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New York Times: Yemen Asks U.S. for Help to Curb Smuggling of Looted Ancient Artifacts

March 8, 2019

This week, in a New York Times exclusive, award-winning journalist Tom Mashberg exposed how cultural racketeering is financing crime, armed conflict, and violent extremism in the Yemeni Civil War, exacerbating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The report coincided with the visit of H.E. Marwan Dammaj, Minister of Culture from the Republic of Yemen, who was in Washington and New York to raise awareness of the illicit trade in his nation’s conflict antiquities, and urge the international community to take immediate action against it. It also featured Yemen and the Antiquities Coalition’s recent release of information on 1,631 objects plundered from the country’s museums during fighting with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Houthi militias. According to Deborah Lehr, the AC’s Chair and Founder, whom Mashberg interviewed for the article, these missing artifacts “are ‘blood antiquities’ in every sense of the name, and they may have already been sold to unsuspecting buyers overseas.’”

The Times piece began with a firsthand account of looting in Yemen:

Yemen’s deputy culture minister, Abdulhadi Al-Azazi, remembers standing mute and teary-eyed two years ago amid the rubble of a national museum in his war-torn hometown, Taiz.

Objects he had admired as a youngster — ancient limestone carvings, gilded Torah scrolls, bejeweled Islamic daggers, a spindly 2,500-year-old mummy — were missing amid the charred debris and shattered display cases.

“The museum was wrecked and everything was stolen,” he said in a telephone interview. “Everywhere in our country we see the same thing happening now.”

Some four years into a civil war in which members of a faction known as Houthis have fought Yemen’s Saudi-backed government to a bloody stalemate, the extent of the human suffering has drawn global attention. Less noticed have been the cultural institutions and archaeological relics lost or ravaged during the conflict, including thousands of antiquities taken from Yemen’s museums…

To learn more about threats facing Yemen’s cultural heritage from cultural racketeering, as well as how Yemen is working to close foreign markets to their conflict antiquities, read the full Times article here.

Again, this week the Antiquities Coalition and Yemen also released information on over a thousand artifacts looted during the war with al-Qaeda and insurgents, which is available here.