"With antiquities that are as much as 8,000 years old
at its disposal, the group needs no state sponsor; it is
financing its carnage with the wealth of past civilizations".
Mark Vlasic (senior fellow and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University, former head of operations of the joint World Bank-U.N. Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative) in his capacity as counsellor to the Antiquities Coalition has an article in the Washington Post ('Islamic State sells ‘blood antiquities’ from Iraq and Syria to raise money', September 14).
“There is no doubt that looting and illicit trade in antiquities is highly lucrative, enough for ISIS” — one acronym for the Islamic State — “to be deeply engaged and implicated in it,” Al-Azm said. “Stopping this illicit trade in antiquities, therefore, must be an imperative, not only because it is a major source of income for [...] organizations like ISIS, but also because it is causing irreparable damage to Syria’s cultural heritage.” Just as “blood diamonds” helped fund slaughters in Africa, “blood antiquities” are helping to finance terrorism in the Middle East. Fortunately, such lootings have not gone unnoticed. During a June meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) expressed interest in legislation to limit the sale of stolen antiquities from conflict zones such as Syria and Iraq. In Britain, Member of Parliament Mark Pritchard has raised the importance of broadening the discussion to auction houses that sell antiquities.Vlasic points out that since blood antiquities sometimes find their way into Western markets (citing the Cambodian statues cases), he stresses that it makes sense to consider industry action to stem 'terrorist financing'. In other words he seems to expect that the antiquities trade will of its own volition, on perceiving a problem, help deal with it. Dream on, the antiquities dealers of his country at least are in total denial that there is even a potential problem, they dismiss the possibility as 'spin'. Vlasic continues that the approach of the antiquities industry may be critical, and citing the recent study of stolen Cambodian artefacts by Simon Mackenzie and Tess Davis, "the link between looter and collector may be closer than many suspect". Perhaps though, that is a key to why some dealers are reluctant to admit the existence of a problem? He stresses that:
those involved in the antiquities trade itself are likely the best placed to ensure that blood antiquities never enter the marketplace in the first place. A global stakeholder engagement group should be formed, perhaps in Davos, Switzerland, to ensure that all responsible parties in the antiquities market “value chain” — governments, auction houses, museums, dealers, insurers, freeports and collectors — agree to a common sourcing and sales standard, to guarantee that any antiquities from active and recent conflict zones have been properly sourced before they can be sold, transferred, insured, stored or displayed.He suggests that to carry this out, the world could learn from past examples of combating illicit markets, including the successful Kimberley Process, which was established to clamp down on blood diamonds, concluding optimistically: "Working together, we can once again save lives while helping to preserve our common heritage". The ball is in now the court of the antiquities trade. How will they react? Don't hold your breath.