Thursday, 14 August 2014

ISIS “Khums” Tax on Archaeological Loot Fuels the Conflicts in Syria and Iraq

Chasing Aphrodite have an interview with  Dr. Amr Al-Azm, ('Twenty Percent: ISIS “Khums” Tax on Archaeological Loot Fuels the Conflicts in Syria and Iraq' August 14, 2014).
experts say ISIS has encouraged systematic looting of major archaeological sites in northern Syria and Iraq, and is now taxing the illicit trade under the Islamic principle of Al-Khums, the Arabic word for one-fifth. [...] In the Koran, Allah instructs his followers to pay him one-fifth of what they acquire. While the Shia interpret this as an annual tithe on their earnings, the Sunni tradition believes it applies only to war booty. ISIS has cited Al-Khuns in ordering locals to pay one-fifth of the proceeds of looting, which they have sanctioned and overseen across the archaeologically rich northern Iraq and Syria, experts say, citing local sources. 
Local sources tell observers that ISIS is dedicating manpower to supervising the looting at major excavation sites, something they would be unlikely to do unless it provided meaningful income.

AA: [...] ISIS has instituted the concept of khums, the 20% tax, and said to the locals, you can dig on your own land but pay us a fifth of what you make. On public land, they’ve started licensing crews to come in – Turks, Kurds, Iraqis coming with bulldozers to get at the few b[au]bles coming out. Most of the stuff coming out is not priceless artifacts. They’re pots, a small statue, a tablet or cylinder seals. This stuff is small potatoes economically, so the income is based on bulk more than a significant piece of great value.[...]  ISIS representatives are at the archaeological sites to make sure the khums is paid. 
JF: What are the trafficking networks that move the objects out of the country to the market?
AA: My sources tell me a lot of this stuff ends up crossing the Turkish border. Some international dealers, non-Turks, started to come in to Syria but it quickly got too dangerous for them. Now the dealers all hang out across the border in Turkey. Only Turkish dealers come into Syria to meet with locals. They buy and take it back. One of the main centers for the illicit trade is Tell Abiab, on the Syrian side, across the border from Urfa. There is also lots of smuggling in Kilis, some of it archaeology. From there, I don’t know where it goes. 
Dr. Amr Al-Azm claims that there is also evidence of some looting to order by wealthy private collectors, something which many antiquities researchers contest. Al-Azm quotes an example from Palmyra, which is under regime control:
there is a famous Roman tomb called the Brothers Tomb. I’ve been told the Tomb of the Three Brothers has been looted and sold off. My suspicion is that it’s looting to order for a collector. Something that well known and important won’t show up on the market. 

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