FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Iran and Russia Join the Global Alliance to Preserve Syria’s Endangered Heritage

by

Beirut

The Islamic Republic of Iran announced this week that it is ready to take part in the restoration of archeological monuments damaged or destroyed by ISIS terrorists in Palmyra (Tadmor), which was named one of the six UN World Heritage Sites in Syria in 1980.

The Head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, Masoud Soltanifar stressed this week his country’s readiness to participate in the process of restoring and rehabilitating the archeological and cultural sites that were demolished by the terrorists in Syria, particularly those in Palmyra. The Iranian ISNA News Agency quoted Soltanifar as saying in a letter he sent this week to Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Irina Bokova that Iran is ready to join in conserving and restoring both movable and immovable endangered Syrian cultural heritage archeological sites because they are part of the global heritage of all of us. On March 27, Dr. Maamoun Abdul-Karim, Director General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) concurred and described a preliminary vision for a rehabilitation plan to restore the glory of Palmyra.

Perhaps ironically, the Iranians reportedly want to initially restore, among other damaged sites, the 2000 year old Arch of Triumph which was erected to commemorate the victory of the Romans over Iran’s ancestors after the Roman legions drove out the Persian army. Iran’s commitment letter added that “Given the Islamic Republic of Iran’s responsibility with endangered Syrian cultural heritage, [Tehran’s] Cultural Heritage organization stresses its readiness to protect, restore and repair cultural heritage in Syria, especially in Palmyra.” The letter was addressed to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bukova and arrived a day after the head of an Iranian parliamentary delegation visiting Damascus announced that Tehran had “already started developing a program for the reconstruction” of Syria.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 10.59.49 AM

According to the above map provided by Russian UN Ambassador Chrukin, the Turkish town of Gaziantep, is now the main crossroads of Syrian antiquities trafficking.

Nearly simultaneously with this much welcomed Iranian initiative, on March 31, 2016 the Russians suddenly pledged to join other nations to preserve our shared global cultural heritage in Syria. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s envoy to the United Nations, sent a letter to the UN Security, asking that it be widely distributed, and pledged that Russia will combat named dealers and shippers who are alleged to be facilitating the trade of looted antiquities from ISIS-controlled territory in Syria.  According to culture heritage lawyer Rick St. Hilaire, the communication caught the attention of cultural property watchers, the media, as well as the government of Turkey because of the strong language Russia’s ambassador used.

Wrote the Russian Ambassador to the UN Security Council: “Around 100,000 cultural objects of global importance, including 4,500 archaeological sites, nine of which are included in the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), are under the control of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq. The profit derived by the Islamists from the illicit trade in antiquities and archaeological treasures is estimated at US$ 150-200 million per year.”

As this observer has written more than once recently, there is little material or probative evidence supporting such a dramatically high and unverified Russian estimate of ISIS profits from looting and flogging Syria’s and our cultural heritage. A more realistic number is around two million dollars per month, according to Syrian and UNESCO sources.

However, Mr. Churkin does accurately claim that “individuals in possession of a written permit stamped by this ‘department’ are permitted by the Islamists to carry out excavations and to remove and transport excavated items.” UNESCO and the governments of Syria and the United States have expressed the same opinion.

The Russians imply that their agents have been investigating what looters of Syrians antiquities do with them after excavations and offer specificity:

“It has been observed that new offices for the purchase of antiquities have opened on the Turkish-Syrian border in the administrative district of Akçakale (640 km south-east of Ankara, Åžanlıurfa Province). Ismet Eren, the owner of an antique shop at 24 Karanfil Street in the town of Kilis, is involved in the illicit trade. Bulky goods are delivered by the Turkish transport companies Åenocak Nakliyat, Devran Nakliyat, Karahan Nakliyat and Egemen Nakliyat. Smuggled artifacts (jewellery, coins, etc.) then arrive in the Turkish cities of Izmir, Mersin and Antalya, where representatives of international criminal groups produce fake documents on the origin (ed: provenance) of the antiquities.”

The Russians are naming names

The Russians report that their agents are observing our cultural heritage antiquities being offered to collectors from various countries, generally through Internet auction sites such as eBay and specialized online stores (vauctions.com, ancients.info, vcoins.com, and trocadero.com). The sites osmanlielsanatlari.com, kaynarcopper.com and ertasantik.com are also used to find buyers. To hid their activities, the thieve use IP-address spoofing, which makes it difficult to identify and determine the actual location of the seller.

It is known that ISIS has been increasingly using social media so as to cut out the middleman and sell artifacts directly to buyers. Preference is given to US dollar transactions, while transactions conducted over the Internet involve the same financial institutions as are involved in transactions for the purchase of weapons and ammunition.

Ambassador Churkin also identified new offices that have recently opened for the purchase and sale of antiquities and listed sites on the Turkish-Syrian border in the administrative district of Akçakale.  As cultural heritage lawyer |Rick St. Hilaire, notes: “He daringly identified the owner of an antique shop in the town of Kilis as a person “involved in the illicit trade” before proceeding to list individual Turkish transport companies that carried “bulky goods,” describing how “[s]muggled artifacts (jewellery, coins, etc.) then arrive in the Turkish cities of Izmir, Mersin and Antalya, where representatives of international criminal groups produce fake documents on the origin of the antiquities.”

All of us, because we want to preserve and restore our past for the future will applaud these Russian and Iranian initiatives. And welcome the joining of both countries with many other nations, who under the supervision and direction of the Syrian government, and its remarkable Directorate-General of Antiquities & Museums (DGAM), which for the past five years has worked to preserve and protect our cultural heritage which has been in Syrian custody for ten millennia.

Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Lebanon, France, and USA based Meals for Syrian Refugee Children Lebanon (MSRCL) which seeks to provide hot nutritional meals to Syrian and other refugee children in Lebanon. http://mealsforsyrianrefugeechildrenlebanon.com. He is reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail