to protect heritage in development contexts. When development is declared imperative, though, as at Ilisu or on the Burrup, or when there are gaping loopholes in heritage legislation, such as with large-scale tree-clearing or housing development in Queensland, the damage continues unrelentingly.

Most of the sites being destroyed in Australia and around the world don’t make the news because they don’t have the monumental scale or romantic cachet of places such as Palmyra, but for the communities who value the heritage in question, the damage is heartbreaking.

While WA is resurrecting its stalled bid to water down its heritage legislation, Queensland is reviewing its Indigenous cultural heritage guidelines, in an effort to tighten things up.

At the other end of the spectrum, the World Bank is completing much the same process after some years of deliberation. The Bank has a formal global standard for cultural heritage broadly based on humanitarian considerations. Still, despite its professed concern, the Bank ranks heritage very low in its order of priorities.

This apparent lack of interest notwithstanding, it is not hard to join the dots empirically between cultural heritage and the other environmental and social standards that the Bank takes more seriously. This is particularly true of Indigenous matters.

The impact of development — and the reputational risk it poses — is understood by most major corporations, even if their execution of heritage protection procedures can be patchy. That’s why Rio Tinto worked with an international group of heritage professionals to develop its global corporate heritage protection guidelines.

Heritage guidelines have also been developed in various parts of the world for use by the military. Peter Stone at the UK’s University of Newcastle has created what he calls “a four-tier approach to the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict”. It is an invaluable framework and has been formally adopted by the International Committee of the Blue Shield, the “Red Cross for Heritage”.

It is one thing, though, to guide the actions of countries that aim to “play by the rules” in war, whether concerning heritage or people. It is quite another, as Stone recognises, to constrain states which have not signed up to the relevant conventions, including the 1954 Hague Convention and the statutes underpinning the International Criminal Court. The situation is even more problematical with non-state actors such as IS, which intentionally flout such conventions in the most dramatic and appalling ways, in relation both to people and heritage.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-23-33-pmThis is sickeningly obvious in IS’s approach at Palmyra. Not only is the organisation facilitating industrial-scale looting there, it has also slaughtered numerous people in the site’s amphitheatre and executed Khaled al-Asaad, the site’s 81-year-old archaeological guardian.

It is highly unlikely that anyone will be brought to justice for these murders, let alone the heritage crimes. The man found guilty for the damage in Mali was surrendered to the court not by Mali, nor the French military (in the country to quell hostilities), but by the neighbouring country of Niger, to where he had fled.

The chances that a similar transfer will occur in relation to Syria or indeed anywhere else are vanishingly small, unless key players see some advantage in making a point of presenting someone to the ICC for propaganda purposes.

Even that would require the ICC to have issued an arrest warrant, which it has not done in connection with Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or any other recent place where heritage war crimes have likely occurred.

Few clean hands

Why is this the case? It’s simple: no-one has clean hands when it comes to the destruction of cultural heritage in armed conflict. The politics of heritage are Byzantine at the best of times, but adding the possibility of war crimes convictions to the mix makes matters almost impossibly fraught.

So do I think we shouldn’t waste our time and precious resources pursuing heritage war crimes? Not at all. The lasting significance of the Mali decision (and indeed the earlier cases it builds upon) is that it sets a very useful bar.

We shouldn’t, however, now think the ICC is going to deliver us from evil. Its heritage cases will be few and far between and successful prosecutions will probably be even rarer. So while always keeping open the possibilities of action in The Hague, we should focus our minds on these points.

First, as barbaric as heritage war crimes might seem, far more heritage destruction — and thus inexorable damage to human wellbeing — occurs through everyday development. Except in a few cases, that never makes the news.

Second, as “glamorous” as Palmyra or Aleppo might be — as matters of concern — they are not the only places in Syria, much less the Middle East or for that matter the rest of the planet, where armed hostilities are destroying heritage.

Highlighting the situation in Palmyra, or even Syria more generally, might help focus government and public attention on the problem of heritage destruction for a while. Yet we have to be extremely careful that such high-profile examples don’t “suck up all the oxygen” and leave other places to their own devices.

Believe me, there’s a lot of them suffering in every part of the world, whether as a result of conflict, criminal looting or “routine” development: from the unobtrusive small-scale places that make up the bulk of cultural heritage right up to World Heritage sites of the scale and grandeur of Machu Picchu or Angkor. The Trafficking Culture Project and Blue Shield Committee amongst others provide ample evidence of the pressing problem of heritage under threat.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it is local people with local solutions who are usually best-positioned to make the most of our support — whether in Mali, Syria, Iraq or elsewhere. Joshua Hammer’s new book, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, for instance, shows how locals put themselves at grave risk to save priceless ancient scrolls from the same Islamist militants who destroyed the World Heritage tombs there.

What is missing in global responses to local heritage destruction is usually not generous offers to rebuild whole sites. Such offers nearly always entail imported expertise and largely exclude local people. Nor generally do we need the heritage-protection airstrikes recommended by the Antiquities Coalition. In the “fog of war”, they are highly likely to damage the very sites they are supposed to protect.

Most often, we need to recognise that relatively small amounts of money judiciously applied through appropriate local players are the way to create sustainable solutions. There are colleagues doing just that right now, through mostly under-the-radar but highly-effective efforts in war-zones such as Syria but also through programs such as the Sustainable Preservation Initiative.

In short, we need a range of responses. Some will involve “big sticks” wielded by institutions such as the ICC but most will work at the grassroots.

On a day to day level, meanwhile, we should all take an interest in what is happening to the heritage around us.

If we do, we can help monitor and mitigate the way “everyday” development continually chips away at heritage places large and small, in ways that frequently go unnoticed until it is too late.

Ian Lilley is the Professor in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies at the University of Queensland.

Originally published in The Conversation.

PDF of article here

House Homeland Security Committee Report Released on Daesh’s Financial Infrastructure

The Antiquities Coalition commends the House Homeland Security Committee Majority Staff for working to raise awareness of the proven connection between cultural racketeering and terrorist financing through their new report Cash to Chaos: Dismantling ISIS’ Financial Infrastructure.

According to this October report, Daesh (also known as ISIS) is now the richest terror group in history, with an estimated annual revenue of $1 billion dollars. Cash to Chaos explores how Daesh earns this money, and then provides 14 recommendations to disrupt these funding streams.

Pillars of Daesh (ISIS) financing as shown in the House Homeland Security Committee report Cash to Chaos: Dismantling ISIS’ Financial Infrastructure.

It finds that Daesh’s military “strength rests on seven key funding pillars,” with the illicit trade in conflict antiquities providing “a significant source of terrorist revenue.”

In fact, Cash to Chaos lists antiquities looting and trafficking as Daesh’s “Third Pillar” of terrorist financing, along with the black market trade in oil, gas, and other commodities, extortion, taxation, robbery, kidnapping for ransom, foreign donors, and emerging fundraising tactics such as online donations and crowdfunding. 

However, despite the importance of cultural racketeering to Daesh’s financial operations, the report warns that “domestic and international law enforcement agencies have not put high-enough priority on tracking black market sales of cultural artifacts and antiquities.” 

Among other recommendations, it urges:

The Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security [to] in conjunction with INTERPOL and other relevant international organizations, as well as auction houses, spearhead a new initiative to crack down on illegal trade and trafficking in cultural property and antiquities in the United States and abroad.  As part of this effort, various stakeholders should strengthen regulations that restrict the movement of artifacts smuggled out of war zones and take aggressive action to recover and return items to their respective countries of origin. The Committee is supportive of the approach taken in H.R. 2285 (Rep. William Keating D-MA), the Prevent Trafficking in Cultural Property Act, and urges the Senate to act on this bipartisan House-passed measure as soon as possible.

Cash to Chaos follows the release of the Culture Under Threat: Recommendations for the U.S. Government, published by the Antiquities Coalition, Asia Society, and Middle East Institute in April of 2016. This report put forward 31 specific recommendations to address the use of cultural racketeering as a terrorist financing tool, and like Cash to Chaos, calls on the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State to close U.S. borders to conflict antiquities from Iraq, Syria, and beyond.

This is a significant step forward and it is important to continue coordinating efforts to cut off all sources of financing to violent extremist organizations. 

Antiquities Coalition Co-Hosts Event Highlighting Role Models in the Global Campaign against Violent Extremism

The Antiquities Coalition is honored to have co-hosted “Heroes of the Global Campaign to Prevent and Overcome Violent Extremism” in New York City on September 22.

Antiquities Coalition Founder and Chairman, Deborah Lehr, joined six other women—all leaders in the arts, business, diplomacy, or philanthropy—at the Metropolitan Museum’s Temple of Dendur to recognize 10 remarkable men and women who have taken a stand for human rights around the globe. These included:

  • Abdihafid Yussef Abdi (Kenya), for his courageous and innovative work as a co-founder of Teachers Against Violent Extremism, a network of educators fighting radicalization in Kenya.
  • Nicholas Kristof (USA), New York Times columnist, for his steady focus on the root causes and cultural and political ramifications of violent extremism.
  • Turki Al-Dakhil (Saudi Arabia), Director General of Al-Arabiya TV, for his outspoken advocacy of tolerance, freedom of the press, the rights of minorities and women in the Gulf region.
  • A team of students at the Rochester Institute of Technology (USA), who won the Peer-to-Peer Challenging Extremism Initiative award organized by the State Department, for their innovative approach to countering hate speech on the internet.
  • Nadia Murad (Iraq), a Yazidi woman who survived the massacre of her family and sexual enslavement by ISIS, for her valorous exposure of atrocities committed by terrorists against her people.
  • Hafsat Mohammed (Nigeria), a former radio journalist turned civil society activist, for her resilient campaign against religious intolerance in Nigerian schools and for leading a grass root multi-faith effort to denounce Boko Haram.
  • Serge and Beate Klarsfeld (France and Germany), for their lifetime dedication to expose and bring to justice Nazi war criminals, and their tireless efforts to use the lessons of history to denounce racism and bigotry.
  • Emanuel Jal (South Sudan), musician, actor, former child soldier, and political activist, for his engagement to bring peace and reconciliation to his people through music and art.
  • Li Yongjun (China), for his innovative leadership in preserving and promoting intangible cultural heritage in China and around the world.

As a not-for-profit dedicated to fighting cultural crimes—including the organized plunder and targeted destruction of cultural sites by terrorists organizations such as Daesh (also known as ISIS)—the Antiquities Coalition welcomed this opportunity to recognize the courage and sacrifice of these individuals.

Each of the individuals recognized represent the next generation in the fight against extremism. As terrorist groups and extremists elevate their translational approach and increasingly turn to technology as a means of influence, it takes creativity and next generation thinking to develop even more effect means of combatting the violent extremism taking place across the globe today.

Given the success of this year’s ceremony, the organizing committee is planning to make it an annual event.

Kirk Bill Creates Barrier to ISIS Antiquity Trade


Kirk Bill Creates Barrier to ISIS Antiquity Trade

Bill Prevents ISIS-Stolen Art and Artifacts, Used to Help Fund Terrorism, From Being Trafficked in the U.S.

Tuesday, Oct 4, 2016

CHICAGO – U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) last week introduced the Terrorism Art and Antiquity Revenue Prevention Act of 2016 (TAAR Act) to prevent ISIS-stolen antiquities from being trafficked into the U.S. This legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

“The United States should take every possible step to ensure antiquities do not directly or indirectly fund ISIS,” said Senator Kirk. “This legislation will create a lasting barrier to ISIS’s antiquity trade in the U.S. and ensure the federal government has the necessary tools to combat ISIS’s vital antiquity revenue stream.”

NBC News reports [a]ntiquity plundering – particularly from violence-riddled Syria and Iraq – fuels a $7 billion black market, and some of that money lands in the pockets of terrorists, say archaeologists and international watchdogs.” In August, GAO disclosed there have been eighteen FBI cases opened related to ISIS antiquities in seven cities across the country.

In 2015, Congress passed the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (Public Law 114-151), which gave the President authority to create an import ban on all Syrian archeological or ethnological material. However, further action is needed to make these bans enforceable and ensure antiquities do not indirectly fund ISIS.

“The ISIS antiquity trade threatens the preservation of cultural art and artifacts that are at the core of civilization in the Middle East,” said Deborah Lehr, Chair of the Antiquities Coalition. “We support Senator Kirk’s efforts to ensure the cultural property of the Middle East can be used as a foundation to rebuild broken communities once stability returns to the region.”

Inspired by the successful legislation to combat blood diamonds in 2003, the TAAR Act creates a database and labeling program to provide law enforcement with essential data to identify ISIS-stolen antiquities. Specifically, the legislation:

  • Amends the National Stolen Property Act to include cultural property valued at $50 or more.
  • Directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create a labeling program to identify legal antiquities from Iraq or Syria. DHS will require buyers and sellers of Iraqi or Syrian antiquities to report where and when the items were purchased, in addition to documentation that proves the chain of custody.
  • Directs the Secretary of Commerce, through the Undersecretary of Standards and Technology, to create a scientific database of antiquities coming from Iraq or Syria in order to more easily identify illegal antiquities.

“Terrorists will use any means they can find to finance their crimes,” Senator Grassley said. “Shutting down markets for their looted property is an important way to cut off a source of their funding.”

“We must stop terrorists from funding their radical acts of destruction. Anything Congress can do to dry up ISIS’s revenue stream is a step forward and important to our efforts to take down the terrorist group once and for all,” Dr. Cassidy said.

“I support this legislation because a successful strategy to defeat ISIS must include a multi-faceted and aggressive campaign to eliminate any sources of their revenue—including any funding the terrorist organization attempts to accrue from plundered art and antiquities,” said Senator Ayotte.

“ISIS is at war with civilization,” said Senator Tillis. “On top of the human cost and devastation to once thriving towns and villages across the Middle East, ISIS is now pillaging Roman, Christian and Iraqi antiquities. Selling these ancient treasures is putting millions into ISIS’ coffers. The Terrorism Art and Antiquity Revenue Prevention Act will put the world on notice that America will not tolerate those who aid and abet ISIS, and will send the message that we will not stand by and watch the destruction of our common heritage.”

At a briefing hosted by Senator Kirk and Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) in September, co-chairs of the Senate Human Rights Caucus, antiquity experts expressed the need to promote accountability for ISIS’s destruction of cultural heritage. They agreed the U.S. government must promote the rule of law to protect cultural heritage in conflict zones.

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