Friday, 26 September 2014

Militants threaten ancient sites in Iraq, Syria

Sinan Salaheddin, 'Militants threaten ancient sites in Iraq, Syria', Sep. 19, 2014
In Iraq, black market dealers are coming into areas controlled by the Islamic State group or in safe regions nearby to snap up items, said Qais Hussein Rashid, head of the state-run Museums Department, citing reports from local antiquities officials still in the area. [...] [At the] grand palace at Kalhu, from which Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II reigned in the 9th century B.C., [...]  "They are cutting the reliefs into small parts and selling them, [...] They just need a chain saw to cut the king's head or legs if they want." Recently they carved off a relief depicting a winged demon holding a sacred plant and sold it abroad, he said. "It is now beyond borders." 
Obviously it is dealers on the ground in these regions who are playing a large role in financing this process and paying the taxes to ISIL. They do so because they count on retrieving their investment by selling to other dealers and collectors. Collectors then would be the real looters. It should be noted that the dealers mentioned 'coming into areas controlled by the Islamic State group' will necessarily be in good relations with them - collectors, do you know who has had those antiquities before you? 

As has been well-documented, the Islamic State militants seek to purge society of everything that doesn't conform with their fundamentalist version of Islam. That means destroying not only relics seen as pagan but even some Islamic sites they see as idolatrous
But their extremist ideology doesn't prevent them from also profiting from the sale of ancient artifacts, either by selling them themselves or taking a cut from thieves who are increasingly active in looting sites, [...]  In civil war-torn Syria, looting of archaeological sites is believed to have increased tenfold since early 2013 because of the country's chaos [...]  For example, the 2,300-year-old city of Dura Europos is being pillaged. The site is in one a cliff overlooking the Euphrates near the Iraq border in an area under the Islamic State group's control, and satellite imagery taken in April show it pockmarked with holes from illegal digs by antiquity-seekers. Images showed hundreds of people excavating on some days from dawn to nightfall, with gunmen and gangs involved, [...] Dealers are at the site and "when they discover an artifact, the sale takes place immediately," 
Many of the objects are then smuggled out of the country to receptive markets.
It is unclear how much the militants are earning from antiquities. U.S. intelligence officials said the Islamic State rakes in more than $3 million a day from multiple sources, including smuggling of oil and antiquities, human trafficking, extortion of businessmen, ransoms and outright theft. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified assessments, said the militants sell goods through smuggling networks in the Kurdish region, Turkey and Jordan.

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