Friday 28 November 2014

German Media Corroborate $36M Islamic State Antiquities Trafficking

The IADAA screeching headline that there is "no evidence that any collectors money is going to ISIL" was intended by them, I assume, to be the final word, shouting down the conservationists, rather than the opening of a discussion. I think the discussion is far from over, though whether they have the stomach to take part in it remains to be seen. Anyway, at the same time as my consideration of the "evidence" they offered yesterday (when it turns out it was the kind of sniping that only appeals to the coineys), I know Sam Hardy was working on his own version. This has been published today in the "Hyperallergic" blog and is (of course) well worth a read. The results of his enquiries are quite surprising, "German Media Corroborates $36M Islamic State Antiquities Trafficking".

It is a well-written account, with lots of internal hyperlinks to a lot of additional material (including some of my old posts) and it sets out the background and development of the question in a clear and logical manner. This includes the involvement of the IADAA in trying to dismiss the questions raised in recent writing on the effects of Middle Eastern conflict on cultural heritage. Sam then discusses the problem of the discrepancy between what the IADAA spokesperson was claiming about the Chulov "160 al-Bilawi memory sticks" issue and what the German journalists (whom she initially avoided naming) had actually seen, found out and reported.

His conclusion is thought-provoking:

While verification specifically of the antiquities trafficking data is still absolutely necessary, the verification of these other data, from the same set, lends credibility to the claim that the Islamic State has made thirty six million dollars from antiquities trafficking. The question then becomes, once more, whether the IS is trafficking literally unbelievable quantities of material, or whether IS agents are late middlemen who operate close to the market end of the conflict antiquities trade and the $36m is a larger proportion of the final sale price (or whether there was a misunderstanding and more mundane criminal activities form a larger proportion of its income).

Regardless of the answer, profits from the sales of conflict antiquities are clearly partly underwriting Islamic State operations, and thus partly underwriting repression, war and genocide. And regardless of the precise numbers, that reality reinforces the need for cultural property protection, antiquities trade regulation and powerful policing.
We await the answer of the representatives of the legitimate and responsible antiquities trade, not only from Germany, whether they are going to try and help this, or continue trying to block such moves.  Not only that, but what active steps they propose undertaking to achieve this aim.


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