Tuesday, 5 May 2009

"Just who did you say you got those artefacts from?"

The shocking reports of a wedding massacre on Monday at Sultankoy in soon-to-be-EU member Turkey were very disturbing. Preliminary reports suggest it was the consequence of an ongoing feud between two families which seems in turn (at least according to the Guardian) to have had its roots in a conflict between the Turkish militia groups. This led me to wonder about the connection between these militia groups and the smuggling of antiquities (etc.). 

I was reminded of Samarkeolog’s post made a year ago “Illicit antiquities trade: source, transit, market, mafia” on the on the “Human rights archaeology: cultural heritage and community” blog. This makes a few interesting connections and really should give pause for thought to all who handle ancient objects (such as coins) coming from this part of the world too. Into whose pockets is the no-questions-asked antiquities market putting money? Even if our various law-enforcement authorities are relatively unconcerned about the heritage issues, perhaps the apparent connections between this type of activity and other illegal (and more socially damaging) activities should, unless dealers and collectors do not 'clean their act up', lead to official concern and action.

Visualisation: The heroin transportation route running through several of the "source countries" for the ancient artefacts currently entering the no-questions-asked market. Its European leg, nicknamed "the Balkan route", passes through Turkey and the Balkans.

PS: You remember the insistence of US antiquities dealers that "Iraqi artefacts are not reaching the US markets"? Well take a look at the map and deduce one of the conclusions one might draw from that statement if true (though for reasons I have stated here, I do not believe it is). To be fair though, the map shows the situation before the US-led invasion which opened up Iraq to all sorts of illegal activity which was not going on before that to the same degree, so perhaps a newer map would show the drug trade routes going through that country now rather than around it.

1 comment:

samarkeolog said...

I met a smuggler of (primarily) Afghan and Pakistani antiquities, who said that he just transported the stuff straight to Karachi then shipped it across to the UK; it took too much time and effort ('too many countries') to smuggle the stuff over land. But he only smuggled antiquities, and he was an area specialist. I believe that much of the smuggled antiquities travel along the same arteries and veins as smuggled drugs.

I agree with you that Iraqi material (was and) is getting to the U.S. Certainly, as I noted in another post, oil was smuggled out of and arms and cigarettes smuggled into Iraq under sanctions, so it seems practically possible and economically probable that antiquities were smuggled too.

Moreover, as I said in another post that tried to pin down the illicit antiquities trade through Cyprus, "American soldiers and other foreign troops have been stealing and smuggling Iraqi artefacts (as souvenirs or for sale), soldiers and staff at İncirlik, the American military base in Turkey, used for the war in Iraq,... [were already] involved in smuggling antiquities to American galleries,... [long before] the invasion. Given Turkish military and diplomatic help in smuggling heroin, it is not surprising that then Director of the Iraqi National Museum Donny George complained that Turkey did not even respond to 'Interpol announcements or appeals to protect their borders from smuggling Iraqi antiquities'." (The corroborating links are in the blog.)

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