How China and America Can Protect the World’s Antiquities

Cracking Down on Illegal Trade

By Eleni Wah

(Cross posted from Foreign Affairs)

In 1971, a ping-pong match between the U.S. and Chinese national teams helped open relations between the two countries. Since then, people-to-people diplomacy has been a bright spot in otherwise tense interactions. But civil society engagement has become increasingly challenging. The Chinese government’s 2016 law on the management of foreign NGOs restricts many long-standing partnerships that the government now finds politically threatening, such as those that focus on the legal and political systems. Cooperation between the United States and China continues in less politically sensitive arenas, such as emerging global environmental and public health threats, and there are more opportunities here to be seized. When officials from both countries sit down later this week at the first round of the Social and People-to-People Exchange Dialogue—established by U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at their Mar-a-Lago summit in April—they should look to another important and time-sensitive global challenge: combating the destruction of cultural heritage sites and the looting and trafficking of illegal antiquities.

Throughout much of the war-torn Middle East and other conflict-ridden areas, the treasured remains of ancient civilizations are under threat. In Afghanistan, the Taliban destroyed two fourth- and fifth-century Buddha carvings at Bamiyan; Islamist extremists burned priceless thirteenth-century manuscripts in Timbuktu; and, more recently, the Islamic State (ISIS) devastated the ancient ruins of Palmyra as well as numerous other important historic sites. Alongside the destruction has been massive looting of artifacts from tombs and museums. Such acts erase cultural identity and can thereby contribute to political instability. “Cultural cleansing is a tactic of war, used to destabilize populations and weaken social defenses,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has stated. “The loss of sacred places, libraries, museums and other irreplaceable historic monuments contributes to people in war-torn countries being vulnerable to the appeal of violence and extremism.” Even worse, the looting and illegal trafficking of antiquities serves as a source of funds for further atrocities. According to one report, ISIS is earning millions of dollars annually from selling antiquities from Syria.

The United States and China are well positioned to take on this problem. For one, U.S. and Chinese collectors and auction houses play an important role in fueling the illegal global trade in antiquities. In 2017, for example, the U.S. arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby was found to have imported an estimated $11.8 million in illegal Iraqi artifacts. China, in turn, is a significant importer of illegally trafficked art from Libya. (Chinese-flagged cargo ships have also been used to transport looted antiquities.) Further, although not always successful in its efforts, the United States, both through the government and nongovernmental actors, has long been a leader in global efforts to address the illegal antiquities trade. It has strengthened educational efforts for museums and auction houses, as well as enhanced its enforcement domestically by levying tough fines and prison sentences for those involved in illegal antiquities trafficking. China has focused primarily on stemming the looting and trafficking of its own antiquities, but as its role in the broader antiquities market grows, it too must enhance its education and enforcement efforts.One of the best things countries like the United States and China can do, according to Deborah Lehr, founder of the Antiquities Coalition, is to sign cultural memoranda of understanding with the countries that supply illicit artifacts. These memoranda provide a legal basis for restricting the import of cultural property, require strict documentation of an artifact’s provenance, and represent an important symbolic commitment by both countries to fight the import and export of illegal antiquities. Both China and the United States should commit to advancing such agreements with vulnerable countries, as well as with those countries through which looted antiquities travel. Although there is no working estimate of how much of the illegal antiquities trade would be curtailed if the United States and China signed and enforced such bilateral memoranda, their positions as the largest and third-largest markets for art and antiquities globally suggest that it would be significant.

Documenting and preserving the artifacts that currently exist would also help. The Council on Library and Information Resources and the Antiquities Coalition in the United States are both involved in a nascent effort to develop a digital library of Middle Eastern works that would bring “uncatalogued, undescribed, and undocumented collections” online. China could bring valuable experience to bear on such an effort: since 1994, Chinese conservators, along with their international counterparts, have been working to restore, document, and digitize a massive collection of ancient manuscripts discovered in Dunhuang in the Gobi Desert.

The restoration and replication of cultural heritage sites and artifacts is also an area of common interest between the two countries. The California nongovernmental organization CyArk, for example, produces 3-D laser surveys of global monuments. It has done work in Iraq, Jordan, Myanmar, and Pakistan, among others. The surveys are later turned into 3-D models and architectural drawings that can be used for reconstruction. At the same time, Chinese companies are already using 3-D printing to replicate ancient Chinese artifacts held abroad to “bring them back home.” Marrying the documentation and surveying abilities of the U.S. firms with the scale and capacity of China’s 3-D printing capabilities would be powerful.

Stabilizing and protecting cultural heritage areas threatened by conflict is also an important arena for potential cooperation. As president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, James Cuno has noted that an international response to the destruction and plundering of cultural heritage sites needs to include intervening in conflict zones before damage and destruction have occurred and engaging and supporting local authorities in the protection of sites and heritage. This includes “supporting the policing of the region’s political borders to discourage the illicit export and import of cultural heritage artifacts.” The United States Committee of the Blue Shield works with the U.S. military to undertake protection of cultural heritage sites and antiquities during armed conflict and natural disasters. But its capacity is limited. China’s role as one of the largest contributors to UN peacekeeping forces—which are often deployed in protection of sites—suggests that Beijing could be a major partner for the Blue Shield and U.S. military.

Cooperation on the issue of cultural heritage and antiquities protection offers the United States and China an important new opportunity to strengthen their relationship. Particularly as China seeks to expand its role on the global stage and exerts more influence in the politics and development of the rest of the world through its Belt and Road Initiative, the illegal trade in antiquities offers a relatively noncontroversial arena for cooperation. Even more important, by pooling the resources and complementary strengths of the United States and China, Trump and Xi could send a powerful message that they are prepared to protect the world’s ancient civilizations from wanton destruction and illegal profiteering and that others should join them in the fight.

PDF of article here.

المصريون يبحثون عن الكنز.. ” هليوبوليس” مفتاح تهريب الآثار المصرية للخارج.. والدولة تعقد اتفاقية مع دول أجنبية لتقييد استيراد القطع المسروقة

تزايدت ظاهرة بيع الآثار في مصر وأزداد عدد من ينقبون عن تلك الآثار تحت منازلهم بصورة غير مشروعة، وفقاً
لصحيفة التايمز البريطانية.

وبدأ سكان القاهرة التنقيب عن الآثار تحت منازلهم، وتعد منطقتا المطرية وعين شمس، من أكثر المناطق التي تنشط بها عملية التنقيب، نظراً لأنهما قائمتان فوق مدينة هليوبوليس الأثرية.ويضيف الكاتب نقلاً عن احصاءات الائتلاف الدولي لحماية الآثار المصرية، إن مصر خسرت خلال الفترة الممتدة بين عامي 2011 و 2014، ما قيمته نحو ثلاثة مليارات دولار أمريكي من القطع الأثرية، التي أخذت من المواقع الأثرية أو من المتاحف.

وقد نهبت مواقع أثرية كاملة، بما فيها مقبرة دهشور ومقبرة أبوصير، إذ لجأ العديد لطرق وسائل مختلفة في محاولة للحصول على المال.

وقال سكان في حي المطرية إن البعض هدموا منازلهم بالكامل من أجل التمويه عن عمليات التنقيب غير القانونية تحت الأنقاض.

وقد أثار هذا الوضع عددا من الشباب المصريين لبذل جهد عام في محاولة لوقف هذه الخسارة من القطع الأثرية التاريخية من خلال إطلاق حركة “وقف هجرة التراث” المستقلة التي تنشر وتعرض صور القطع المفقودة على الإنترنت على

صفحتهم على الفيس بوك.

وتهدف الحركة إلى توثيق القطع المسروقة، وتطلب من الأجانب إرسال صور عن أي آثار قد تعرض عليهم أو يجدون طريقهم إلى مجموعاتهم، في محاولة لإحباط السوق القديمة غير المشروعة.

-قصة لوتر
بدأ الأمر من “آدم علي حسين”، علي الفيسبوك الذي تحدث شات مع إحد المواقع الأجنبية وطلب مساعدتهم في بيع القطع الأثرية من موقع أثري يدعي أنه عثر على 20 قدماً (6 أمتار) تحت منزل عائلته في الأقصر، وقال حسين “بالطبع اعلم انه غير قانوني”.

أرسل حسين مقاطع فيديو للموقع، تظهر أشرطة الفيديو موقع تحت الأرض مع الجدران المتربة والتالفة التي تغطيها الكتابة الهيروغليفية والصور لما يبدو أن الآلهة المصرية القديمة والناس.

وقال الموقع الأجنبي رفضت مساعدته، أنا لست اختصاصي مصريات محترف، ولكن عندما قال هذا، هوسين كان غير مؤكد أعتقد أنني لا تزال تساعده على بيع القطع الأثرية وفهم معلومات الأقمار الصناعية.

سوق للنهب
في حين اتخذت الحكومة المصرية خطوات لردع أعمال النهب، بما في ذلك التوصل إلى اتفاق تقيد فيه الولايات المتحدة استيراد القطع الأثرية المصرية.
PDF of article here.

Poor Egyptians dig up homes in search of antiquities


Poor Egyptians dig up homes in search of antiquities

by, Bel Trew, Matariya

An illicit trade in antiquities is booming in Egypt helped by a growing number of people illegally digging under their homes for treasure.

The authorities are struggling to stop the digs and have raised the maximum sentence for illegally selling antiquities from seven years in prison to life, but the collapse of the economy and the currency has encouraged the trade.

“In our business we deal in dollars most of the time so if you sell something for $10 which was worth seven Egyptian pounds, it’s now worth 18,” one antiquities trader said. “That’s more than double. The business has become more profitable for many people.”

He has worked as a broker for 17 years, acquiring antiquities from looters and selling them to buyers in Europe and the US. He said that a new wave of opportunists had started digging under their homes. The busiest areas are two poor districts of Cairo that sit on top of the ancient city of Heliopolis, which was populated from the pre-dynastic period to the Middle Kingdom, up until 1800BC. “The devaluation could be the reason why many more people who live in areas like Matariya and Ain Shams districts have begun digging only recently,” he said.

Between 2011 and 2014 the country lost $3 billion in artefacts taken from sites and museums, according to the International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities. Whole sites, including the 4,000-year-old Dahshur necropolis and Abusir cemetery, have been gutted.

Poor Egyptians are using desperate means to make money as inflation soars and energy and fuel subsidies are cut. Now that the value of the dollar has doubled many are trying to find ancient objects to sell internationally.

Read full article:

PDF of article here.

Fatwa allowing illegal antiquities excavation triggers ire in Egypt



Fatwa allowing illegal antiquities excavation triggers ire in Egypt

A recent religious edict allowing ordinary Egyptian citizens to illegally excavate and keep antiquities and treasure from their own land has triggered an uproar from the country’s government officials and moderate religious scholars.

Early this month, Abdel Hamid el-Atrash — former head of the Edicts Committee at Egypt’s top Islamic body, Dar al-Ifta — said that it is the right of any individual who finds gold or treasure on his or her own land to keep it, provided they offer part of the value to charity, the semi-official daily newspaper Al-Ahram reported.

Moderate scholars have strongly criticized the scholar’s opinion, saying that such a religious edict paves the way for individuals to illegally search for treasure and antiquities on their own land, overtaking the government’s role of excavating artifacts.

“Gold and treasure are considered antiquities. Those are historical things and are regarded as part of the Egyptian civilization and heritage,” Amna Noseir, professor of Islamic Studies at Al-Azhar University, told Al-Monitor.

Noseir said that such edicts give ordinary citizens a religious pretext to illegally excavate for antiquities, which are a national wealth. “Individuals should instead hand over those gold pieces or treasures immediately to the government because treasures and antiquities are owned by the state as long as they are found within its territories,” she added.

In his argument, Muslim scholar Atrash referred to the story of a man who purchased a plot of land during the time of Prophet Muhammad and shortly afterward found a piece of gold on it. The man then gave the piece of gold to the previous landowner. However, the seller told him that the piece of gold was no longer his own because he already sold him the plot of land, Atrash said.

“The story proves that any individual has the right to take anything [they find] on their own land,” Atrash added.

Former Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawas labeled Atrash’s edict as “illogical,” saying the Egyptian law asserts that everything falling within the state’s territories belongs to it. “The man who issued such an edict has to undergo mental checks because his statements are totally against logic,” Hawas told local media.

Atrash’s edict comes despite an existing law that prohibits the illegal trade of antiquities.

No law criminalized the illegal excavation of antiquities until 1983. However, in that year, the Egyptian parliament passed a law sentencing violators to between five and seven years in prison and imposing on them fines of up to 7,000 Egyptian pounds.

The law has nonetheless been criticized for its light punishment and fines. Many archaeologists and experts have called on the government to toughen penalties against unauthorized searches for antiquities because they have become widespread in the past years.

In May this year, Egypt’s Cabinet approved some amendments to the law, raising the maximum sentence for illegal trade in antiquities from seven years to life imprisonment.

Antiquities theft cases escalated in the wake of the January 25 Revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak and caused a security lapse. Museums and archaeological sites were robbed during clashes and demonstrations that took place following the revolt.

A major antiquities theft incident took place at the Malawi National Museum in August 2013 following the dispersal of two sit-ins in support of former President Mohammed Morsi in Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares. More than 1,000 objects were stolen from the museum, government officials said.

According to the International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities, a US-based initiative that partnered with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, antiquities worth approximately $3 billion have been looted between 2011 and 2014.

Data released by the Antiquities Department also showed that Egypt recovered 723 artifacts from abroad between 2011 and 2015. The government restored 128, 68, 16, 70, 441 artifacts in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, respectively, according to the same data.

As the government makes such noticeable yet slow gains against the practice, edicts like that of Atrash are seen as undermining the state’s efforts.

“Although the edict is not the first of its kind, it is significant because it comes from a man who used to belong to Dar al-Ifta, Egypt’s top religious institution that issues religious edicts to advise Muslims on spiritual and life matters,” said Abdel Fattah el-Banna, professor of restoration of archaeological sites at the Faculty of Antiquities, Cairo University.

“Edicts like that of Atrash used to be issued by people who do not belong to Al-Azhar [Dar al-Ifta is an affiliate], and we used to deal with them as extremists,” Banna told local media. People must understand, Banna added, that the law and the religion prohibit individual excavation for antiquities, and whatever is found on any plot of land is the property of the state — not of the individual.

Menna A. Farouk is an Egyptian journalist who has been writing about social, political and cultural issues in Egypt since 2013. She is an editor at The Egyptian Gazette newspaper. Farouk has covered stories about the unrest that followed the January 2011 revolution, press freedom, immigration and religious reforms. On Twitter: @MennaFarouk91
PDF of article here.

Global Hope Coalition Inaugural Summit Honors ‘Everyday Heroes’ Countering Violent Extremism

September 18, 2017 marked the official launch of the Global Hope Coalition in New York on the eve of the United Nations General Assembly meetings. The Global Hope Coalition is comprised of a network of three not-for-profit foundations based in New York, Zurich, and Hong Kong with the goal of establishing a global platform to “empower courageous individuals who stand up to terror and violence, preserve our heritage and build bridges across cultures.”

The Global Hope Coalition Summit recognized the efforts of extraordinary individuals who are working to fight extremism in all of its forms – among them, the destruction of cultural heritage.  The event was chaired by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova as part of her ongoing efforts to work toward countering violent extremism.

The inaugural Summit honored ten men and women who serve as “Everyday Heroes” in their work countering violent extremism. The Summit also posthumously honored Samuel Pisar as we was presented with the “A Hero for Humanity Award” by World Jewish Congress President Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder.

The Everyday Hero awardees hailed from all over the world and included doctors, military officers, refugees, activists, intellectuals, and prosecutors. The Antiquities Coalition was honored to sponsor the Everyday Hero Award for Colonel Matt Bogdanos for his work exposing the link between antiquities trafficking and terrorist financing. Colonel Bogdanos’ award was presented by the Antiquities Coalition’s Chair and Founder Deborah Lehr, who serves as the Chair of The Global Hope Coalition U.S. Learn more about each of the awardees here.

The event was attended by leaders and cultural icons from across the globe. President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, President Rumen Radev of Bulgaria, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali, President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca of Malta, and His Royal Highness Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco were among the world leaders in attendance. Dr. Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister attended as Iraqi special envoy of President Dr. Fuad Masum. President Alassane Ouattara of the Ivory Coast was represented by cabinet minister Ally Coulibaly.

Dignitaries and diplomats in attendance included former President of Poland Aleksander Kwasniewski, former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair, former First Lady of the United States Laura Bush, and the First Ladies of Bulgaria, Ghana and Mali. The Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan, Bahrain, Mali, Morocco, and Nigeria; Priti Patel, United Kingdom Secretary of State for International Development; United Nations Undersecretary-General Ana María Menéndez and Under Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov; and David Drake, the Canadian Foreign Ministry’s Director General for International Security and Intelligence were all in attendance as well.

Protecting Cultural Heritage From Terrorism And Mass Atrocities: Links And Common Responsibilities

Peter HerdrichPeter Herdrich has led worldwide media, cultural affairs, and educational institutions. He is the Co-founder of The Antiquities Coalition and co-Principal Investigator on the Digital Library of the Middle East, a project of the Antiquities Coalition and the Council on Library and Information Resources funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Whiting Foundation.

On September 21, 2017, at the United Nations General Assembly meetings, international diplomats, NGO representatives, and experts convened at the UN for a program called Protecting Cultural Heritage From Terrorism And Mass Atrocities: Links And Common Responsibilities. The event hosts were the European Union Delegation to the UN, the Permanent Mission of Italy to the UN, UNESCO, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. This is the third consecutive year that the Antiquities Coalition has received an invitation to participate in UNGA cultural heritage preservation events.

These UN gatherings are commonly called “High-Level events” and with the General Assembly in session, there were a number of influential diplomats and experts in attendance. Their new perspectives are greatly welcomed, particularly for observers who attend UN cultural heritage events regularly. The key is to listen for surprises, new directions, and aborning initiatives.

The opening of the event featured comment on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2347 in support of cultural heritage that was unanimously supported by the Security Council in March and sponsored by Italy and France. Speakers including Angelino Alfano, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy; Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the European Commission; Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO; and Yuri Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC.They spoke about legal efforts, including the International Court of Justice’s successful prosecution of Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi for a war crime in Mali for destroying mausoleums, manuscripts, and a mosque; looting and illicit trafficking; terrorism finance; security; and human rights. Ms. Mogherini pointed out the EU now has a strategy on cultural heritage in place. “For too long, cultural heritage preservation was a side mission,” she said, and now it is at the heart of European policy. Director General Bokova said that UNESCO is preparing the implementation report for Resolution 2347. And Foreign Minister Alfano stated, “Culture is much more powerful than bombs.”

The United Nations uses the term “intervention” to describe speaker statements at these meetings and a new panel, diplomats, and experts contributed.

Dr. Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, reported that the terrorist Al-Mahdi has also been ordered to pay £2.5M as reparations. Al-Mahdi, a former teacher, is serving a nine-year prison sentence.

Two important themes emerged from law enforcement and counterterrorism experts. Gilles de Kerchove, the Counter-terrorism Coordinator for the European Union, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, the leader of the Italian Carabinieri’s Cultural Heritage Protection Command, and Emmanuel Roux, the special representative of INTERPOL to the UN all stated the need for specialized cultural heritage law enforcement teams in all countries. All three also mentioned the value of databases of cultural heritage material to law enforcement, both objects that are stolen and missing and of inventories and documentation of all types of cultural heritage collections. When discussing the importance of photographic documentation and description of objects, Roux said, “You can’t put a ghost on a database. You have to put data on a database.”

This is especially important to the Antiquities Coalition. Our Digital Library of the Middle East project with the Council on Library and Information Resources proposes a database of online collections records with descriptions, documentation, and online access. It has inherent value for security and risks management, as Katie Paul’s terrific infographic makes clear.

Dr. James Cuno, the President of The J. Paul Getty Trust, complemented the UN on the successful passage of Resolution 2347 and introduced a new issue paper on cultural heritage preservation. Dr. Cuno was joined by Dr. Thomas Weiss of the CUNY Graduate Center and author, along with Nina Connelly, of Protecting Cultural Heritage in Zones of Armed Conflict.

Finally, an observation about constancy. There are clearly leaders among the many nations who care deeply about cultural heritage preservation, with event host Italy as a prime example, along with others. As an attendee at almost all UN events over the last years about this field, I observe that Cyprus is as dedicated as any country to this important issue. The Cypriots always attend High-level events and the Foreign Minister of Cyprus, Ioannis Kasoulidis, attended the UN program. He spoke eloquently about the abiding commitment of the government and people of the small, economically challenged Mediterranean country to its cultural heritage and history. When the Antiquities Coalition did our first presentation ever in New York City, about Cambodia, the consul general of Cyprus attended. So, allow me a personal editorial note and to say Σας ευχαριστώ και μπράβο to our colleagues from Cyprus for your unshakable commitment.


Getting Dirty with Eric Cline

Dr. Eric H. Cline

Dr. Eric H. Cline is Professor of Classics and Anthropology, former Chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and current Director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute at The George Washington University, in Washington DC. A Fulbright scholar, National Geographic Explorer, and NEH Public Scholar, Dr. Cline holds degrees in Classical Archaeology, Near Eastern Archaeology, and Ancient History, from Dartmouth, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania.



What is the one world heritage site that you think everyone should see in their lifetime?

Megiddo, but I might be biased since I worked there for ten seasons, from 1994-2014.

If you could have lived in any era in any civilization, when and where would it have been?

Late Bronze Age, either in Mycenaean Greece, Egypt, or Canaan – but with the caveat that I would want to be high-ranking enough to meet some of the kings and talk with them.

What attracted you to your profession? 

I read a book about Heinrich Schliemann when I was seven years old. That’s what did it. I declared there and then that I was going to be an archaeologist.

Which words or phrases do you overuse? 

I overuse “Indeed” when writing. Indeed, I tend to start sentences with that word and have to go back and look that I haven’t used it too often when I’m finishing up a new article or book manuscript.

What is something that few people know about you?

My life is pretty much an open book, given how much I interact on social media, especially these days, but I doubt that most people know that my grandfather jumped ship into New York City harbor when he emigrated from England. Took him nearly 30 years to get around to applying for US citizenship; fortunately, he did and so here I am.

Antiquities Coalition To Sponsor Everyday Hero Award

The Antiquities Coalition is honored to sponsor Colonel Matt Bogdanos’ everyday hero award at the upcoming Global Hope Summit for his work exposing the link between antiquities trafficking and terrorist financing.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2017 — As part of the Antiquities Coalition’s continued fight against cultural racketeering, we are proud to be a part of the Global Hope Coalition’s work in countering violent extremism. The Global Hope Summit on September 18th, 2017 will be a spectacular showing of support for efforts against all aspects of violent extremism, including the erasure of cultural heritage through destruction and pillage as a part of a wider effort by extremists to eliminate the cultural memory and history of a people. These intricate connections between heritage and cultural identity makes it a continued target of exploitation by violent extremists as they seek to bolster their destructive efforts and fund their campaigns of terror while re-writing history.

It is our honor to recognize a hero in heritage and a leader in the fight against cultural racketeering, Colonel Matt Bogdanos, United States Marine Corps Reserves, at the upcoming Global Hope Summit. Colonel Bogdanos is currently a prosecutor for the New York County District Attorney’s Office, and will be honored at the Summit with an everyday hero award for his work exposing the connection between the trafficking of illicit antiquities and terrorist financing.

“The Antiquities Coalition is honored to sponsor Colonel Bogdanos’ award. The Colonel’s contributions to the field of fighting illicit trade are legendary: from leading recovery efforts from the looting of the National Museum of Iraq to the high-profile prosecution of dealers in the trade,” said Deborah Lehr, Chairman and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition.

The Global Hope Coalition’s event will take place on September 18th, 2017 at the New York Public Library. The event will be hosted by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, and the Leadership Council of the Global Hope Coalition. The Summit will convene heads of state, including the Presidents of France, Iraq, Mali, Ghana, Malta and Bulgaria, along with other business, government, United Nations, and philanthropic agency leaders to join the discussion on fighting violent extremism and intolerance, preserving cultural heritage, and promoting intercultural dialogue.

Deborah Lehr, who also serves as the Chairman of the Board of Global Hope Coalition USA, is expected to speak at the summit.

Local Heroes Use Fresh Approach Against Extremist Barbarity

We are pleased to share this op-ed by Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, President of the Middle East Institute and #CultureUnderThreat Task Force Chair. The Antiquities Coalition and the Middle East Institute work together in the fight to protect our shared heritage. Together, we take action to halt antiquities looting and trafficking to end violent extremism and organized crime.

On the heels of the 16th anniversary of 9/11 — after two costly wars, countless sacrifices by our men and women in uniform, and a whopping $4 trillion-plus price tag — it’s time to ask: What’s missing in our grand strategy?

We have learned many lessons since that bright September morning in 2001 that turned so dark and changed our lives forever. We all agree that it’s not just the armed forces or the security agencies that will ultimately lead us to victory in this very different kind of war. But few convincing answers have been provided to the central question in the long-running strategy debate: How do we undermine support for the ideology of those bent on killing innocents? How can we tip the balance in the fight for the hearts and minds of the potential recruits and supporters of the extremists?”

A decade ago, Philip H. Gordon, former advisor to President Obama, wrote on the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that if “Americans accept that victory in the war on terror will come only when the ideology they are fighting loses support and when potential adherents see viable alternatives to it, then the United States would have to adopt a very different course.”

To read more, visit The Hill.

Blood Buddhas: How Indian Heritage Fuels the Terror Machinery




Blood Buddhas: How Indian Heritage Fuels the Terror Machinery


Cultural artifacts from across the world are being peddled so bombs can be thrown back at us.

How much does a terrorist attack cost? Where does the money come from? How does the money get through to terror groups? How are far-off countries like India an integral part of the terror-funding network?

While Indian journalists like Shekhar Gupta were busy justifying and communalizing the issue, the Antiquities Coalition published some shocking data on terror funding and its linkage to heritage theft. Media’s penchant for fake news and malleable narratives ensured that this critical topic got no coverage whatsoever.


Here is what we know. It is surprisingly cheap to orchestrate a terror attack, even one large enough to shake the world. The 2015 attacks in Paris, for example, cost only $88,160. Interestingly, only $22,570 was spent in truly criminal activities (like making false IDs and acquiring weapons). The rest of it went toward phone calls, car rentals, travel — the seemingly harmless simple stuff. In other words, the Islamic State (IS) took 130 lives for the price of a mid-range car.


Now, this is where it gets really interesting. Terror-funding sources like oil, money laundering and narcotics have dominated the public perception and media narrative for decades. This image fits in well with a Hollywood-like James Bond villain that funds an evil empire through “traditional” ill-gotten gains.

What doesn’t fit into that image, however, is the bad guy selling stolen rag-tag antiquities to fund terror. The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2199 saying exactly that. That IS was stealing and smuggling heritage artifacts to fund its terror operations. The United States quickly followed suit passing H.R.2285: Prevent Trafficking in Cultural Property Act, recognizing “trafficking of cultural property” as a “homeland security” issue — not an art or heritage concern limited to cocktail evenings at museums and high-society dinners.

In short, heritage from across the world is being peddled so bombs can be thrown back at us.


Between 2011 and 2016, the declared imports of antiquities into the US grew by almost 50%. That sure is a phenomenal growth rate. More so for a product or market that is not new or fancy. Of the $147 million-worth of arts/antiquities traded in 2016, $79 million came from India. Compare that to Iraq at only $2.5 million. In short, more than half of America’s arts/antiquities imports had their origins in India.

When you view this in the context of India’s CAG report (the country’s official review and audit agency), commenting on ASI (India’s official agency responsible for preventing heritage-crimes), they chose to not mince words and describe the agency’s efforts as “completely ineffective.”

To add to this, a recent High Court ruling in India had “not come across even a single case, where the persons involved in smuggling the idols out of the country have been independently prosecuted.”

The team at India Pride Project posts regular updates on heritage thefts. Interestingly, most of those thefts are not even officially reported by the local police. No wonder multinational-terror groups chose India for its ripe, repercussion-free pickings.


The collective consciousness has gotten two facts drastically wrong. So, let me correct them for you. First, it is actually quite inexpensive to fund a terror attack. Second, it is also very lucrative to trade in stolen heritage.

Once you put these two together, you have a potent, dangerous, flammable mix ready to explode in your face. As an example, with the gains from selling one Buddha sculpture (stolen from Mathura, India and illicitly sold for $1 million), terrorists could literally fund a dozen Paris-style attacks. To put that in an extrapolated perspective, that’s 1,500 lives that could be lost by smuggling out one piece of Indian heritage. Let that sink in for a minute.

So paradoxically, though Lord Buddha spent every waking minute spreading the world of peace and coexistence, terrorists today are using his very image to fund quite the opposite.


Heritage destruction has been an integral part of civilizational conquests. Nazis destroyed Jewish art and we all know what happened with the Bamiyan Buddhas. What is new, though, is where new-age terrorists are taking this deplorable act.

You and I are regular people. We don’t think like IS; we don’t get into their heads; and that’s exactly what encourages them. National security agencies are still chasing narcotics and counterfeit currency operations, conveniently barking up the wrong tree, just because it fits into a traditional, comfortable construct.

Make no mistake. Just because we have our heads in the sand doesn’t mean that terrorists do too. Collective ignorance and government apathy act like a pep pill for them to push the pedal (on heritage crime-funded terror).

Unfortunately, that pedal is in a van that’s headed right at us.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: PXHere

PDF of article here. 

The AC Digs Into: DLME

The Antiquities Coalition is a founding partner of the Digital Library of the Middle East (DLME). Working with the Washington, DC-based Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), we are creating a federated resource of digitized cultural heritage materials from museums, libraries, archives, and other collections. The DLME will be accessible, interoperable, and open source and will include collections from around the world. In response to the urgent threat from cultural racketeers, the DLME will contribute to the security of Middle Eastern and North African heritage by mitigating looting and illicit sale through registration and improved tracking of objects’ provenance. Post-conflict, the DLME will be designed to increase global knowledge capacity by facilitating research, teaching, new forms of cultural expression, and fresh discovery.

 AC Co-founder Peter Herdrich is leading the DLME effort with Dr. Charles Henry, the President of CLIR. Peter outlined the progress the DLME has made in its first year. 

What can you tell us about the DLME?

Last summer we got off to an auspicious start when we received a planning grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to assess the idea of creating the Digital Library of the Middle East. We assembled a terrific team – Bethany Nowviskie, the Director of the Digital Library Federation; Elizabeth Waraksa, Program Director for Research and Strategic Initiatives at the Association of Research Libraries; independent media producer Neil Sieling; and Wayne Graham, the Technical Director of CLIR and the Digital Library Federation have all made critical contributions. So have colleagues at CLIR and the Antiquities Coalition. America, Europe, Africa, and Asia; from museum, library, archival, manuscript, and archaeological collections; from law enforcement, diplomatic, government, and cultural heritage preservation officials; and from people who believe in the importance of the culture of the Middle East. In fact, as our investigations developed and more people heard about the project, a community of interest and commitment has began to form around the DLME.

It’s been a heart-warming response and we are taking the next steps. With the generous help of the Whiting Foundation, we have the funding to build a prototype digital platform for the DLME. We are going from vaporware to reality, as DLME TD Wayne Graham says. We wanted to verify that a large-scale digital library focused on the Middle East would be something that would be of interest to a wide variety users, what the technical challenges of building the library would be, how the DLME could help to combat looting and contribute to cultural heritage preservation, and how we could best partner with museums, libraries, archives, and government and private partners worldwide. The team reached out broadly and assembled the answers. And we were amazed with the results.

It’s never really wise to speak in absolutes when discussing opinion, but I think it’s safe to say that support for the Digital Library of the Middle East has been almost unanimous. What we heard was yes, the technology exists and can be deployed for this type of large scale digital library. Yes, users from advanced scholars to high school students are interested. Yes, this will make a significant contribution to the cultural record and to preservation. And yes, existing collections want to federate and become part of the effort. Challenges certainly exist, but nearly uniformly we heard endorsement for the idea, for its importance, and for its goals.

What was especially encouraging is that this response came from all constituents. And our team is unrivaled. The Stanford University Libraries and its engineers have joined us as our principal technical partner on the DLME. The team is working right now on a platform that will allow us to federate, search, and exhibit digital materials from collections all over the world.

Our team is also growing. The Council on Library and Information Resources and the Qatar National Library just signed a Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation to develop, enhance, and make available digitized cultural heritage content through the Digital Library of the Middle East. This is an exciting and important step. For us to create a successful digital library, it is imperative that we work closely with partners throughout the MENA region. Collaboration with the QNL is an unparalleled step toward fulfilling our mission.

How big do you see the DLME becoming?

We believe that over the years the DLME will grow to millions of records. Scalability is an important issue. The more material with have in the library, the more we have to search and understand. We also have more records and more digital surrogates to use in case of theft and looting and more provenance records should questions of illicit trade arise.

What are the next steps for the organization?

We are in a second planning stage now, to determine how to best proceed. There are important questions to sort out. How do we build and maintain a robust and inclusive technical platform for the DLME? How do we support and engage with collections in the Middle East? How do we create a user experience that allows for the florescence of scholarship and search? What sort of administrative and organizational support do we need? How can we ensure financial sustainability for the project? It’s a big job.

What do you see as the principal lessons learned so far?

There is an urgent need for the Digital Library of the Middle East. As the Antiquities Coalition and its many supporters well know, our culture is under threat. And we need to continue to create solutions that address security, risk management, international cooperation, and a view of our shared cultural heritage that recognizes its universality and its incredible importance and potential in the region. The DLME addresses all these issues, by federating inventories and provenance records, by making accessible the cultural record of the Middle East, and by creating a worldwide cooperative community that believes that these are shared goals for all of us and are willing to help. That’s what we hear, that incredible positive reaction to the DLME. So it’s up to us – all of us – to make it work.