Monday, 14 September 2015

Bogdanos on The International Antiquities Market and ISIL

Col. Matthew Bogdanos
Marine colonel and antiquities expert Matthew Bogdanos says the West must do more to prevent ISIL from profiting from Middle Eastern treasures (Daniel Wiser, 'The Link Between the Islamic State and the Western Art Trade' Washington Free Beacon September 14, 2015). 
When Matthew Bogdanos began investigating the looting of artifacts from Iraq’s National Museum in 2003, his team often found caches of weapons mixed in among the stolen antiquities. In time, he discovered the missing link. Al Qaeda had been profiting from the sale of relics pillaged from the museum. “We would be searching for terrorists, and later we found antiquities,” Bogdanos says. “Ultimately both of those trades had been rolled into one.” “That should have surprised nobody.”
He says ISIL and al Qaeda are profiting from these sales. "According to some estimates, the group [ISIL] reaps at least tens of millions of dollars a year from moving antiquities in Syria".
“ISIS has been getting everyone’s attention by institutionalizing [the antiquities trade] and taking it to a whole new level,” [...] “What they can’t sell they destroy,” Bogdanos says. “For every piece ISIS destroys on camera, hundreds more line its coffers through the antiquities trade.”[...] The Islamic State supplies the antiquities trade at the front end through looting, Bogdanos explained, serving as the first actor in a five-step process. The second player is the smuggler, who transports the antiquities across borders in trucks that “follow well-known routes” used for decades, if not longer. Resting in Middle Eastern capitals such as Damascus, Beirut, or Amman, the antiquities often wind up in the back rooms of carpet or souvenir shops.  [...] Neither the smuggler nor the shop owner has any relations with international buyers. But the dealers and gallery owners, with warehouses in Geneva and academic contacts who can “authenticate” the artifacts, do. A handful of dealers—what Bogdanos calls a “cottage industry”—utilize Switzerland’s favorable privacy and trade laws to shop the antiquities around the world, to buyers in New York, Paris, and Tokyo. “Geneva is truly the nirvana of these guys,” he says. The antiquities sometimes end up in some of the world’s most famous museums, which still accept pieces without a known provenance. Others are broken into easily fixable pieces and sold to buyers during a span of five or six years, when they are reassembled. Buyers looking for intact pieces take little notice.
The problem is that fighting the illicit trade in antiquities is an uphill battle when there is a market with a total opacity, lack of accountability and vested interests in hiding the origins of the commodities on it and dealers united in maintaining that status quo.
“Antiquities investigations are expensive; they are extraordinarily labor-intensive, and they expand across borders,” he adds.
Like the dealers, Bogdanos blames the locals for getting looted in a society rent by conflict. Basically, I think they have more to worry about than a few pots and carved stones. It is the foreign market that should be guarding against opportunists who want to profit from others' misfortune.

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