Friday, 8 April 2016

Where Ambassador Churkin did his "Research"?

The IADAA drew attention to "the numbers" aspect of Ambassador Churkin's statement on the trade in Syrian antiquities. One would have expected that the capabilities of the Russian Intelligence network to have been brought to bear on this important issue in international diplomacy, and when a figure of "150-200 million" is quoted, it should have some basis. But every single commentator who has given it more than a passing glance is sure, the figure is not only an "exaggeration", it is quite simply impossible. The IADAA have just published their explanation of what happened
“It is a remarkable coincidence that the ambassador [Churkin] makes this claim just a week after UNESCO published figures from the IADAA showing $150-200m to be the value of the annual global legitimate market”.
I am not sure what UN-published figures are being cited here, but actually do not think it matters, nor do I think it was the source used in the "research" of Mr Churkin's staffers. But for the record, the figure was established by James Ede and announced two years ago:
By analysing the publicly quoted figures of the auction houses and dealers worldwide and rounding the figures up quite dramatically we have arrived at a figure of €150-200 million per annum, ie around £150m. This does admittedly exclude one-off sales such as the Geurnol lioness and the Old Kingdom statue from Northampton (another spleen-venting opportunity, largely by people who had no idea of its existence the week before), but these are rare. This figure of £150m is verifiable. [...] In order for the gigantic figures bandied about to be true, there would need to be an illegitimate business out there in Greek Roman and Pre-classical antiquities which is between 20 and 90 times the size of the open market: where and what is all this stuff? [...] There is a legitimate trade, and there is illegitimate traffic. Please can we also differentiate between the two (James Ede, 'Dealers: Trade, Traffic and the Consequences of Demonisation', talk delivered at Manchester University October 25th, 2014)
It would be nice if antiquities dealers would present their goods in a way which would allow us to do precisely that. Note that Ede here is quoting material sold "worldwide" which on the whole, as we can all see, has no verifiable collecting history  - and is calling it a "a legitimate trade". The point is that without being able to verify kosher origins, one simply cannot say whether an object arrived on the market by legitimate means or not. Then guessing whether the percentage of potentially looted material hiding amongst the general anonymity is 20 or 90% necessarily is pure speculation dependent on whether you believe in the antiquities fairies and Munich antiquities elves. That aside, did Mr Churkin's staff find that number quoted in a UN report as the IADAA assert, or was it from another source?

In fact, I reckon there is a good chance it comes from an article published in English in a Turkish newspaper, the Hurriyet Daily News ("leading news source for Turkey and the region"). In a syndicated article published almost exactly a year ago, ('Antiquities market on alert for looted Syrian spoils', Hurriyet Daily News April 17th 2015), we find this:
Experts say it is impossible to put a value on antiquities looted from Syria, which has been home to many civilisations through the millennia, from the Canaanites to the Ottomans. The London-based International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) estimates the entire legitimate antiquities market in 2013 was worth between 150 and 200 million euros ($160-215 million).
I think there is a very good chance that Ambassador Churkin is citing the IADAA's own figures, via the poor phrasing of a local news report. It would probably be worth trawling Hurriyet Daily News for the source of some of the other specific allegations of who is involved in the Turkish end of the trade in Middle Eastern antiquities.

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