Archives Sarajevo burnt

Archives Sarajevo burnt

A significant part of the historical archives in Sarajevo have been burned as a direct result of violent mass protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina over political and economic issues.

 © 2014 Amer  KAJMOVIĆ

The archives contain documents from the period 1878-1918, when the Austro-Hungarian Ministry of Finance administered  Bosnia, but also earlier archives of the Ottoman period and later archives of the war crimes committee after WWII.

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© 2014 Amer  KAJMOVIĆ

After the closure of the National Museum in 2012 and the burning of the National Library in 1992, the current fire means another loss for the history of the country.

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© 2014 Amer  KAJMOVIĆ

Volunteers needed now to help Syria


The Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology (APSA) has launched a website to gather and publish news about threats and damages to Syrian archaeological and historical heritage and may be found at

Members of the APSA are primarily volunteers who are eager to contribute to the safeguarding of [their] Syrian heritage.  If you are interested in volunteering, please contact

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

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 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”


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)

ICOM: illicit.trafficking(at) ; 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 


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.


Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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

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

Devastation Of Syria’s Culture And Antiquities ‘The Price Of 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.”


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.

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

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