UNESCO warns of illegal excavations in Syria

UNESCO warns of illegal excavations in Syria
Sat Dec 14, 2013 12:03:08

Director-General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has warned of illegal archeological excavations across the war-ravaged Syria, urging auction houses and museums to beware of the illicit work.

Amid the continuing death, destruction, and civilian displacement across Syria during the nation’s two-and-a-half-year foreign-backed crisis, the UNESCO chief stated on Friday that the country’s great cultural heritage is at risk.

"The biggest danger there, apart from the destruction we have seen of the world heritage sites…is the illicit archeological excavations," said UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova. "This is something that is not very high on the radar of the international community."

The remarks by Bokova came during a UN event in New York on the protection of journalists, who are yet another point of concern in Syria.

International news organizations demanded this week that the foreign-backed Syrian insurgents halt their kidnapping of journalists while asserting that dozens of such abductions have occurred in the country.

Syria’s head of antiquities and museums, Maamoun Abdulkarim, said in February that illegal archeological digs have threatened tombs in Palmyra and the Bronze Age settlement of Ebla.

Bokova sounded similar concerns in August about the preservation of Syrian treasures amid its bloody civil war. She now states that the threats have grown, and that UNESCO has raised the issue of unofficial excavations with UN Syria peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby.

"We were showing [them] the map of these illicit sites, excavations," Bokova said. "This is our biggest concern nowadays, that we don't know what's happening there, this illicit trafficking [and] exports" of ancient artifacts.

She did not offer particular sites where illegalities have occurred, nor did she assign specific blame on either President Bashar Assad’s regime or the opposition forces and allies.

"Anybody can do it," she said.

In September, UNESCO offered a “red list” of kinds of artifacts that museums and collectors should watch for from Syria, including sculptures, inscription tablets, tessera, and coins, among other items. She said that some Syrian materials have surfaced in the US-backed Arab state of Jordan, which shares a border with Syria.

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