The New York Times has explored the lure of antiquities. I don’t want the evidence to be misunderstood.
Before I say anything else, I want to reaffirm that it’s very difficult to get good evidence – some evidence is unreliable, some evidence is false – but it’s still very clear: everybody’s involved somehow – Assadist forces, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) (the secularist, democratic men-with-guns), Islamist/jihadist militias, seemingly even foreign militaries (as well as, of course, non-combatant mafias). The only armed groups for whom I’ve seen no evidence are the Kurdish defence forces.
My thesis documents some of the problems with research on (or simply amid) the Cyprus Conflict – including boycotting, blacklisting and sheer trouble-making. And my book chapter on the paramilitary takeover of antiquities trafficking shows how the civil war, the destruction of cultural and community property, and the trade in illicit antiquities developed together. My latest journal article, on the Cypriot civil war, uses the open-source data from catalogues of antiquities in collections and museums to work out the structure of the trade.
The readership statistics for my thesis, on the politics and ethics of cultural heritage work in conflict zones, have consistently (if unsurprisingly) shown that open access work is read more often and more widely than paywalled work. However, as suggested by my thesis’s slipping place amongst the institutionally-hosted e-prints of the University of Sussex (which include a lot of publications that inform policy), by the near-zero clicks on a link to an open access article that I’d added to my publications page but not advertised in a post, and by the article’s poor visibility on the web outside searches for its title, neither work’s existence nor its accessibility is enough.
First I debunked claims of that the Islamic State (1) had destroyed the Shrine of Sayeda Zeinab (2) in Sinjar (3), then I confirmed the source of those claims with other evidence. Inevitably, the time has come for me to debunk myself. I explained my nagging doubts about that evidence the other day, and András Riedlmayer judged that my querying was probably right.
Double, triple, quadruple-checking: is this evidence that the Shrine of Sayeda Zeinab has been destroyed?
Previously, I debunked fabricated evidence of the destruction of the Shrine of Sayeda Zeinab in Sinjar, but I immediately updated it with confirmation of that destruction that had been published while I had been debunking the propaganda. And the confirmation may be correct. But some of the evidence is still niggling away at the back of my mind.
It’s difficult to say anything when cooperating groups are issuing contradictory official statements, when vehemently denied claims can become real new actions within hours. (For example, I suspect that some of the false reports of international air strikes were attempts to guilt-trip or hurry the international community into action, by forcing them to deny that they were protecting civilian communities from genocide, and others were well-informed people jumping the gun.) The situation had changed between me starting and finishing this post, had changed yet again between me finishing and being able to publish it, and will have changed yet again between me posting it and you reading it.
Particularly in an environment of panic and propaganda, I’m very reluctant to post anything prospective (or even contemporary). Nonetheless, it may help to highlight a few possibilities concerning cultural property, with which we can compare developments, in order to work out what’s happening.
There is no evidence (yet) that the Islamic State has destroyed the Yezidi Shrine of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir (Şêx Adî) in Lalish
Rumours are spreading that the Islamic State has destroyed the Shrine of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir (Şêx Adî) at Lalish. ‘ISIS militants blow up the holiest Yezidi shrine (the tomb of Sheikh Adi in Lalish, northern Iraq/Kurdistan).’ Bizarrely, at least some of them are doing so using a video explicitly titled ‘Islamic State al Khilafah destroyed the temple (tomb) of the Yezidis in Sinjar, Iraq.’
Just to ensure that e-mail subscribers are up-to-date, I’ve updated my primary post on the Shrine-Mosque of Sayeda Zeinab: Iraqi TV footage from the site after the destruction has been published; the site
has [may have] been destroyed [but the TV footage does not show the Shrine of Sayeda Zeinab].