Wednesday, 3 December 2014

UNESCO and the Made-up Monster Numbers Quotes

So far I have not seen a proper summary of what went on at the international conference Wednesday at the Paris headquarters of the U.N. cultural agency to find solutions to preserving endangered heritage, attended by the U.N.'s representatives for Syria and Iraq. There is however a little syndicated article going the rounds (Thomas Adamson, 'UNESCO calls on UN to curb multi-billion dollar artifact trafficking from Syria, Iraq', Associated Press 3rd Dec 2014). Here's a quote:
The head of UNESCO says she's calling on the U.N. Security Council to adopt a ban on the illicit trafficking of cultural objects from conflict zones in Iraq and Syria. Irina Bokova told The Associated Press the trafficking of objects obtained through illegal excavations in both countries is an industry worth between $7 billion and $15 billion. [...] She says that it's critical to stop artifacts being sold in world auction houses since "extremists (are) using this money to fund their activities." She listed Syria's Aleppo and Iraq's Sufi Sheiks tombs as particular concerns.
A rather mixed bag, call for a "ban" on undocumented stuff, good. But that's about it. I am told they were calling for a creation of 'safe zones' around monuments threatened or damaged - good luck with that - in the circumstance such cheap idealism really is not getting anyone anywhere. But then what can UNESCO actually do? Talk over diplomatic canapés.

But we can all bet our bottom dollar that's what is going to attract attention is "that number". It is obviously rubbish. Did she really say that? Is that their (equally dodgy) estimate for "the worth of the global trade in illicit antiquities" misquoted here? Or maybe - since in almost the same breath the article's author speaks of monuments, this estimate concerns the "value" (or cost of anastylosis) of repairing the damage to cultural property caused by the civil war?   I really think we have the right to expect somewhat better, more reliable and nuanced information from UNESCO, especially as it now has a task force in place to deal with this Middle Eastern cultural property crisis.'Building peace in men's (and women's) minds' is a cute idea, but you'll not achieve that by getting a reputation for filling minds with fluff and lies.

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