Sunday, 5 October 2014

UNESCO and its Unsubstantiated Claims about ISIL

The Al Arabiya news item ('ISIS selling Iraq’s artifacts in black market: UNESCO' Tuesday, 30 September 2014) discussed in the previous post also contains other material deriving from the UNESCO meeting.
Another Iraqi official, who declined to give his name, said artefacts were also being dug up and neighboring states such as Jordan and Turkey needed to do more to stop such items crossing their borders, according to Reuters. "Things are getting across our borders and into auction houses abroad," he said. "Unfortunately many of the proceeds of these artefacts will be used to finance terrorism." 
Unnamed source, comes out with vague accusation that "things are getting [...] into auction houses abroad", but unable to cite a single example. Well, where? Who has seen these "things" and how do they know what they are (and actually what their sellers spend money on)? Another anonymous informant has a similar story:
A Western diplomat said it was too early to assess exactly how much from Iraq had crossed the borders. "We've seen hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Syrian pieces pop up after their sites were looted, so it's not unreasonable to expect the same for Iraq," he said. 
Pah! Mr "western diplomat" (based where?) may have attended some auctions somewhere where "hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Syrian pieces pop up" but neglected to inform any other press source about them. Where are these mythical auction houses? Why are these sales not being highlighted by the many blogs and journalists looking into precisely this issue? Unless western diplomats chatting to journalists at the after-conference shindig can actually cite concrete information, we are entitled to treat such unsubstantiated and unsubstantiable allegations with a dose of scepticism, and even suspect these stories are being totally made-up (like the UNESCO lady falsely quoted as saying Bonhams had handled a [single] ISIS-sourced antiquity). Come on, where is the evidence?

We have satellite photos which clearly show holes in many sites which can only be the traces of looting (doubters in the trade should look closely at the Dura Europos shots) there is no doubt in my mind that this is evidence that this is going on. What I do disapprove of is the attempts to make political capital of that fact and in the process put out deceitful reports having no basis in reality. I would like the people who spoke at the UNESCO conference reported here to actually back up those assertions about the "hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Syrian pieces" popping up in recent auctions, and all those Iraqi artefacts getting into the same (?) auction houses. Quite apart from anything else, if there is so much of this stuff suddenly (but invisibly) "surfacing", why on earth has the bottom not dropped out of the market?

Where possible (and I would have thought that what is appearing in foreign auction houses is pretty easily verifiable), let's have facts, verifiable facts rather than all this politically-motivated myth-making. We are not going to fight the deceits of the no-questions-asked antiquities market with more lies.

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