Monday 16 June 2014

Iraq/Syria: ISIL/ISIS fundraising by antiquities trafficking: Implications for the Market

ISIL on the march - financed in part by antiquities sales?
Sam Hardy discusses: Iraq/Syria: ISIL/ISIS fundraising by antiquities trafficking (Conflict Antiquities June 16, 2014). The implications for the no-questions-asked buying and selling of dugup antiquities seem clear. Regardless of the precise business model adopted, a case does seem to be emerging indicating the key role that antiquities trafficking can play in enabling political violence:
There is now secure (if imprecise) evidence that, like the other parties to the Syrian civil war, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham/the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) is using the looting and trafficking of antiquities to fund its fighting. However, more interesting – and concerning – than the unsurprising news that ISIL are trafficking antiquities as well, are the implications for the relationship between the trade and the conflict. 
There is a paradox here, as ISIL are also engaged in the destruction of the cultural heritage, though the latter concerns less 'portable' items such as a Byzantine mosaic near Raqqa , grave monuments near Mosul, the lions of Arslan Tash in Raqqa (one original, one reproduction), and the smashing  of statues from Tell Ajaja/Tell Ajuja (though I have suggested that the photos might suggest it was fakes that were attacked). There however is little doubt that portable items are being traded. There was discussion yesterday of the recovery by Iraqi military intelligence of evidence of fundraising by ISIL through antiquities trafficking (Martin Chulov, ' How an arrest in Iraq revealed Isis's $2bn jihadist network', The Guardian, Sunday 15 June 2014). They recovered 160 memory sticks from the home of the head of ISIL’s military council, Abdulrahman al-Bilawi.
Al-Nabuk (in centre)
As well as extremely detailed intelligence regarding the paramilitary’s organisation, they recovered extremely detailed intelligence regarding its administration and funding, which appears to include up to 36 million dollars’ income from the looting and trafficking of commodities from one Syrian region alone, al-Nabuk(1), which a British(?) intelligence official presented in the context of antiquities trafficking [...]  The $875m that they raised in total – through extraction from oil fields, the theft of cultural and other assets, and the trafficking of antiquities and other commodities – enabled their recent operations, through which they have accumulated another $1.5b.
Hardy argues that the evidence suggests that the insurgent groups in Iraq and Syria are earning the money through 'high-end control of the market', as late middlemen, in other words they are operating close to market level of antiquities trade . This is what he has demonstrated for the Cyprus Conflict (and he suggests Simon Mackenzie and Tess Davis have demonstrated for Cambodia). If in Cambodia 'there are very, very few steps between a looted Cambodian temple and a collector‘, Hardy suggests that there are even fewer between that collector and organised criminals and armed groups.
The point here, then, is that a correspondingly high proportion of the investment in the antiquities trade constitutes funding for paramilitaries and terrorists. It becomes ever more difficult to present the purchase of illicit antiquities as a humanitarian act of “rescue” rather than a driver of conflict. And it becomes ever more critical to analyse and prosecute the illicit antiquities trade in order to suppress armed conflict.

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