UNESCO has warned that ISIS is massively plundering Syria’s archaeological sites, actions that amount to blatant war crimes. The industrial scale looting of antiquities is being conducted to fund the group’s terror activities. Experts fear that the continued assault on the ancient sites will wipe out one of the cradles of civilization’s history and culture.
Irma Bokova, head of United Nation’s cultural agency UNESCO, said on Wednesday that satellite images showed Syria’s archaeological sites were punctuated with hundreds of glaring gaps left open by the illegal excavation of monuments. She said the archaeological sites were not only being destroyed but looted on what can only be termed an “industrial scale.”
Bokova credited the looting to ISIS’s need for funding for its expansive terror activities. She said her top priority was to put a stop to the trafficking of cultural goods through the black market.
Bokova explained, “The world expects from us to undertake decisive and uncompromising actions... to stop this source of funding for the extremist.”
Estimates presented by Syria’s Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology show ISIS has either looted or destroyed over 900 archaeological sites and monuments over the last four years.
Sales from these archaeological artifacts have proved a tidy business for the militants, so much so that it has become their second largest source of revenue after crude oil drilling.
Recently in May, Daesh (ISIS) took over the Syrian town of Palmyra and blew up several of its famed towers. UNESCO called these actions war crimes and said that Daesh wanted to wipe out evidence of Syria’s heritage.
Bokova described the destruction of Palmyra as, “An impudent crime against civilization because it was a symbol of cultural dialogue, a material proof of the ability of cultures to interact... This is what the extremists are seeking to destroy.”
Syria and Iraq form a part of Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization. The two countries are significant archaeological sites. The first cities of Rome and Greece were built in the region and thousands of their treasures and secrets lie in the regions’ sands.
UNESCO has said it will aggressively advocate for the signing of the 1970 UNESCO Convention to curb sale of artifacts in the black market by unknown individuals. The convention limits import, export and sale of cultural properties to governments. Already 129 countries have ratified the convention, including Syria.
The sale of “blood antiquities” from Syria’s war torn sites have earned Daesh tidy sums in revenues. Both UNESCO and the international community should work together to prohibit sale of artifacts in the black market and in the sensitization of art lovers against buying cultural property without relevant documentation. If no one is buying, then ultimately no one will be selling.