“We must try . . . to remain calm”.
So says Stefan Weber, Director of the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin in an interview with Sönje Storm of DW. The entire interview is well worth a read, but of particular note are his comments on how we can prepare for the time after the armed conflict in Syria, and how paying too much attention to the destruction at Palmyra can distract us from the human suffering taking place there, and also gives ISIS more credibility:
But we cannot stay silent while this cultural heritage is destroyed, can we?
I think we must try, even if it is a loss to the world, even if it is a loss to Syria – to remain calm and not let ourselves be so affected. That’s exactly what they want. The more we cry out, all the more that they have won. It is a perverse strategy. But it works and will continue to for a while. Thank God, the Syrian antiquities office evacuated many precious statues from the local museum. But there are still objects that have been destroyed according to IS-propaganda. What happens to the ruins of the city, we don’t know. According to the local IS commander they want to spare them. But the IS will let us know. What IS does not show is in its propaganda videos is that the objects that sell well can be passed on to the art trade. It can make good money. Therefore it is indeed looted. Unfortunately we know this madness has logic. During the illicit excavations, oriental antiques are specifically removed and sold. This is profitable for the war chest and big business. Meanwhile, hopefully it’s arrived in the public consciousness that it’s not acceptable to have antiques from Syria in the living room. A change of consciousness has taken place, like with animal furs. Now as everyone knows that furs are not chic it’s also not chic to have Syrian antiques on display in your house. It once was the sign of a cultural assiduous person, which is understandable. But today it suggests that you have become part of the chain financing war. This attention is very good.
You’ve looked at the art market much longer. What do you see there?
Interestingly, much less is available on the market than we thought. It is still not the case that everything is looted and the market flooded. Most of the objects found are from the ancient orient, less from the period of the Islamic Middle East, but also the Roman Hellenistic period can be found. Much of it will probably go directly to private customers. There are quite new markets in both Turkey and the Gulf states, where relatively wealthy people buy objects of cultural heritage for the home. The German Federal Criminal Police Office, with whom we are in contact, assumes that the large pieces only come to the market if no one is talking about Syria and international attention is focused somewhere else. This can still happen.