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UNESCO World Heritage Report 2019 .. One million Syrian artifacts have been smuggled through Turkey

The destruction and stealing that targeted Syrian antiquities during the war on Syria and the role of the Turkish occupation in looting our archaeological sites were the main topics of the lecture delivered by researcher Muhammad Shaheen, entitled “Syrian Antiquities During the War on Syria and the Turkish Role in Stealing and Destroying them”, at the Cultural Center in Al-Sheikh Badr.

Shaheen emphasized that the war that was launched against Syria was not only a political war, but also an economic and cultural war aimed at destroying Syria,  its people and its civilization, pointing out  that Turkey has played the largest role in that war, in which the cultural side occupies an important role. He stressed that until now there are no accurate figures for the artifacts that have been stolen from Syrian archaeological sites, but UNESCO World Heritage Organization stated that at the beginning of 2019, one million artifacts were smuggled, most of them through Turkey, and  have been sold at 7-15 billion USD.

As for the war-devastated sites, UNESCO estimated that about 1700 sites, most of which were under the control of terrorist groups backed by the Turkish occupation, have been vandalized.

Shaheen went on to say that the thieves of the Syrian antiquities were provided with modern technological equipment and satellite communication devices by foreign countries and under direct Turkish supervision to steal antiques, statues and mosaic paintings in northern and western Syria.  As for the rest of the Syrian regions, Turkey was doing this through indirect contacts with agents who coordinate the smuggling of these antiquities to the Turkish territory.

The researcher presented some examples of sabotage and theft of Syrian antiquities in archeological sites which date back to several ages B.C. , such as Bosra's castle and its archaeological amphitheater , the ancient city of "Mary" in Deir Ezzor, the Assyrian city (Dor Katalemo), Tel Barak in Hasaka, and the city of Palmyra, the jewel of the Syrian Badia, which was destroyed by ISIS who devastated its most important monuments, such as the Arch of Triumph, the tower burials, the Great Wall, the Temple of  Baal and the castle of Ibn Maan.  They also killed the director of its museum, prominent archaeologist Khalid Al-Asa'd, (on the pretext that he protects the idols). They looted the museum and destroyed what cannot be stolen, such as the statue of "The Lion of Lat", which was located opposite to the gate of Palmyra Museum.

"The old souqs (markets) dating back to various Islamic eras, such as the old souks of Aleppo, some of which are registered on the World Heritage List, have also been ruined. About 39 ancient markets, 1500 shops, and 500 antique shops were destroyed.  In the city of Homs, historic houses, as well as markets (such as the hashish market), were also damaged ," he added, pointing out that UNESCO has reported that more than 710 castles, forts and towers have been either stolen and destroyed or partially ruined.

Talking about the most famous cities and sites that were stolen and destroyed by the Turkish occupation, Shaheen confirmed that since the usurpation of the Syrian Arab Alexandretta (Liwa Iskenderun) in 1939 by the Turkish occupation, the Turks began excavations in the region, stealing its antiquities and distorting its history.

The city of Ebla, which is located in Idlib governorate, was also looted. This city is famous for its library that contains more than 15 thousand archaeological figures dating back to the third millennium BC. This library has a distinguished historical importance as it is a record of the history of the ancient East, including Syria. Most of Ebla’s relics were transferred to Idlib’s National Museum. As soon as the armed gangs of Turkey controlled Idlib Governorate, they looted the Museum and transferred all its relics to Turkey. Among the most prominent antiquities that were stolen were (Ebla Figure, the golden statue of the Aramean king's Hadad, gold jewelry and mosaic paintings".

"The Antiquities Committee, formed in the city of Afrin in 2012, reported that many archaeological sites in northern Syria had been looted and vandalized by the Turkish forces and their terrorist militias. In 2018, more than 92 archaeological sites in northern Syria were partially destroyed, 35 sites have been completely vandalized, most important of which were the Temple of Ain Dara and Al- Nabi Hori, which are registered on the UNESCO list, and more than 16 thousand artifacts have been removed from the two sites, in addition to large statues such as the 12-ton Basalt Lion Statue, which was protecting the temple", Shaheen concluded.


Amal Farhat