Thursday, 5 March 2015

ISIL Antiquities Supply and Demand Across International frontiers

Smuggling the cultural heritage of Syria is considered an important source of funding for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the wide-ranging smuggling networks use Turkey as a transit country. Now much of ISIL's oil infrastructure has been destroyed, this has resulted in ISIL turning to alternative means of financing: antiquity smuggling and hostage taking. Syrian middlemen based in Turkey sell historical items to local dealers who then sell them to dealers in Western Europe
Turkey's 565-mile border with Syria has become dangerously porous, not only for the transit of foreign fighters back and forth over the border, but also for smuggling artefacts. Merve Tahiroglu, a Turkey analyst at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said Turkey's border with Syria has historically been a route for smuggling, largely due to poor economic conditions, while this activity has intensified since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. "The border provinces experiencing the most smuggling today are among Turkey's poorest -- Hatay is the 46th-most-developed, followed by Kilis (63rd), Sanliurfa (73rd), Mardin (74th) and Sirnak (78th) -- and smuggling has become an integral part of local economies. Middlemen who facilitate this illicit trade make considerable profits," Tahiroglu told SES Türkiye. According to Tahiroglu, Turkey's open-door policy with Syria has allowed for infiltrators of all stripes, including jihadists and smugglers, to easily cross from one side to the other, while many Syrian refugees who have settled in border towns take part in this activity as well. "Ankara has taken measures to secure the border by building a wall in Hatay, and it began cracking down on smugglers in the southeast since news reports revealed the scope of ISIL's illicit oil trade," Tahiroglu said. "It is hard to imagine that Turkey could successfully halt this activity altogether, considering the length of the border and the wide range of actors involved, but it is clear that more needs to be done," she added.
Tugba Tanyeri Erdemir, an architectural historian at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, points out that in conflict zones marked by state failure, instability and violence, there is always a significant increase in illicit excavations and raiding of treasures of cultural heritage from sacred sites, art institutions, libraries and museums.
According to Tanyeri-Erdemir, governments and institutions in Turkey should actively be seeking and identifying agents of this wide-ranging network; and they should be taking the necessary legal steps to stop them from functioning. Tanyeri-Erdemir noted that illicit trade in antiquities functions in a long chain of agents, ranging from the person who procures the artefact, a number of middle-men facilitating transportation of the artefact in transit countries, dealers who put these items for sale in the art market, and collectors who purchase them. "By breaking the agents in the chain of illicit trade, governments can weaken one of major the financial sources of ISIL," Tanyeri-Erdemir told SES Türkiye. "Like any other trade, trade in illicit antiquities is susceptible to the most basic market principle: that there will be supply as long as there is demand."
Collectors and dealers at one end of the chain suggest that it is only at the other that action needs to be taken. It is clear however to the rest of us that action needs to be taken all along the chain of passage of illicit antiquities onto the market. We need investigations of the market end of the transactions too, to meet up with those combating the 'supply' end of the chain.

Syria has borders with Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, as well as Turkey, and sea ports in the eastern Mediterranean.

ISIL smuggles Syrian antiquities through Turkey Turkish Weekly, 4 March 2015

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