‘Stop the destruction’, UN officials urge in plea to save Syria’s cultural heritage

 http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=47340&Cr=Syria&Cr1=#.UyEQJ_mIAyo

Three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Syria are being used for military purpose and this raises the risk of imminent and irreversible destruction. Photo: UNESCO, UNESCO/Ron Van Oers

“Destroying the inheritance of the past robs future generations of a powerful legacy, deepens hatred and despair and undermines all attempts to foster reconciliation,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director General, Irina Bokova, and UN and League of Arab States Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.12 March 2014 – The rampant destruction of Syria’s cultural heritage – including ancient cities, houses and temples – is deepening hatred in the war-torn country and must stop, United Nations and Arab League officials warned today, stressing that the protection of Syria’s ancient history is inseparable from the protection of its people.

Human representations in art are being destroyed by extremist groups intent on eradicating unique testimonies of Syria’s rich cultural diversity

In a rare joint statement issued as the crisis in Syria enters its fourth year, the senior officials said that as Syrians continue to endure incalculable human suffering and loss, their country’s rich tapestry of cultural heritage is being ripped to shreds in the conflict due to fighting, looting, and pillaging at ancient archaeological sites.

“All layers of Syrian culture are now under attack – including pre-Christian, Christian and Muslim,” they said, placing efforts to save Syrian’s heritage within the wider scope of ending violence in the country.

They noted that the protection of cultural heritage is inseparable from the protection of human lives, and should be an integral part of humanitarian and peacebuilding efforts, adding “now is the time to stop the destruction, build peace and protect our common heritage”.

Four of the country’s six UNESCO World Heritage sites are being used for military purposes or have been transformed into battlefields. These include the Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din, castles constructed during the Crusades between the 11th and 13th centuries.

Other sites being used for military purposes include Palmyra, which contains ruins of what was believed to have been one of the most important cultural centres of the world in the 1st and 2nd centuries; the Saint Simeon Church in the ancient villages of Northern Syria; and Aleppo, including the Aleppo Citadel.

Syria has two additional sites inscribed to the World Heritage List, the ancient cities of Bosra andDamascus, and 12 sites which are currently under consideration for admission to the list.

The UN today again drew attention to the systematic looting and illicit trafficking of cultural objects from Syria which have reached “unprecedented levels”.

UNESCO officials have said in the past that some of these sites are being wrecked and looted, compromising their scientific value. Among them, the site of Apamea on the Orontes River has been completely destroyed by thousands of illegal digs.

“We appeal to all countries and professional bodies involved in customs, trade and the art market, as well as individuals and tourists, to be on alert for stolen Syrian artifacts,” the joint statement says, also requesting parties to verify the origin of cultural property in adherence to the UNESCO 1970 Convention on illicit trafficking of cultural property.

The officials also spoke out against reports that Syrian artifacts were being deliberately targeted for ideological reasons.

“Human representations in art are being destroyed by extremist groups intent on eradicating unique testimonies of Syria’s rich cultural diversity,” they said in the joint statement.

Aleppo

Aleppo city walls
Courtyard of the Great Mosque of Aleppo
Umayyad mosque
Ablution fountains, Great Mosque of Aleppo

SCAM ALERT: Fake certificates of authenticity and fake “Laissez-passer ICOM-UNESCO”

http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/illicit-trafficking-of-cultural-property/scam-alert/

SCAM ALERT

Fake certificates of authenticity and fake “Laissez-passer ICOM-UNESCO”

UNESCO and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) have been alerted to an online scam offering fake certificates of authenticity and a “Laissez-passer ICOM-UNESCO”.

Fraudulent websites, claim to provide certificates of authenticity permitting the unrestricted import and export of African cultural heritage in return for a fee. These falsified certificates supposedly release the bearer from all obligations such as requiring other documents: the title deed, the export certificate, the export license, the certificate of expertise, the certificate of authenticity etc.

This fee is then, according to these websites, shared between UNESCO, ICOM, the national museums and the Ministries of Arts and Culture in the country in question.THIS IS NOT TRUE.

Art collectors and tourists (notably in the West African region) are falling victim in relation to this scam.

UNESCO and ICOM encourage the exercise of vigilance when taking part in transactions involving cultural heritage property, in particular African artifacts.

For further information, please contact:

UNESCO: 1970convention(at)unesco.org

ICOM: illicit.trafficking(at)icom.museum ; Tel: +33 (0)1 47 34 05 00

Photo gallery: examples of fraudulent UNESCO and ICOM certificates

Museum items can’t be seized to pay Iran judgment

 http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/28/museum-iran-judgment/7030521/ 

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CHICAGO (AP) — Survivors of a 1997 terrorist bombing blamed partly on Iran can’t seize thousands of relics from U.S. museums to pay a $412 million judgment against the Iranian government, a federal judge in Chicago ruled Friday.

The case targeting the Persian antiquities at the Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute was closely watched nationwide by other museum officials, who feared a ruling against the Chicago museums could set an alarming precedent that might put their own collections at risk.

“I am very pleased,” said Matt Stolper, who oversees Persian collections at the Oriental Institute. “I’m happy these (artifacts) don’t need to be surrendered to be turned into money.”

The decade-old case stems from a suicide bomb attack at a Jerusalem mall, where explosives packed with rusty nails, screws and glass killed five people and injured nearly 200 others, some seriously.

In his 23-page decision, Judge Robert Gettleman said he “recognizes the tragic circumstances” of the case but that the plaintiffs hadn’t proven that the Iranian government owned the Field Museum items. And he said the Oriental Institute artifacts were loaned for scholarship, not commercial purposes, and so couldn’t be seized.

Among the artifacts in question are thousands of Persian tablets, many of which are inscribed in an ancient alphabet, which are more than 2,000 years old. They have been kept in the Oriental Institute since the 1930s on the long-term loan agreement with Iranian authorities at the time. The Field Museum collection was far smaller.

Stolper also expressed sympathy for the plaintiffs, who included people badly burned in the bombing.

“They are victims of atrocious crimes and they are desperate for a remedy and for some control,” he said. “I don’t think this was a way to do it.”

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, David Strachman, didn’t immediately respond to a message left Friday. Museum attorneys said they expect the plaintiffs to appeal the ruling to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

Both the Field Museum and the University of Chicago fought the bid to seize the artifacts, as did Iran.

In the 1990s, Congress passed a law allowing American victims of terrorism to seek restitution in U.S. courts if a foreign government was seen to be complicit. But actually securing assets after a judgment, as plaintiffs in the Chicago case have discovered, is often difficult.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas took responsibility for the terrorist attack, and a judge in Washington, D.C., later agreed the Iranian government was complicit by providing financial support and training for Hamas, entering the $412 million default judgment.

With limited Iranian assets in the U.S., plaintiffs’ lawyers took the novel step of going after the antiquities. The subsequent battle in the courts involved knotty issues of sovereign immunity and terrorism laws, as well as cultural and scholarly exchanges.

The U.S. and Iran haven’t had diplomatic relations since 1979 when militant students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held its occupants hostage. More recently, the nations have been embroiled in a dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.

As Gettleman noted, U.S. officials also weighed in, opposing the effort to use museum items to pay such judgments.

The Field Museum argued that it legally purchased its pieces in the ’40s, including ceramics made by the world’s earliest farming communities 5,000 years ago. The plaintiffs argued those sales weren’t legal, making Iran the proper owner.

The plaintiffs argued that the around 20,000 items at the University of Chicago could also be viewed as Iranian commercial assets — an argument Judge Gettleman rejected. Over the decades, the university has already returned more than 30,000 to Iran.

“When we finish making records of them, the rest will also go back to Iran,” Stolper said.

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Announcements

Culture under threat

American University of Rome
15-21 May
Conference on the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and celebrating it’s 60th Anniversary.
A joint meeting of the American University of Rome, nav shield Blue Shield, the World Archaeological Congress and Newcastle University.

Program details may be found at http://www.aur.edu/gradschool/graduate-programs/sustainable-cultural-heritage/culture-threat-future-1954-hague-convention/

Disaster and Risk Management – ICCROM’s new website!

International Centre for the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) continues to develop its actions in the field of risk management.  ICCROM plays an active role in coordinating the efforts of the international heritage community, in promoting data collection and exchange, and in ensuring that local experience and needs are taken into consideration within the international strategy.  Visit ICCROM’s new website at http://www.iccrom.org/

Devastation Of Syria’s Culture And Antiquities ‘The Price Of War’

 http://kgou.org/post/devastation-syrias-culture-and-antiquities-price-war

Last month the Syrian Arab Army recaptured the Crusader castle Krak des Chevaliers, which was reportedly damaged during air strikes in 2013.

Smoke emerges from the castle at Krak des Chavaliers in Syria – August 18, 2013.

Credit Syria963 / Wikimedia Commons

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has expressed concern since the civil war began that the conflict could be devastating to the country’s important cultural sites.Joshua Landis, the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and the author of the blog Syria Comment, says the town of Maaloula was retaken by the Syrian government Wednesday.

“One of the last three towns where Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ, is still spoken today,” Landis says. “The town has been emptied out. Two of the great monasteries that had been alive there since the Sixth Century are in ruins, [with] big holes through their domes.”

Landis says the destruction of Syria’s cultural underpinnings is similar to what happened in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, but on a much larger scale.

“There is no authority here. Syria was one of the jewels of the crown of the Middle East,” Landis says. “The most beautiful Crusader castle, Krak des Chevaliers, undisturbed, has been bombed by both sides because rebels took up and made it a stronghold. The government bombed it. It makes you want to cry, but I guess that’s the price of war.”

Syria

Egypt’s devastating museum looting of 1,000 artifacts is the latest casualty amid turmoil

By Aya Batrawy, The Associated Press August 19, 2013

CAIRO – As violent clashes roiled Egypt, looters made away with a prized 3,500-year-old limestone statue, ancient beaded jewelry and more than 1,000 other artifacts in the biggest theft to hit an Egyptian museum in living memory.

http://www.theprovince.com/health/Egypts+devastating+museum+looting+1000+artifacts+latest/8808192/story.html?goback=.gde_1769357_member_267102516

U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield Meeting Wednesday, April 10th

We will be joined by the Working Group on the Protection of Syrian Heritage in Conflict, organized by the Smithsonian Institution, ARCH, and Blue Shield Austria

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013, from 1:30 pm – 4:30 pm

Smithsonian Institution

S. Dillon Ripley Center Lecture Hall (3rd level down)

1100 Jefferson Drive SW (entry is between the Smithsonian Castle and the Freer Museum)

Washington, DC

Metro Stop: Smithsonian (Blue/Orange Line)

Admission is free and open to anyone, but please RSVP to Paul Wegener at wegener1@hotmail.com

Speakers will include:

Dr. Nancy Wilkie, President, USCBS

Dr. Patty Gerstenblith, DePaul University College of Law, USCBS board                   

Dr. Laurie Rush, USCBS board

Dick Jackson, USCBS board

Cori Wegener, Smithsonian Institution, USCBS founding president

Karl Habsburg, President, Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield, Blue Shield Austria               

and  Dr. Richard Kurin, Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, Smithsonian Institution

 

Syria Official Warns Of Trafficking In Antiquities

 

 

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A Syrian government official warned Wednesday of rampant trafficking in antiquities from his country and appealed for U.N. help in halting the illicit trade that has flourished during the nearly 23-month-long civil war.

Syria’s turmoil has increasingly threatened the country’s rich archaeological heritage but the issue of smuggling artifacts has taken a back seat to more dramatic images as some of the most significant sites got caught in the crossfire between regime forces and rebels.

President Bashar Assad’s troops have shelled rebel-held neighborhoods, smashing historic mosques, churches and souks, or markets. Looters have stolen artifacts from archaeological excavations and, to a lesser extent, museums.

Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of the government’s antiquities department, warned of the smuggling at a UNESCO-sponsored workshop in Amman, Jordan, which brought together regional antiquities directors, customs and police officials, as well as international protection agencies.

He expressed hope that the Security Council would issue a resolution that would ban trading in stolen antiquities from Syria, and underscored that his nation’s cultural heritage must be preserved without taking political sides in the conflict.

“We want a united front to stop the destruction,” Abdulkarim told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the gathering. “These acts are not only attacks on Syria’s heritage, they are attacks on the world’s heritage.”

Among the artifacts stolen from Syria is an 8th century B.C. Aramaic bronze statue with gold overlay taken from the Hama museum and now listed by Interpol. Byzantine mosaics from the Roman city of Apamea near Aleppo were bulldozed and removed.

Meanwhile, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture Francesco Bandarin said in Paris on Friday that he has “information that some (Syrian cultural) items are beginning to appear on the market . it has already been a few months.” He did not elaborate.

Experts consider Syria home to some of the most important cultural sites in human history, with six of them designated World Heritage sites by UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural and educational agency.

The Jordan workshop focused on a plan to help safeguard the Syrian antiquities, according to Anna Paolini, UNESCO’s representative to Jordan. She said the plan included better training of antiquities and border personnel and coordination with the local community.

Paolini pointed to an archaeologist working via Skype and online with Syrian staff to assess damages, pack and label material for removal to secure spaces as a model that could be repeated to “mitigate damages and loss.” She did not wish to name the archaeologist, because of security concerns.

Abdulkarim acknowledged that fighting between the regime and rebels has damaged some of the country’s most iconic treasures.

World Heritage site Crak des Chavaliers near the Lebanese border, one of the most important military castles in history dated between 11th and 13th century, has been exposed to shelling and gunfire. Shelling also has reportedly caused extensive damage to historic houses in the ancient city of Bosra in the south, once the capital of the Roman province of Arabia.

Aleppo, one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, has witnessed some of the conflict’s most brutal destruction. Its 12th century Ummayad mosque and 13th century citadel gatehouse have been caught in the crosshairs of the conflict.

These monuments can all be repaired, Abdulkarim said, unlike those seven ancient markets incinerated in Aleppo’s storied centuries-old covered souk during fierce fighting last October. The fire burnt 500 shops, tearing through wooden doors and scorching stalls and vaulted passageways.

Because of the fighting, most Syrian museums have removed their priceless treasures, storing them in “safe places,” Abdulkarim said, without elaborating.

Still unearthed treasures, however, are under constant threat because of the ongoing violence, he said.

The antiquities chief was careful neither to blame government troops nor rebels for looting, which ranged from what he called small-scale “tomb robbing” to the bulldozing of Byzantine mosaics in the Roman city of Apamea near Aleppo. He instead blamed “mafias” of sophisticated smugglers familiar with the location of the country’s numerous treasures.

Abdulkarim praised Jordanian police for their recovery over the weekend of Syrian artifacts and called on other neighboring countries to tighten controls. He said the stolen items included clay pottery, figurines and other undated artifacts.

He also asked UNESCO to appeal to Turkey and Iraq to enact stricter measures to prevent the smuggling of artifacts across their borders. Turkey has strained ties with the Assad regime, while Iraq’s porous frontier with Syria is difficult to monitor.

Abdulkarim warned against his country becoming like another Iraq, where the Baghdad Museum and many archaeological sites were plundered following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein.

“We don’t want the world to go through the Iraq experience again,” Abdulkarim said.

Timbuktu Update

30 January 2013

13.00, Wednesday, January 30, 2013

http://www.tombouctoumanuscripts.org/blog/entry/timbuktu_update/

Tombouctou Manuscripts Project
(http://www.tombouctoumanuscripts.org)
Huma (Institute for humanities in Africa)
University of Cape Town

Since the start of this week there are reports about the destruction of library buildings and book collections in Timbuktu. It sounds as if the written heritage of the town went up in flames. According to our information this is not the case at all. The custodians of the libraries worked quietly throughout the rebel occupation of Timbuktu to ensure the safety of their materials. A limited number of items have been damaged or stolen, the infrastructure neglected and furnishings in the Ahmad Baba Institute library looted but from all our local sources – all intimately connected with the public and private collections in the town – there was no malicious destruction of any library or collection.

By Sunday January 27 the Ansar Dine rebels had fled Timbuktu.  The French army and its Malian partners entered the town on that day.

One of the first reports on Monday morning out of the town was that a library and books had been set alight.  A Sky News journalist, Alex Crawford, embedded with the French forces, reported in the evening from inside the new Ahmad Baba building, which is opposite the Sankore mosque.  This building was officially opened in 2009 and is the product of a partnership between South Africa and Mali.  It is meant to be a state-of-the-art archival, conservation, and research facility. Images showed empty manuscript enclosures strewn on the floor, some burnt leather pouches, and a small pile of ashes.  She reported that over 25,000 mss had been burned or disappeared. Additional images showed her going down to the vault of the archives and looking at empty display cabinets. No signs of fire could be seen.

The mayor of Timbuktu, Hallè Ousmane, based around 800 km away, in Bamako, was quoted in various media reports that a library building and manuscripts were torched by fleeing rebels. There is no other evidence but the word of the mayor. News spread to international media and the mayor’s words were reported as hard fact.

We tried all of Monday, since these reports appeared, to contact colleagues in Timbuktu but without success. The town was in a communications and electricity blackout since around January 20, we were told by Malian colleagues; no eyewitness reports had been coming out of the town for more than a week at this point.

Sources from Bamako in the evening reported that Mohamed Ibrahim Cissé, President of the Chairman of the Board of the Cercle of Timbuktu still confirmed, on France 24, that the new Ahmed Baba Institute building had been burned by the Ansar Dine before fleeing.

By Monday night we finally managed to contact our colleague, Dr Mohamed Diagayeté, senior researcher at the Ahmad Baba Institue, now based in Bamako. He heard much the same reports that we heard. However, he added that the majority of the mss. of the Institute was still stored in the old building – opened in 1974 and on the other side of the town, from the new building.  He told us that the latest news about the new building, as of eight days before the flight of the Ansar Dine, was that the building had not been destroyed. He said that around 10,000 mss had been stored in the new building since there was no more space for the mss in the old building.  They were placed in trunks in the vaults of the new building.  Upstairs, where the restoration was taking place and boxes were made there were only a few mss.  After seeing Sky News footage, he says that the images were of the few mss upstairs waiting to be worked on by the conservators.

However, by Tuesday morning, Dr. Mahmoud Zouber, Mali’s presidential aide on Islamic affairs and founding director of the Ahmad Baba Institute, told Time, that before the rebel take-over the manuscripts: “They were put in a very safe place. I can guarantee you. The manuscripts are in total security.”

Finally, the journalist Markus M. Haeflinger, writing in Neue Zuercher Zeitung this morning, reports on his interview with the previous and present directors of the Ahmad Baba Institute in Bamako, on how the larger part of the Ahmad Baba collection was hidden and even transported out of Timbuktu during the crisis.

The protection of the cultural and intellectual heritage of this region needs to be enhanced and promoted. The abandonment of the security of Timbuktu nine months ago, the flight of archivists and researchers, and the closure of libraries should not be repeated. We remain in contact with our colleagues in Mali and are keen to establish precisely which manuscripts were damaged, destroyed, or stolen.