CBS report: Antiquities Smuggling from Syria to Istanbul

CBS News has some terrific first-hand reporting of antiquities smuggling from Apamea to Istanbul in a video report. Nothing here comes as much of a surprise sadly, but it confirms what we all suspect has been happening. A Roman mosaic, and various other portable objects, including some Roman glass (some of which the report points out may have been fakes).

Matthew Bogdanos also speculates that the sale of this material may be providing financial support to militants in Syria. He also indicates he has seen evidence that objects from ISIS-controlled areas are appearing in New York:

“In a surprisingly small number of steps, you can go from the looter in ISIS-controlled territory to the smuggler who gets it out of the country… to a gallery owner who provides forged documentation… and ultimately getting a buyer making its way to the four destination points of New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, . . .”

This report aired on the CBS morning show, a widely-seen venue that will elevate the profile of the heritage loss in Syria. It joins with so much of the other tragic news coming from the displacement of millions of Syrians. Because a journalist will need to keep the confidence of their sources, I wonder how likely it will be that law enforcement agents in Turkey or elsewhere will be able to track down these individuals. And even if they did, how many would be quick to take their place?

What will happen to this mosaic? Will a museum offer it safe harbor until Syria is ready for it to return? It’s market value has been decimated now. And more importantly, if journalists can access this network, why can’t we organize law enforcement to do the same?

  1. ISIS looted Syrian ancient artifacts make it to black market in US and Europe, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/isis-looted-syrian-ancient-artifacts-black-market-us-and-europe/.

2 thoughts on “CBS report: Antiquities Smuggling from Syria to Istanbul”

  1. This report has some serious problems.

    1. There is no mention that the archaeologist who is interviewed is apparently associated with ASOR and is likely working under a $600,000 contract with the State Department. Some might call that a potential conflict of interest that should have been disclosed.

    2. The report– like others– implies that Apamea is in ISIS hands when that simply is not the case. Looking at map of who controls what, it’s either Assad or other rebels. There has been a concerted effort to direct any blame for looting away from the Assad regime. Wonder why?

    3. The sharp drop in the offer price for the mosaic from $200,000 to $60,000 suggests that looted material may not be that easy to sell after all.

  2. This mosaic obviously came from somewhere, and undoubtedly somewhere where it was illegally excavated. Whether that was Apamea or somewhere in Turkey is irrelevant, the piece is undoubtedly illicit. So, instead of pitching this inflammatory piece on CBS, why not use the same resources to apprehend the criminals who illegally excavated it? Maybe because there is little ideological mileage in that effort? I propose that the responsibility here lies with CBS and the government of Turkey. Hopefully we will soon see another news report where these smugglers were imprisoned. Genuine reporters have risked their lives to tell us the truth, should we expect any less here?

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