Thursday, 27 August 2015

Dealer Maupin and the Killing of Khaled al-As'ad

Pot-shotting dealer Maupin hefting a pot
In the opinion of this blog, antiquities dealers can at times be nasty, unpleasant jerks. Nowhere is this more clearly seen in the reaction of several of them brutal decapitation of  Khaled al-As'ad, a person who was well-known, liked and respected, among others, by my colleagues in the Polish expedition to Palmyra. His death shocked the world, and not just the archaeological world.

Antiquities dealer Chris M. Maupin of Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities (Wilmington, NC) however is not bothered by that. He deserves widespread condemnation for his insistence that what we know of the archaeologist's final days was just "rather silly claims" and that he had been murdered for nothing more than "being a member of the Ba'ath party" (like 18% of the whole population of Syria).

This follows by poison-dwarf Tompa's claim of the same thing ('Exploiting a Tragedy', CPO August 21, 2015) on his blog conducted as part of his IAPN-funded  lobbying (the executive board of the IAPN, asked several times have not attempted to deny this). Tompa asserts that al-As'ad was killed merely for being a member of the Ba'ath party and "it appears the claim that the scholar was murdered for refusing to disclose the location of hidden antiquities is based not on eyewitness testimony but upon the claims of antiquities officials of the Assad regime in Damascus" - as if the latter (for whom Al-As'ad had been working for five decades) would not have been able to contact the dead man's family.

Palmyra/Tadmor fell on May 21st. Evacuation of the Museum may have begun earlier, but contemporary accounts reveal that much material was being moved when ISIL fighters were already in the town's suburbs and even taking pot shots at those loading the material onto the trucks as artefacts were snatched from under their noses. The 82-year old Al-As'ad was reportedly amongst those helping evacuate the artefacts. (Each of those busts by the way would probably weigh somewhere in the region of 100kg.)

Neither Maupin or Tompa have, I would guess, much experience of conducting such an operation in the face of an ongoing disaster, either military or natural. Those of us who have will have some appreciation of what may have been involved trying to do anything like that in a town in the process of falling to an enemy and everybody who can trying to get out too, lack of vehicles, lack of fuel for them, negotiating roads crammed with fleeing refugees, lack of people willing to help loading and the driving when their homes and families are in the front line. The trip to Damascus is about 200 km, I think it pretty obvious that some museum items may have been dropped off nearer to Palmyra (in a safe house or buried in the desert) in order to get back to the museum to remove more.

Al-As'ad was reported to have been arrested by ISIL twice after the fall of the town. The first time was at the end of May, along with his son Walid, who was later released.
Asaad and his eldest son Walid were picked up by Islamic State on May 22, two days after Palmyra was captured. They were taken to Islamic State headquarters in the northern city of Raqqa and questioned, then released two days later.
During this time they were questioned about alleged "stores of gold" in the city. According to Pádraig Belton in the Spectator:
Palmyra fell on 21 May. Mr al-Asaad and his son were taken into captivity, says Dr Denis Genequand, a University of Geneva archaeologist who worked closely with Mr al-Asaad, and knows his family. ‘One thing that we know from the son, who is now in Damascus, was when they were together in jail, the militants tried to make them tell them where some of the treasures, especially gold, were stored,’ he says.
Al-As'ad was then released. He was reportedly re-arrested at the end of July after several ISIL-collaborators in the town had made accusations of various things and arrested a second time . 
On July 20 Islamic State came back. This time the fighters were rounding up archaeologists.
Mr Asaad was held and interrogated for more than a month. On Monday 17th August, the jihadists had appeared to relent, telling relations that his release was imminent. The next day, he was taken to a city square and beheaded. His body was then put on public display. The accusation on the placard in the display of his mutilated corpse was of “supporting the Nusayri (Alawi) regime because he is the representative of Syria in Blasphemousness conferences, being the director of the archaeological idols of Palmyra, visiting Iran and attending the concert victory of al- Khomeini’s revolution, communicating with his brother the head of the intelligence branch of Filistin and communicating with a general in the presidential palace”. Two days later they cut off his arms and legs, according to his son Mohammed.

Why would the dealer who runs Clio Antiquities be so concerned about whether ISIL were trying to locate caches of antiquities or not and to dismiss those reports? 

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