NEWSLETTER SEPTEMBER 2016
A very active month, especially with a new round of conferences and symposiums. What is especially interesting is the level of commentary now appearing that has started to question the previously accepted propaganda in the same way that IADAA has been doing for some time.
The extraordinary development of Egypt setting out to manufacture replicas on a mass market basis helps shed light on why the antiquities issue is so important to it: not so much the country’s heritage and culture as a vital means of revenue generation.
The prospect of Cyprus pushing for the reversal of the burden of proof during its presidency of the European Council is far from reassuring. However, the evidence of what is now happening in Germany, as noted by the New York Times, together with wider implications for privacy and property rights should mean that it will not get an easy ride. This should be IADAA’s main focus moving forwards, with a media campaign to support it. Ivan Macquisten is already working on this.
Iraq struggles to stop antiquities smuggling
Al-Monitor: August 30: Overview of the ongoing problem with policing Iraq’s 13,000 sites. It details recent UNESCO initiatives as well as a US pledge to “protect the antiquities of Iraq and recover what was looted”, although it gives not further details of this. Securing sites and raising archaeological awareness are the twin keys to solving the problem, the article argues.
Protecting antiquities in Syria and Libya from Islamic State
Sydney Morning Herald: September 4: Reporting on the Edinburgh conference, Nick Miller confirms Maamoun Abdulkarim’s account of how the authority’s evacuated Palymra’s treasures before ISIS took over, and also how the site can be rebuilt with the help of computer modeling.
Miller also reveals that when Abdulkarim was offered the post of director-general of antiquities and museums in Syria in 2012, he accepted on one condition: that every single museum in the country must close immediately, and every object within them come to Damascus, to be hidden from war.
As a result, 99 per cent of the country's historical objects have been saved from the conflict.
The report also goes on to say the following: “UNESCO is adopting a new strategy, he says. They want to try to prevent damage to heritage sites in the first place – working with locals on the ground to support those who want to protect history.”
In other words, if true, this means that UNESCO is finally shifting the focus to Article 5 responsibilities, which is where IADAA and other trade bodies have said that it should always have been.
As British Art Market Federation chairman Anthony Browne stated separately, it has also been reported that statues and other artefacts still lie among the ruins of Palmyra. If that is the case, why would looters bother to dig for other items when they can simply gather up what is in plain sight?
Egyptian Antiquities Ministry Official Calls on World to Help Fund Restoration, Preservation of Country’s Ancient Jewish Artifacts
The Algemeiner: September 5: Egypt’s ‘dire economic straits’ have led the head of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities Monuments Department to call on the world to help fund the restoration and preservation of ancient Jewish artifacts.
Saeed Helmy, who is in charge of the country’s Islamic, Coptic Christian and Jewish monuments, told the outlet last month that this project has been difficult to fund.
ArtConnoissuers lectures, Brussels
Biapal, The Art Video Library: September 6
Biapal have sent out an email alert highlighting the videos of key lectures, which includes that given by IADAA chairman Vincent Geerling entitled Collecting ancient art, an old tradition under attack. This lecture and video has gained a great deal of attention in recent weeks and neatly brings together all the different issues that have come into play regarding the anti-trade campaigning linked to the Syrian and Iraq crisis over the past year or so.
Fake antiquities flood out of Syria as smugglers fail to steal masterpieces amid the chaos of war
The Independent: September 6: In the first of a four-part series from Damascus, Patrick Cockburn finds that while much of Syria’s cultural heritage has been saved from being destroyed by Isis, workshops are taking advantage of the civil war to turn out imitations that are sold to the West. This report focuses once again on Maamoun Abdulkarim, director of Syria’s antiquities agency, who says that looters turned to making fakes when they discovered that the real treasures had been taken away and placed in safety. Cockburn reports Abdulkarim as saying that 80% of “supposed antiquities being smuggled out of Syria into Lebanon are fakes”. Cockburn continues: “The news is not all bad and, when it comes to Syria’s past, far more is being saved than has been lost. “We should not be pessimists,” says Dr Abdulkarim, who was appointed director general of antiquities and museums in 2013, a job for which he takes no pay and who regards himself as politically neutral.” He also reports “no major museum in Syria has lost its contents through looting or destruction”.
Useful details include the following: “Trucks carrying items from the museum in Palmyra left for Damascus three hours before Isis captured the city in 2015. Some 24,000 objects were moved to safety from Aleppo and 30,000 flown out of Deir Ezzor on the Euphrates in the east of the country, including 24,000 cuneiform tablets.”
And the article concludes: “The very fact that the great majority of antiquities being smuggled out of Syria today are fakes is backhanded evidence that the smugglers and their employers have failed to plunder as many original and irreplaceable artefacts as they wanted. The Syrian past, like the Syrian present, may be more durable than it looks.”
Amman hosts conference to launch regional task force to combat cultural racketeering
Petra (Jordanian Govt website): September 6: This article gives notice of the second annual #CultureUnderThreat regional conference in Amman on September 8, illustrating the reach that the Antiquities Coalition and Middle East Institute now have in influencing international policy (See report of Peter Tompa’s article below on this). However, IADAA’s work in exposing the bogus billion-dollar statistics promoted by these organisations has had an effect and, as this article notes, they now only refer to “several million dollars” being earned by Daesh through looted antiquities.
Egypt Requires Approval from Antiquities, Culture Ministries for Building, Renovating Statues
EgyptianStreets.com: September 8: Prime Minister Sherif Ismail has introduced a ban on building new statues or renovating existing ones without the approval of the culture and antiquities ministries after a number of unfortunate incidents.
Digital Troves, Providing Insights and Reuniting Antiquities
New York Times: September 8: The article reports that while documenting material looted in recent decades, databases of Middle Eastern archaeological artefacts are also shedding light on the lives of ancient rulers and poets as well as the Europeans and Americans who dug at historic sites nearly a century ago.
Importantly, it also notes that the excavation team at Ur led by the British archaeologists Leonard and Katharine Woolley “kept somewhat imperfect records as the pieces were dispersed to institutions”. “It’s surprising how much he [Woolley] sent out without official numbers,” said William B. Hafford, the project manager for Ur digitization at the Penn Museum.
This is useful because it is a striking example of how standards were not maintained by even the leading archaeologists of their time, yet museums, collectors and dealers are expected to provide watertight documentation for these same objects today.
Don't Believe Everything You See: ISIS Sells Antiquities It Claims to Have Destroyed: Israel's Antiques Market Awaiting ISIS-looted Treasures
Haaretz: September 14: An extraordinarily out-of-date article quoting an FBI figure of $200 million for what ISIS have made from looted antiquities, as well as restating the false data about the destruction and looting and Palmyra. Ivan Macquisten has written a comment on the article, now published, adding links to other recent articles quoting Syria’s director of antiquities, Maamoun Abdulkarim, showing how wrong these claims are. Ivan also takes Haaretz to task for sloppy reporting, explaining how it can damage efforts to tackle the Syria/Iraq crisis,
Preventing the plunder of Asean's heritage
The Straits Times, Singapore: September 16: This article, focusing on how technology and law enforcement will better protect cultural assets quotes The Diplomat magazine as stating that “the worldwide illicit trade in antiquities and other works of art is worth US$6 billion (S$8.2 billion) a year based on data from Global Financial Integrity, a non-profit advocacy organisation in Washington”. (We wrote to GFI on September 20, asking them for the source of this figure, but have received no response so far. We are now resending the request.)
Despite focusing on Khmer artefacts, this article is inspired by the Antiquities Coalition, which is referred to in it, and is clearly using the Far Eastern situation to add pressure for law change on a global scale – in other words to cover the Middle East as well, where it cannot find the evidence it wants to push its agenda.
Culture Under Threat Conference
Asia Society, New York: September 16: Video of conference hosted by the Asia Society, with speakers from the Antiquities Coalition, Interpol, the US Government and others. Moderated by Jon Williams, the managing editor for International News at ABC News. IADAA have prepared a separate summary of the conference’s discussions and findings, which is available by request from Ivan Macquisten at email@example.com or Vincent Geerling at IADAA. It culminates with AC chair Deborah Lehr promising more legislation, clampdowns on the art market and further conventions in the coming year.
The video is available for view at http://goo.gl/ZPkrzo
The Asia Society’s own reports on the conference are available here: http://goo.gl/0swCCq
U.S. Seeks to Prevent Islamic State From Looting, Selling or Destroying Antiquities
Truthdig: September 16: Despite billing itself as the news service that “drills beneath the headlines”, truthdig’s article simply regurgitates a lot of out-of-date propaganda and statistics that even the ant-trade organisations no longer believe. Unbelievably, it states that the documents from the May 2015 Abu Sayyaf raid show ISIS making $100m-200m from looted antiquities, a figure that was never claimed in the first place. It also quotes Donna Yates in a New York Times article as though she were an independent source instead of the vociferous anti-trade campaigner that she is. See the comments thread which now include detailed evidence from Ivan Macquisten debunking this article.
What’s the deal with UN award supposedly for Najib’s wife?
The Middle Ground: September 21: One of the strangest stories of recent times, this centres on reports of a UNESCO award to Madam Rosmah Mansor, wife to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak for her work with Permata, a children’s welfare group, which she founded and serves as patron. As it turns out, however, the ‘Lead by example’ award comes not from UNESCO but the Antiquities Coalition and now will not be made. Some sources say Madam Mansor decided not to accept the award after all, but prior to that reports, such as this one, announced that the Antiquities Coalition had removed her from the list of nominees amid corruption allegations and they “could not verify if the organisation had legitimate sources of funding”. This begs the question: will the Antiquities Coalition now publicly verify the sources of its own funding and publish its various Memoranda of understanding?
Der Standard: Antiquities Traders Have Little to Fear of Bulgarian Authorities
Sofia News Agency, noinvite.com: September 21: Thousands might be taking part in illegal digs in Bulgaria, whose strict laws against the illegal antiquities trade are hardly implemented, says Austria journal Der Standard. This article appears to emanate from academic and serial conference speaker Samuel Hardy, an expert in illegal antiquities trade at the American University in Rome.
The contact between collectors and traders does not happen through the "dark web", but rather through images sent via Skype or Whatsapp. "Desired items from Bulgaria can often find themselves in private collections in New York, London or Berlin within a month." As usual, no evidence of this is provided.
Countering destruction and trafficking of cultural property - an Imperative for Humanity
UNESCO Media Services: UNESCO Director-General Irina Bukova makes a statement on behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, calling for the world to “intensify the global response to attacks on cultural heritage”.
"We have to criminalise all those on all sides of the equation to stop illicit trafficking," added the Jordanian Foreign Minister, noting here the Declaration of Amman on culture property under threat adopted on 8 September as a regional achievement. The Amman declaration came at the summit run by the Antiquities Coalition and forms the basis of a new wave of crackdowns supported by UNESCO and a number of nations.
Who owns antiquities?
The Institute on Religion and Public Life: September 23: Preview of a new book by former museum director Maxwell Anderson, titled Antiquities, what everyone needs to know. The article says the book “surveys the world of antiquities, summarizing law, history of collection, the difference between the interests of archeologists and antiquities dealers, forgeries and their detection, the market in antiquities. Everything you’d want to know”.
It goes on to raise points that the trade has argued on numerous occasions but which have been largely ignored by those campaigning for tighter laws and to ban trade. For instance, its states: “Nations lay claim to ancient heritage and deep, deep roots by laying claim to the artifacts of antiquity. Problem is, modern nations and ancient peoples don’t correspond geographically.”
The publication date appears to be December 1.
Details of the book are as follows:
Published by Oxford University Press.
It can be pre-ordered on Amazon (see http://goo.gl/m2bpWh) for $16.95 plus shipping
Cyprus promotes new convention to combat illicit trafficking in cultural property
Cyprus News Agency: September 23 & 26: Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides has announced that Cyprus will organise a series of activities that would kick-start a new criminal law convention to combat illicit trafficking in cultural property, during its Presidency of the Council of Europe, between November 2016 to May 2017.
As another news report in the Cyprus Mail hints (http://goo.gl/omc5Ls), Cyprus is likely to push for the reversal of burden of proof on items without clear documented provenance, as this has always been the biggest stumbling block to countries of origin reclaiming items.
‘Intensify global response to protect cultural heritage’
The Financial Express, Dhakar: September 23: One of many news reports of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s remarks as presented by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bukova (seen by many as Mr Ban’s likely successor) at the conference, Protecting Cultural Heritage – an Imperative for Humanity.
Op. Ed.: Blockchain and the Battle for ‘Blood Antiquities’: Could Digital Currency Platforms Help to End the World’s Deadliest Trade?
DCE Brief (Digital Currency Executive): September 26: Article focusing on how Bitcoin might help beat the trade in illicit antiquities, which it labels “The World’s Deadliest Trade” (not drugs or arms, then) that makes a number of false assumptions and repeats inaccurate statistics.
See Comment section below the article where Ivan Macquisten takes it to task and corrects inaccuracies.
Goldman Sachs power and influence benefit archaeological lobby?
Cultural Property Observer bog: September 26: Long-term campaigner and coin lawyer Peter Tompa shines a light on links between Capitol Hill, Goldman Sachs and the Antiquities Coalition. Many important questions remain unanswered, he says. What was the level of interference in rulings by the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee on restricting imports of ancient coins? How has former Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Dina Powell influenced decision-making since she joined Goldman Sachs as part of the lobbying team employed by John Rogers, husband of Deborah Lehr, who chairs the Antiquities Coalition? What is the nature of the partnership between the Antiquities Coalition and Egypt, whose ambassador and deputy minister of investment sits on the AC’s Advisory Council? What is the source of the AC’s funding and why is not more transparent about it, especially in the wake of its withdrawing the award to Rosmah Mansor (see above) over similar concerns.
Iraq opens new antiquities museum in Basra
Associated Press via The News, George, US: September 27: Based in one of Saddam Hussein’s old palaces, the new museum will showcase artefacts dating back to 400 B.C. that tell the history of the oil-rich city on the Persian Gulf.
Only one hall was opened due to a shortage of funds, said Qahtan al-Obaid, the museum director, but he plans to open other wings to exhibit Babylonian, Assyrian and Sumerian artefacts from across Iraq dating back to 3,300BC.
Cultural property protection law comes under fire in Germany
New York Times: September 30: Damning article showing how the new law has already damaged the art market in Germany and confidence among buyers, the trade and collectors. Grütters remains in denial as business and art treasures move elsewhere. The NY Times appeared to have removed this article from its site by 10.50 am BST on September 30, but this may have been a temporary technical glitch. However, if the short link below still fails to work, the article may be available by putting the entire headline into a Google search.
Egypt- Archaeological Replicas Unit looks into establishing factory with EGP 30m in investments: El-Tibi
Middle East North Africa Financial Network: September 30: The Archaeological Replicas Unit looks, attached to the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry, is looking to establish a factory to make replica antiquities for mass marketing, with a view to raising much-needed revenues to replace those lost by the tourism industry since 2011. The project is expected to cost EG£30m. The replicas would also be used in foreign loan exhibitions, raising further sums and the government hopes they will capture the revenues from Chinese-manufactured replicas of Egyptian artefacts, which Egypt stopped importing last year. Previous reports have shown that prices for the more important replicas sold at Egypt’s museums can reach $20,000.
No mention is made about how clearly these replicas are marked as modern reproductions.