Tuesday 29 April 2014

Syrian smugglers enjoy a free-for-all among ancient ruins

Syrian rebel Abu Abd al-Tedmuri grew up in the shadow of Palmyra's ancient ruins. Like many in his family, he illegally excavated and sold archaeological treasures on the side. Amid the chaos of war, this business is chugging along. Sitting on a thin mattress in the apartment in Turkey he shares with a dozen rebel fighters, Mr. Tedmuri quickly swipes through photos on his smartphone, displaying Islamic gold coins and funerary busts – a few of his treasures. He hid some in his hometown, smuggling the rest to Turkey. Most of them he sold. The artifacts come from Palmyra [...]  “After the events in Syria, all the ruins became exposed and no one was protecting them,” says the 25-year-old
Palmyran art, which fuses Greco and Roman techniques with Iranian and indigenous influences, is coveted worldwide. An illicit trade in such artifacts existed well before the conflict, but fear of the mukhabarat, intelligence, kept a check on it. Getting caught could result in a 15-year prison sentence.
Most of his clients are Turks linked to smuggling mafias or other Syrians working in the business, although one piece was bought directly by a private buyer in Germany. He also makes the occasional trip to Istanbul to sell smaller artifacts to foreign collectors and oriental shop merchants. [...]  Tedmuri complains that newcomers have driven down prices by flooding the market and ignorantly selling artifacts for less than they are worth. Only half-joking, he says he hopes for a crackdown by the Turkish authorities to drive prices back up. “Precious pieces are being sold for $300 to $400 a pop – nothing!” he says with genuine indignation. "Veteran smugglers feel sad when they see such items fetching such low prices.” 
Meanwhile of course collectors are very interested in these depressed prices.

Dominique Soguel, '', Christian Science Monitor, April 27, 2014

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