As long as there have been tombs, there have been tomb raiders, but in this modern world, such destruction is taking place on a scale never before seen in history. Cultural racketeering — the organized looting and trafficking of art and antiquities — has become a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that spans the globe and thrives during crisis. Thieves, smugglers, and war profiteers are not the only ones to profit: By purchasing Cambodian statue, a Mayan vase, or an Egyptian papyrus on Madison Avenue, collectors may be lining the pockets of drug cartels, armed insurgencies, and even terrorist networks.

While this illicit trade itself poses a serious threat to global security, it often goes hand in hand with cultural cleansing, the deliberate and systematic destruction of a targeted group and their heritage. As we have witnessed in genocides throughout the twentieth century, cultural cleansing aims to eliminate not only a people, but all evidence of them. It is a recognized atrocity crime, and moreover, a harbinger of impending crimes against humanity and war crimes.

With the rise of a violent campaign targeting the Middle East and North Africa’s rich heritage — by religious extremists from Ansar Dine in Mali, to Daesh (commonly known as ISIS or ISIL), to the Al Qaeda insurgency in Yemen — the fight against this cultural cleansing and racketeering is now more important than ever. Masterpieces and ancient sites that survived millennia — outlasting the countless empires that rose and fell in the desert sands around them — have violently disappeared in a matter of months and years. There is no way to adequately measure or describe the loss to our shared history, but in this case, a picture may be worth a thousand words.

The next images pay tribute to cultural heritage lost to conflict and crime in the Middle East and North Africa since the 2011 Arab Spring. By illustrating the region’s iconic monuments and sites then and now — before, during, and after this period of turmoil, terrorism, and outright war — we hope to begin conveying the enormity of the ongoing crisis. For while much has been irrevocably lost, much still remains to be saved.