Saturday, 23 May 2015

Tracking the Antiquities of ISIL Funding?

Now they have occupied and pacified Palmyra, Pamela Engel declares in Business Insider that "ISIS is about to make A LOT of money off (sic) 'the archaeological equivalent of a beheading'..." May 22, 2015.
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider that ISIS makes most of its money from racketeering, which includes collecting "taxes" from the residents who live within the borders of the territory it has taken over, plundering people's homes, and looting historical sites and selling antiquities on the black market. "It’s a racket. And that’s how ISIS continues to survive and thrive," Schanzer said. "They need to jump from community to community in order to sustain themselves financially." Smugglers who talked to BuzzFeed News described Palmyra as a potential windfall to their business. One Syrian smuggler said he was sure ISIS would sell the artifacts they could get their hands on in Palmyra.
 Maybe, but only if they can get somebody to buy the antiquities. So, who is going to buy them? The hysterical warnings that "terrorists"are selling antiquities have now been trundled out almost daily for a year. ("terrorists" =ISIL, nobody else in the region with guns, because after all the US have been financing some of the others themselves).  Fine, it gets people looking askance at those no-questions-asked transactions on our antiquities market.  Certainly that is needed, and this manner of dealing in cultural property needs to end. We have seen the dealers do not take too kindly to such a notion and are putting up a (weak) fight. But the longer the story is put out, the more people other than dealer are going to ask about the details - like where are those "millions of dollars" worth of antiquities? Where are they going? Even if the market is entirely clandestine and underground, if it is on such a scale, why are not "accidents" happening and one or two shipments being seized? When journalists go on a search for the proceeds of digging, all they ever come up with a re a few scraps (handfulls of metal detector finds) and above all fakes? Is that because these journalists (or their local fixers) are no good at their job, or is there some other explanation? Or are we looking in the wrong places?

Here's a map (from Business Insider) showing a current interpretation of what ISIL holds:

ISIL terrirory (May 2015 - Business Insider)
How can ISIL make money if the material is not, in fact leaving Iraq and Syria at all? How, actually is it postulated that this stuff is leaving ISIL territory? Can somebody give us a realistic suggestion of the routes used? It's all very well making the "assumption" that it is all going across the "wild" (sic- as per Business Insider) Turkish border, but which antiquities dealers have direct or indirect business contacts with, for example, Turkey? But if that really is so, who is selling artefacts that have come onto the market through Turkey? If we believe that the contact zone between ISIL territory and Turkey is the area where this material is surfacing, maybe we need to be searching online markets for material of types found in precisely this area to see who has suppliers there. But perhaps is is wrong to concentrate our attention on this border. What about material leaving across the porous borders in Iraq? Down the Persian Gulf (to Qatar or Dubai for example)?  Or into Jordan or Saudi Arabia? Or perhaps the material is not leaving the territory of ISIL at all? Who is to say when there are assumptions, no information, and a market which hides everything? 

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