Seeking Common Ground: Digging for Answers


Heritage experts from government, academia and NGOs came together in Washington on April 17 at a workshop and public seminar to explore possible solutions to the critical issues surrounding protection of heritage in times of conflict. The conference, titled “Cultural Heritage: Conflict and Reconciliation” was held at the Smithsonian Castle and the Freer Gallery of Art and co-hosted by the Smithsonian and University of Chicago’s Cultural Policy Center.

The speakers identified concerns related to how best to work with the role of the military and law enforcement during times of conflict, how best to define the scope of illicit trafficking, and how best to coordinate among the three pillars of government, academia and NGOs in order to promote cooperation, not competition. While many of issues surfaced, no clear path was decided upon for moving forward and encouraging greater cooperation.

In the public portion of the program, David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group and Regent of the Smithsonian, moderated a distinguished panel including the event’s host, Smithsonian Under Secretary Richard Kurin, Mounir Bouchenaki, Director of the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage, Emily Rafferty, President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and George Papagiannis, the U.S. Representative of UNESCO.

The panelists all agree that the field is facing a crisis with the destruction and looting of heritage sites in the Middle East by extremists. And while action needs to be taken, it is a challenge even for major global organizations to help during times of active conflict. The discussion can be viewed here.

The interview was followed by a moderated discussion of the day’s themes that included Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, Maria Kouroupas, State Department Director of the Cultural Heritage Center, Patty Gerstenblith, Distinguished Professor of Law at DePaul University, Bill Ivey, former head of the National Endowment of the Arts and China Liaison for the American Folklore Society and Deborah Lehr, Chairman of the Antiquities Coalition. The moderator was Rob Albro, a Research Associate Professor at American University and Washington DC representative of the University of Chicago Cultural Policy Center.

The discussions focused on two key questions: is there a growing awareness of the need to protect heritage and how can we establish a better policy mechanism in the US to promote greater interagency cooperation and international outreach to address this growing challenge?

Overall, the discussants agreed that with the advent of extremism in the Middle East and the subsequent attacks against cultural heritage, there was increased awareness among policy makers internationally and the general public about antiquities looting, trafficking and destruction. There is still a need for those in the heritage field to come together to develop strategies of how best to support countries during times of crisis, and certainly how to execute those strategies.

The Antiquities Coalition (AC) was honored to be part of the overall discussion. Its themes provide an excellent foundation for an upcoming event hosted by the AC in Cairo. In cooperation with the Arab Republic of Egypt, The Middle East Institute, and UNESCO, the Antiquities Coalition will be co-hosting a conference in Cairo addressing “Culture Under Threat” May 13-14, 2015. You can find more information about the conference HERE. The Antiquities Coalition is dedicated to finding solutions to the threats of looting, trafficking and destruction that are facing cultural heritage today.

Regional Conference Aims to Shut Down ISIS Funding from Antiquities Looting and Trafficking


View of Nile From Cairo Tower
View of Nile from Cairo Tower

(Washington, D.C.) – In response to the unprecedented destruction of historical sites and antiquities by ISIS in Syria and Iraq, The Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Antiquities Coalition (AC) will co-sponsor a conference in Cairo from May 13-14 to promote ways in which the international community can address threats against the region’s cultural heritage.

The Cairo conference, titled “Culture Under Threat: The Security, Economic and Cultural Impact of Antiquities Theft in the Middle East,” will be held under the auspices of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Antiquities. It will focus on regional solutions to the growing destruction, looting, and trafficking of antiquities across the Middle East and the links between antiquities racketeering and terrorist financing.

“We must take coordinated action to stop this march of destruction, and this is our chance to advance solutions to what is a true crisis,” said the Arab Republic of Egypt’s Ambassador to the United States, Mohamed Tawfik. “The terrorists of Da’esh must be stopped and all the countries invited have a chance to do their part.”

Invited to attend are the foreign affairs and culture/antiquities ministers from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE, as well as the director general of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, and leading experts on counterterrorism, terrorist financing, archaeology, and heritage law.

“Under Egypt’s leadership, this unprecedented gathering will bring together key countries to form a new and powerful alliance,” said Deborah Lehr, Chairman and Co-Founder of The Antiquities Coalition, “and transform our collective outrage into action. We may not yet be able to stop the sledgehammers, but these regional powers can impede the terrorists and criminals from profiting from stolen treasure. By standing together, these nations can do much to halt the trafficking of illicit antiquities.”

The conference will open on the morning of Wednesday, May 13, and conclude on May 14.

“This timely conference is a call to action to stop the horrific destruction of our shared world heritage,” said Wendy Chamberlin, President of The Middle East Institute.
Read the Press Release in Arabic Here


Katie Hooper, Communications, Antiquities Coalition


Scott Zuke, Communications Officer, Middle East Institute

202-785-1141 ext.1+236