Among the many tragedies taking place in the nearly four-year conflict in Yemen — including the thousands of lives lost, the impoverishment to near-starvation of its people and the ruin of its fragile economy — is the plunder of the country’s valuable and precious ancient cultural heritage by organized criminals and violent extremists. This all-too-familiar story underscores an urgent need for the U.S. Treasury Department to use its existing sanctions regime to close the U.S. art market to Yemeni blood antiquities.
Historically, Yemen was a meeting ground for some of the earliest contacts and trade between East and West and a crossroads of the ancient incense and spice routes. As home to the legendary Queen of Sheba, stories about the treasures to be found in Yemen’s markets and the independence of its people were passed across generations, along with a famed tradition of silver design. Much of this rich history survived for millennia, as Yemen is home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites and national museums that house priceless artifacts. While media coverage has closely followed the fighting around some of these historic places and collections, it has sadly ignored that this history is being stripped for sale to foreign buyers.
Yemen has warned the United Nations and the world of this illicit trade, presenting evidence that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula militants and Houthi rebels are taking a page from the Islamic State playbook by arming their cause with the plunder and sale of Yemen’s ancient treasures. Three major museums — the Taiz National Museum, the Aden National Museum and the National Museum of Zinjibar — have been pillaged and largely cleared of their collections. International experts have corroborated these reports, including archaeologists on the ground, the International Council of Museums and the U.N. Panel of Experts on Yemen.
You can read the full oped at the Washington Post here.