Saturday, 18 April 2015

Haji Bakr and the rise of ISIL

Haji Bakr and the rise of ISIL: Christoph Reuter, 'The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State' Spiegel Online April 18, 2015

Der Spiegel's map of ISIL-held territory at beginning of April 2015

More on Antiquitist Neocolonialism

"Ultimately the only way to stop the
destruction of Iraq and Syria’s cultural heritage
is to stop the destruction of Iraq and Syria" Christopher Jones.
The antiquities trade and its supporters, especially those from across the Atlantic are calling for military action to counteract (retaliate for) destruction of cultural property, from Arthur Houghton, Hugh Eakin and now - invoking the responsibility to protect - we have fresh notions of imposing western will from Ann Marlowe. Bodybags against mudbrick and sculpted stone. As Christopher Jones in an excellent Hyperallergic essay ('In Battle Against ISIS, Saving Lives or Ancient Artifacts' April 17, 2015) argues:
There is nevertheless something deeply unsettling about calls to kill to protect cultural heritage, especially when tens of thousands of human beings have been massacred, tortured, raped, and enslaved by ISIS and millions more are refugees. What does it say about our values when the destruction of priceless yet nevertheless inanimate objects takes urgency over protecting the lives of human beings? Are ancient artifacts, no matter how valuable, ever worth taking a human life for, even if that human being is a member of ISIS? And is there anything more reminiscent of 19th-century colonialism than Western intervention in a country to secure its ancient artifacts while ignoring the suffering of its living population?

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Coin Dealer and Body Bags

How appalling, ISIL may, admits dugup Dealer Dave ("Islamic State" Terrorists and the Antiquities Market', Friday, April 17, 2015),
"be exploiting the legitimate first world art market by taking advantage of its traditional reliance upon confidence in long-established sources and personal connections, and a centuries-old tradition of anonymous sales by collectors unwilling to publicly disclose their divestitures for personal, security or financial reasons". 
Personally I cannot see how such a market can in any way be described as "legitimate". Instead of being exploited by ISIL suppliers, the current no-questions asked market allows their creation. A more transparent, accountable and careful market would be impossible for them to penetrate. Dealer Dave is worried that this may affect dugup dealers as governmental efforts to regulate trafficking in blood antiquities "will almost certainly lay a heavy and indiscriminate hand on the antiquities market". Bravo. He says:
Collectors and dealers should exercise due diligence, prudent restraint and caution in considering acquisition of coins struck in, or known to have circulated in, Syria and Mesopotamia, Be certain that such acquisitions do not include anything not verifiably traceable to a collection or dealer stock prior to August 2011, when the ISI became active in the Syrian insurgency.
So the sales of antiquities by militants fighting the US-led invasion from 2003 onwards do not concern collectors? The sales that allowed the purchase of weapons and munitions which led to the death of member of the anti-Saddam coalition? The sales that led to young men going home in body bags? This does not concern Dealer Dave, who is apparently only interested in erosion of profits through attempts to fight ISIL?

The legislation deciding licit and illicit antiquities in both Syria and Iraq goes back a good deal beyond "August 2011". In Syria, to be precise at least 1963, and Iraq  back to 1936. Anything brought into any "old collection" after those dates without the proper release documentation are illicit antiquities. And it matters not a hoot if the dealer threw away the documentation in order to hide the actual date of import, or by what "long-established sources and personal connections" they passed through on the way out of the source country. 

UPDATE 18the April 2015

Nope, Dealer Dave just does not get it does he? It takes a special kind of intellect to have something explained to you repeatedly in plain English over a number of years and still not manage to even hear what was said, let alone understand it. So he's updated his blog post with a repetition of some ad hominem pseudo-biographical details he made up, he disingenuously pretends he does not understand what I wrote:
Readers are cautioned that "illicit" is Barfordian doublespeak for "undocumented" or "unprovenanced." It does not mean "illegal."
He apparently feels that his readers have to be "warned" about Mr Barford. Perhaps the slack-jawed hillbilly ones will heed his warning. Those with a spark of intelligence will check out what the word "illicit" means if they do not already know. Mr Welsh, despite claiming to "read or speak five modern languages in addition to Latin, Greek and studies in extinct ancient scripts found on coins" and despite having it explained to him a number of times clearly does not.  One can have an illicit relationship without it being illegal in any sense. Many people do Mr Welsh. Illicit narcotics - such as designer drugs - are not illegal Mr Welsh, that is their nature. Many people use them and understand the difference - that does not make them a good thing to be involved in Mr Welsh. Especially if they are of undocumented origins, like many coins you say we should treat as 'kosher'. There are many dangers in handling designer drugs of unknown origin, Mr Welsh.

Let us note the name of the Convention we are referring to here. In the European English version the title and text use the word "illicit" - not "illegal". In the parallel French text the word used is "illicite" and not "illégal" ("Convention concernant les mesures à prendre pour interdire et empêcher l'importation, l'exportation et le transfert de propriété illicites des biens culturels"). It is the same in the parallel Spanish text ("Convención sobre las medidas que deben adoptarse para prohibir e impedir la importación, la exportación y la transferencia de propiedad ilícitas de bienes culturales"). The Russian text uses the word незаконный and not нелегальный. I really do not understand how anyone can with a straight face claim that the Convention meant to use the term "illegal" and through some mistake which has not been noticed in 45 years, accidentally used the word "illicit".

In that sense therefore (see the Convention's Article 3):
The legislation deciding licit and illicit antiquities in both Syria and Iraq goes back a good deal beyond "August 2011". In Syria, to be precise at least 1963, and Iraq  back to 1936. Anything brought into any "old collection" after those dates without the proper release documentation are illicit antiquities."
That is not any kind of "double-talk", it is a cold hard fact. In order for the trade in these items to be considered legitimate, there is no way around the fact that these dates must be respected by all handling this material who want to be counted as doing a legitimate business in a responsible manner. That dealers like Mr Welsh continue to attempt to find a way around that (like doing what he calls "due diligence" going only as far back as August 2011 and trying to convince his clients that its enough) is symptomatic. It speaks volumes for what is really going on in the antiquities trade. The way Mr Welsh attempts to deflect attention from perfectly valid criticism through ad hominems and alienation of himself from any discussion of the issues is also symptomatic. It speaks volumes for the current state of the heritage debate.

This dodging the issues has been going on now for decades. It is time for this to be replaced by proper discussion, whether the dealers and collectors choose to take part in it or not. I rather get the impression from the sort of activity discussed here that they want to become alienated so they can play the victim like they normally do.

Americans with illegal Iraq War souvenirs go unprosecuted

American military members, contractors and others caught with culturally significant artifacts they brought home from the war there are going largely unprosecuted. Years after the war, swords, artifacts and other items looted from Saddam Hussein's palaces are still turning up for sale online and at auctions, and in some cases U.S. agents have traced them to American government employees, who took them as souvenirs or war trophies. The materials are often returned once they become known, but defenders of the country's historical sites and artifacts argue that won't change anything. Smuggling cases are difficult to investigate, and prosecutors and courts generally have been satisfied to take them no further than forfeiture, said Patty Gerstenblith, director of DePaul University's Center for Art, Museum and Cultural Heritage Law. "Just giving the object up is not a deterrent," she said.
Michael Melia, 'Americans with illegal Iraq War souvenirs go unprosecuted', Associated Press April 17, 2015

PAS REALLY Doing a Bad Job Bringing Archaeology to the Public?

Metal detectorist "Janner 53" ( April 17, 2015 at 12:08 am ) admits here too: (in full sky-is-falling' mode:
Myself and I expect thousands of other detectorists never knew this so called ‘Valletta Convention’ existed
The 1992 'European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (Revised)' - being a revision of the 1969 London 'European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage'. Britain's refusal in the 1990s to adopt legislation enacting Art. 3 was the reason for the setting up of the PAS and UK detectorists have "never heard of it". That does not say much for their "interest in history", or anything else. Like a load of kids, they need everything on a plate.

While on the topic, which of Articles 1-2 and 4-12 do these people with their "passionate interest in the past" disagree with in addition to that threatening-looking Article 3? What is the problem with Article 3 if what metal detectorists are doing is being presented by them as a form of "protection of the archaeological heritage"? Could it be that detectorists doubt their own myth? If the PAS was issuing the authorisations and dealing with processing the information that results, in what way do metal detectorists feel that it is problematic? It would be the detectorists' own "partner organization" deciding who is a person "qualified" or not, why would that create problems for responsible detectorists already working effectively with the Scheme for many years?

Maybe the PAS could do something about educating their 'partners' so they do not continue to compromise them by their public shows of ignorance about fundamental issues. 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Keeping the US Market Clean: Cambodian Antiquities Seized

Surprised anyone? "Major US Seizure Included Cambodian Artifacts" Cambodia Daily April 16, 2015.

“Operation Hidden Idol” reportedly involves several major Cambodian artifacts, such as a "$1.2-million Naga statue found in Mr. Kapoor’s Art of the Past gallery on Madison Avenue in Manhattan", also seized according to court records were:
a group of Cambodian stone figures worth $700,000; two objects identified as “Khmer statues” worth $250,000 and $175,000; a Cambodian “standing figure on pedestal” also worth $175,000; an “elephant w/hat statue” worth $145,000; a “Khmer Vishnu sandstone wall fragment” worth $65,000; and a crowned Buddha worth $45,000; as well as many other Cambodian statues worth tens of thousands of dollars. In some cases, the artifacts are valued in groups; one group worth a total of $7.48 million includes an unspecified number of Cambodian relics. A $5-million “large bronze statue” reported to be from either Cambodia or Thailand was also seized.
Now, all the courts have to do is sort out which ones can be documented as legally acquired and exported so they can be returned to the US market. Those that cannot will be taken off the market and probably sent to the country of origin where this can be determined. Of course any items deemed by government-retained specialists to be inauthentic may go back on the market too.

Relief Nicked from Karnak Returned

Ministry loses the stone,
manages to keep the picture (MnAnt)
A statement by Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty on Thursday concerned an 18th dynasty pillar fragment from Karnak temple with part of a relief of Amon Re standing receiving offerings from pharaoh Tuthmosis IV will return to Egypt in the next few days. The object had been illegally smuggled to London
Chairman of Egypt’s Restored Artifacts Department Aly Ahmed told The Cairo Post that Damaty’s announcement came “after the British citizen, who possesses the fragment, contacted the Egyptian Embassy in London he decided voluntarily to return it back to the Egyptian authorities after he found out it was original and was illegally smuggled.”[...] the limestone fragment is registered in the antiquities ministry’s archive [...] the date when the artifact was stolen remain unknown.
So the Brit thought he was buying a fake, but was surprised to find out is was an original?

Rany Mostafa, 'Briton gives up 3,300 year-old ancient Egyptian artifact', Cairo Post Apr. 16, 2015
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