Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Turkish Involvement in Syrian Looting

Syria condemns foreign involvement in organised and systematic looting of its heritage and ArtNewspaper is happy to publicise claims against Turkey (Javier Pes and Emily Sharpe, 'Turkey turns blind eye to plunder, says Syria', ArtNewspaper Issue 255, 17 March 2014)

Syria has accused Turkey of turning a blind eye to the systematic looting of the country’s cultural heritage. Illicit digging at archaeological sites is “fierce”, antiquities stores have been raided by armed gangs, and foreigners, from Turkey in particular, are smuggling hundreds of objects across its borders, Syria claims. [...] Syria has recovered some artefacts that were smuggled across its western border with Lebanon. But the 900km-long border to the north with Turkey is more problematic, a situation exacerbated by the mutual antipathy between Ankara and Bashar al-Assad’s regime. “The Turkish government has shown no interest in controlling its borders or co-operating to restitute what was taken away,” says the antiquities department’s website. Turkey’s Cultural Heritage and Museums General Management directorate would not answer specific questions about seized artefacts or comment on the Syrian complaint about a lack of co-operation. 
It seems dealers of Turkish origin are even in the area trying to profit from the opportunities provided by the unrest:
 In Idlib, in north-western Syria, looters are stealing from archaeological sites “in an orderly fashion”, the local community has told the department. “Antiquities dealers and smugglers, Syrians and non-Syrians, Turkish in particular, are in the region,” the report says. Lebanese antiquities dealers are said to be active in Damascus. [...] Cheikhmous Ali, a Syrian archaeologist based in France, says [...] “It is easy to hide small objects [going] through the checkpoints to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq,” he says. “The authorities in these countries struggle against the Mafia and the trafficking of antiquities.” [...] Those who are smuggling Syrian antiquities into neighbouring countries are probably using the same routes as the arms and drugs trade. No one knows for certain the objects’ final destinations.
However the Turks cannot be said to be totally inactive:
Ali says that he was in Mardin, a Turkish city near the Syrian border, last month and saw hundreds of objects being seized by the Turkish police from Syrian and Turkish looters. The police force in Mardin says in a statement that it has seized 335 ancient objects.
The art newspaper writes, I imagine very much tongue-in-cheek:  “Collectors have to be very careful in checking provenance papers, which are often skilfully forged.” In reality few questions aree asked by most "collectors" and few answers can ever be expected. This is why the mafia, trading arms, drugs and antiquities are able to make such a profit from the antiquity collectors who finance their operations.

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