So why is Isis blowing to pieces the greatest artefacts of ancient history in Syria and Iraq? The archeologist Joanne Farchakh has a unique answer to a unique crime. First, Isis sells the statues, stone faces and frescoes that international dealers demand. It takes the money, hands over the relics – and blows up the temples and buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of what has been looted. “Antiquities from Palmyra are already on sale in London,” the Lebanese-French archaeologist Ms Farchakh says. “There are Syrian and Iraqi objects taken by Isis that are already in Europe.
In September, the US secretary of state John Kerry told an audience gathered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York about another disaster facing Syria, a country already gripped by catastrophic civil war. In no uncertain terms, he warned of the scourge of the looting of archaeological sites, labelling ISIL the worst offender. “The looting of Apamea and Dura-Europos, the devastation caused by fighting in the ancient Unesco heritage city of Aleppo, the destruction of the Tomb of Jonah – these appalling acts aren’t just a tragedy for the Syrian and the Iraqi people,” Kerry said. “These acts of vandalism are a tragedy for all civilised people, and the civilised world must take a stand.”
Read More: Stealing from History
On September 25, at an event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) announced the Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects to fight against illicit traffic in cultural goods. World Monuments Fund President Bonnie Burnham was one of the speakers at the event, and below is an edited version of her remarks.
Read More: Conflict and Cultural Heritage in Syria
The battered white Corolla rumbles down a rocky road past fields of okra and great earthen mounds topped by the crumbling remains of ancient battlements. Taking a hard right and then a hard left, the old car bounces up onto a small dirt soccer field and jerks to a stop. “All of this is the tepe,” says Abdul Wahid, a neatly dressed farmer in his 40s, pointing at a dirt expanse so pitted it looks like it has been carpet-bombed. He gets out of the car and walks over crumbling humps of dirt, skirting pits left by looters.