The Latest

The Asia Society Announces September Summit with the Antiquities Coalition to Tackle Cultural Racketeering

August 5, 2015

Press Release from the Asia Society

NEW YORK, August 4, 2015 — Asia Society is pleased to join UNESCO, the Antiquities Coalition and the Middle East Institute in a special high-level forum in New York City on September 24, 2015 titled “Culture Under Threat: The Security, Economic and Cultural Impact of Antiquities Trafficking and Terrorist Financing.”

The forum is part of a major new initiative to find regional solutions to the recent surge in the destruction and looting of antiquities across the Middle East. UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, His Excellency the Foreign Minister of Iraq Dr. Ibrahim Al-Jaafari and Asia Society Policy Institute President Kevin Rudd will deliver remarks. Asia Society President Josette Sheeran and Antiquities Coalition Chairman Deborah Lehr will serve as co-chairs and hosts of this historic event, which will feature delegations from the nations most affected by the theft and destruction of these treasures, as well as the heads of leading cultural organizations. The forum will feature the keynote addresses, public discussion, and a private dialogue to chart action for the future. All events will be held from 8:30am-11:30am at Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue in New York.

It has been a time of particular turmoil in the Middle East. While the loss of human life resulting from instability is tragic, so are the attacks by militants and organized criminals on local cultures, and the damage done to some of the great treasures of antiquity. The destruction of historic sites and looting of antiquities are now widespread across the Middle East, from Egypt to Iraq to Syria and Libya – the region on which the foundations of human civilization were laid. These attacks constitute a form of “cultural terrorism” – indeed some are calling them “war crimes” – and the illicit trafficking of these antiquities is being used to fund the causes of terrorist and criminal networks.

What can leaders in the region, international agencies, and the heads of global cultural organizations do to reverse these attacks against our shared history and heritage? This gathering will focus on answers that question – whether they involve diplomacy or law enforcement, education or military action, or some combination. The forum will convene the finest minds and most effective policymakers to the table, to at least begin to find answers to this pressing global problem.

Beyond the guests listed above, among those already confirmed for the “Culture Under Threat” forum:

Ahmed Abdulkariem, Chairman, Department of Antiquities, Libya; Roger Bagnall, Leon Levy Director, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University; Anita Difanis, Director of Government Affairs, Association of Art Museum Directors; Amy Freitag, Executive Director, J.M. Kaplan Fund; Charles J. Henry, President, Council on Library and Information Resources; Josh Knerly, Partner, Hahn, Loeser & Parker; Amy Landau, Associate Curator of Islamic and South Asian Art, The Walters Art Museum; Edward Liebow, Executive Director, American Anthropological Association; Ken Lustbader, Program Director of Historic Preservation, J.M. Kaplan Fund; David MacKay, Partner and Head of U.S. Operations, Portland Communications; Emily K. Rafferty, President Emerita, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Maggie Salem, Executive Director, Qatar Foundation International; Patrick Sears, Executive Director, Rubin Museum of Art; Brigadier General Hugh Van Roosen, Director, Institute for Military Governance (IMSG), U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School; and Karol Wight, President and Executive Director, Corning Museum of Glass.

“Culture Under Threat” will build on issues raised at a conference in Cairo in May, 2015, at which officials from the Middle and Near East pledged to take several initial steps:

• The creation of a “Cultural Racketeering Task Force” consisting of senior representatives from various countries to coordinate regional and international efforts to protect cultural property and prevent smuggling and repatriate stolen artifacts;

• The establishment of an International Advisory Committee to provide advice and support for the task force on ways to fight cultural destruction and illicit trafficking;

• The launch of an awareness campaign in so-called “demand countries” to discourage purchases of looted antiquities;

• Various possible regional and international partnerships to address various aspects of the problem.

For further information about this event, contact