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Published on 21 March 2012
Archaeological sites made vulnerable by the armed conflict and civil unrest in Syria are targeted for big-time looting and smuggling by international crime rings
Looting is not a new problem for Syrian cultural authorities. Despite harsh punishments doled out to offenders (up to 20 years in prison), gangs of looters have operated in the country for years, smuggling artifacts over the border to satisfy antiquities markets in Europe and the US. But a government memo leaked earlier this month suggests that the current conflict has put Syrian cultural sites at an even greater danger of organized looting.
The memo, posted by a Facebook group devoted to tracking threats to Syria’s archaeological sites, was originally written by Syrian Prime Minister Adel Safar to the ministers of culture and finance and the governor of the central bank. In it, Safar claims that “professional international gangs” have brought into the country “equipment and satellite communication devices for stealing manuscripts and robbing museums, safes, and banks.” He draws comparisons to similar war-time operations — most recently in Libya, but most famously in Iraq.
An analysis by Alakhbar English suggest that the biggest fear is looting at Syria’s 25 antiquities museums, where security may be compromised as a result of the ongoing conflict. These provincial museums are spread all over the country, located by design near the original excavation sites. Their contents could be put in storage for safekeeping, but for now they remain highly vulnerable.
Earlier this month, we wrote about damage to Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as a result of the Syrian Army setting up a base in a hilltop citadel and firing on the ancient ruins. Until stability is re-established, understanding the damage to other cultural sites will be extremely difficult. To help, the above-mentioned Facebook group, which operates in French and Arabic (its name translates to “Syrian Archaeological Ruins in Danger”), has created a space for people to share news.
“To raise awareness of the destruction that threatens the cultural heritage of Syria,” the group writes, “this page lists the antiquities and archaeological sites that are or may suffer damage due to the turmoil facing the country.”
20 February 2013
We emptied Syria's museums
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Press, reigime and propaganda
International Conference on Protection of Cultural Property in Asia
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Mosaics were stolen during illegal excavation
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Desire that the gift inaugurates fruitful dialogue
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Undercover Heritage Protection officers detained two men