Friday 29 September 2023

Yemen’s Stolen Heritage

Abdullah Mohsen

The illicit antiquities trade has rapidly expanded during the civil war: thousands of smuggled Yemeni artifacts, valued at tens of millions of dollars, are now housed in the United States and at museums across the globe (Muhammed Ali Thamer, 'Yemen’s Stolen Heritage: Looted Artifacts in International Auctions' Carnegie Endowment September 28, 2023

[...]antiquities gangs flourish amidst deteriorating security conditions. During the nine-year-long civil war, Yemeni artifacts—including Sabaean statues, Himyarite animal heads, and stone plaques written in Musnad, a cuneiform script—have appeared at international auction houses. A recent report by the al-Hudhud Center for Archaeological Studies reveals a significant increase in the number of smuggled Yemeni antiquities at international auctions. Between 1991 and 2022, over 4,265 Yemeni artifacts were sold in six Western countries, through 16 American and European auctions. This includes 2,610 pieces that were smuggled and sold during the war period alone—the vast majority of which ended up in the United States, at a value of more than $12 million.
On August 30, the United States and Yemen signed a MOU to safeguard Yemeni heritage by ending the movement of illegally exported Yemeni artifacts in the U.S. market. This builds upon the February 2020 Emergency Import Restrictions that banned the import of Yemeni cultural property and antiquities to the United States.
Yemeni activists and researchers tend to blame the Yemeni government for ongoing smuggling. One of the most prominent among them is the Yemeni archaeological researcher Abdullah Mohsen, whose social media pages are filled with news of the sale of Yemeni antiquities in international auctions. Another is the journalist Ahmed Ashour, who published an investigative report documenting the theft of precious Yemeni artifacts that were sold through antiquities marketing sites in Europe.

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