Monday 14 July 2014

Syrian Heritage Task Force on the Antiquities Trade

Sam Hardy has a brief report ('the Islamic State is profiting from looting, dealing and smuggling of antiquities from Syria and Iraq') based on information supplied by Prof. Salam Al Kuntar and Prof. Amr Al Azm of the 'Syrian Heritage Task Force’ that suggests that through the local emirs, the Islamic State is imposing a tax on looted antiquities in Iraq and Syria, and this is enforced by killing anyone refusing to pay.
Prof. Al Azm observed that the Islamic State ‘is involved in illicit antiquities trading, but in a way… more complex and insidious than that reported to date’. It is ‘is involved and profiting at every level, from extraction to final sale and exit from ISIS territory’. ‘The damage is phenomenal. They’re not only digging up known sites; they’re bulldozing everything.’ According to the Sunday Times, the Islamic State’s ‘main market’ is the paramilitary-controlled Syrian-Turkish border town of Tel Abyad.
The problem is that this information comes from the US-supported National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, and it would seem that the 'destruction of heritage' issue, and providing shocking information about it, has become intimately-linked to US soft-power strategies in the muddle that the Middle east has become. I think we have to be very careful about the claims that are emerging from the international media about any of this, it is quite clear that concerns about the cultural heritage are becoming a pawn to be cynically exploited and manipulated for political ends and to demonise a political opponent, in this case rebels against the Assad regime who now take on themselves a form perceived as threatening.

Isis-controlled territory (BBC)
Another example of the manipulation of/by the media are the forms in which the conflict is mapped. The BBC have a map which is more 'spidery' than the bold blocks of colour we were seeing a few weeks ago. I guess this is meant to be more soothing than alarmist, suggesting links are tenuous and its 'only a matter of time' before the links are broken. We will see. Tel Abyad  is on the northern border (just below the 'u' of Turkey) and it forms a divided city with Akçakale in Turkey. The border crossing here is currently closed, but in Wikipedia it suggests that it 'may be crossed for a bribe of approximately $100'. Al-Nabuk (where the memory sticks were found with information on fund-raising through antiquities)  is just to the north of Damascus on the road north to Homs, outside the area indicated as controlled by ISIS. 

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