Wednesday, 9 September 2015

'Following the trail of Syria's looted history'

CBS News, 'Following the trail of Syria's looted history', September 9, 2015

This report walks a fine line between following the US State Department anti-ISIL narrative and factual reporting. "CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward says, out of sight and off camera, what isn't destroyed is being quietly sold on a black market that reaches Europe and even [sic -PMB]  the U.S.". Now interestingly, that does not mean that all the artefacts discussed were "looted by ISIL" (just were not destroyed by them).
Producer Jennifer Janisch posed as a buyer and made contact with Omar, a Syrian living in Turkey who offers looted artifacts to international buyers. He sent us images of coins and statuettes, jewelry and ancient books -- likely a mixture of real and fake items, experts told CBS News.
All of the ones shown on the phone (and most of those which appear in the gallery) are fakes in my opinion. Look at them, an Anubis figure, some cylinder seal copies, and one of those idiotic Jordanian lead book fakes. I am not sure of the bull figure and the ivory head. The coins in the gallery are junk fakes of Greek types. I think "Omar" is one of those opportunist middlemen on the Turkish side which Mike Giglio discusses with more insight than the CBS reporters. It is interesting to speculate why it is that journalists doing a foreign assignment can only come across the middlemen who have loads and loads of fakes to offer.

The mosaic shown (in a suburb of Istanbul) and discussed is authentic enough. It also has been rather well lifted, reversed and backed. That is not kitchen table conservation, this has been done by somebody who's done it before. CBS learnt it was potentially worth $100,000.
They said it was taken out of Syria only recently -- one of seven mosaics they had dug up in the ancient city of Apamea [...] Ward and Janisch then moved to their waiting van, where they were also offered Roman glass stolen from a tomb. There the negotiating began: $200,000 for the mosaic, they said, but that quickly dropped to $60,000. They were eager to get the illegal piece off their hands.
As they jolly well should. The dealers' lobbyists are suggesting that the lowering of the price indicates there "is no market for looted material". Basically this means that such "observers' are totally ignorant of the techniques of selling and buying in many regions of the Middle East - it's called 'haggling' (sort of like a reverse auction where the price comes down). A 100k mosaic for 60k is by no means a bargain on this market. To sell it, the object has to be smuggled out of Turkey, mounted and then marketed at a temptingly low-enough price to cause the potential buyer not (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) to ask too many questions.  Janisch needs to polish her haggling skills. Also one wonders how many of the western dealers buying high end antiquities in this region actually are female. Did not the sellers suspect they were dealing with imposters? Note that it is not explicitly stated that this mosaic was looted by ISIL (because of course it was not).

Another middleman, "Walid" has his say from behind a dramatically thick wrapping of kafiya. Then we hear from Matthew Bogdanos. Again, there is a bit of caginess about stating explicitly ISIL is behind all the looting. What is important is as Bogdanos says: "The illegal traffic in looted antiquities is buying the bombs and the bullets that are killing so many," when of course it matters not who profited. But then, also:
"In a surprisingly small number of steps, you can go from the looter in ISIS-controlled territory to the smuggler who gets it out of the country... to a gallery owner who provides forged documentation... and ultimately getting a buyer making its way to the four destination points of New York, London, Paris and Tokyo," Bogdanos said. He said he and his colleagues have seen evidence of artifacts "looted by ISIS or under the authority of ISIS" ending up on the markets in London and even New York. CBS News has learned there are multiple ongoing investigations into ISIS-looted artifacts that have reached the U.S., but the cases are very difficult to prove because it's so easy to forge documentation about the provenance and the authenticity of these objects.
I'm interested in the idea that [US ?] gallery owners are making forged documentation. Why? Most Middle Eastern items are offered on the open market on the understanding that ("although Kosher") there is no documentation whatsoever. This I think it is nonsense to say cases like this are not going forward for lack of evidence. If a dealer produces false documentation, then that documentation can be checked by forensics and proven false, in which case that in itself is evidence of a crime.   Far from "difficult to prove", the forgery of documents is a black and white issue. Prosecute them.

[The comments under this CBS article are priceless, focussing as they do on "pornography", each one as empty-headed as the last. "No kid left behind", except the ones that were].

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