Wednesday 28 May 2014

Smugglers Thrive On Syria's Chaos, Looting Cultural Heritage

Smuggling is a way of life in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, just over the border from Syria. Driving along it, you see pale smugglers' trails snaking through mountain passes, and the guys who run touristy little antiques stores here say they can get you anything. "Everything that have traditions and everything found in old houses," says Reda Ismail, who runs one of the many stores in the valley. Dealers say most things here are smuggled from Syria, and Ismail thinks these days it's more prevalent.[...] now the market's flooded. Desperate Syrian families sell their treasures, or militias steal them. "Before the war, look," he says, "when people saw this work, they maybe pay for this chest maybe $1,000. But now because all the quantity of this stuff in Lebanon ... maybe it's like $200 or $300." [...] Now there's a new smuggling trend. Antiquities are seeping onto the market, looted from ancient sites and smuggled over the border.
Of course collectors are really pleased prices drop as more and more stuff is "liberated" and "surfaces".

Assaad Seif, of Lebanon's Antiquities Directorate, says they're catching shipments about twice a month.   "Of course when you have war, you have less control; and when you have less control, people try to do whatever they can in order to get easy money," he says.

A joint U.N. statement led by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in March warned that "the illicit trafficking of cultural objects has reached unprecedented levels," but the Security Council members can't agree on a resolution to deal with the problem, for example outlawing the sale of freshly-surfaced Syrian antiquities. 

Alice Fordham, 'Smugglers Thrive On Syria's Chaos, Looting Cultural Treasures', National Public Radio May 27, 2014

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