Saturday, 2 May 2015

Syria: France 24 on the trail of looted antiquities

Antiquities going through the
border, where will they end up?
I am sure the film of refugees and others crossing the Syrian/Turkish border will evoke some of the usual 'Two Wrongs' arguments from dealers and their unprincipled mouthpieces, but here is an interesting France  24 video dealing with the mechanics of the antiquities trade which begins in Turkey and ends up in the foreign markets represented by those same dealers and lobbyists.

Syria: On the trail of looted antiquities, 1st May 2015 By Chris Huby, Hédi Aouidj, Jalal Al Alepi
As the war in Syria enters its fifth year, the trafficking of looted antiquities is adding a new dimension to the tragic conflict. Many Syrian artefacts are smuggled across the border into Turkey and sold to international collectors. Our reporters went to Syria and Turkey to investigate the trade in these stolen treasures. They met members of the looted antiquities underworld, who agreed to speak on camera, albeit often anonymously.
The film of "Omar" dowsing [01:36] in the northwestern Syrian town of Azaz was a bit unnecessary, but the digging looks real enough. It was interesting to see the Turkish border and the procedure of passing through on foot and then the deals that were done the other side [03:02 - 04:21]. The town of Gazian Tepe is often mentioned in such reporting as a centre of the illicit antiquities trade, its interesting to see some shots [04:33] of the place itself.

"Hussain" a Turkish middleman talks about some recent lucrative sales he has made. He shows some of the ancient coins he has sold (IAPN, PNG ACCG, collectors and dealers take note). From one sale of 65 of them he claims to have made 290000 dollars [05:48]. He looks like the real thing. "Hussain" is well aware [06:02] that the dealers who he supplies will be making a greater profit when they pass these illicit goods on to their customers, no-questions-asked. These are the dirty-handed guys who know well what they are doing, and doing it not for the "love of history" or the desire to "save history" as their pathetic lobby groups would have it, but for filthy, slimy profit. "Hussain" is very sanguine about it [07:00]. "Ghiat Abbas" [pseudonym?] [07:58] is trying to follow the criminal networks involved [08:26]. He says some of the thieving is being done by criminal elements in the Syrian army [08: 52]. This leads into a segment of the report which I find less reliable as information. It features "Mohamed" [08:46] a Syrian "in charge of communications for one of the numerous revolutionary rebel groups" [09:00 ]  who accuses [09:13 - 10:16] Assad troops of looting Idlib Museum (see post below this).

Meanwhile, at a computer near you [06:20], "for amateur enthusiasts of antiquities it is easy  to find what is available on the Syrian market thanks to the Internet" [06:31-52] 
Take this Facebook page (تجارة اثار تحف اثرية لوحات اثرية تماثيل اثرية قطع اثرية) for example called "the sale and purchase of antiquities, paintings, coins and statues'. There's an ad on here which reads: "Serious buyers only, very beautiful mosaic for sale in the Turkish town of Antalya, please send private message, no public posts" *
Then the theme shifts to ISIL and the pictures of the statue-smashing in Mosul, "these pictures shocked the entire world" [10:28] - "but despite appearances, the jihaddist  group are not only interested in smashing everything, they are also involved in the trafficking of antiquities. And ever since the militants began threatening to destroy them, their value has rocketed" [10:35-10:50]. The dealers lobby groups suggesting collectors will "save history" from the hands of these people are themselves becoming propagandists for the ISIL cause (ADCAEA this means you). 

"Hussain", the trafficker met earlier stresses he depth of ISIL involvement in the antiquities trade [10:51- 11:47], "The Islamic State group are directly involved in the trafficking,  for every object found, they have people who come and buy, they are in collaboration with the dealers who sell abroad". This is confirmed by "Ghiat Abbas".

After the film, there is an interview with Hédi Aouidj, one of the journalists who made it, who expresses the opinion that the scale of the trade they observed is not surprising because [13:40] the antiquities trade is "one of the biggest smuggling [enterprises] in the world". The interviewer points out that the current situation offers a very rich opportunity for "the unscrupulous collector". The question of "repatriation to Syria" is touched upon [15:28].

* Antalya is a coastal town, but nowhere near the Syrian border.

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