Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk

In order to help law enforcement agencies and ‘other professionals concerned by the smuggling and illicit trading in cultural objects’ (who are, or should, not be only cultural heritage workers, but also dealers and collectors), the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has published an Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk. Still, it’s only a partial list of the objects at most risk of looting and theft.


Any cultural object that could have originated in Syria should be subjected to detailed scrutiny and precautionary measures.

Museums, auction houses, art dealers and collectors are encouraged not to acquire such objects without having carefully and thoroughly researched their origin and all the relevant legal documentation.

Any antiquities that might be from Syria might be conflict antiquities and should not be touched unless they are demonstrably, incontrovertibly legal.


As the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Director Thomas Campbell observed, since ‘11% of the population was once employed by the culture and tourism industries, “Syria’s future economic renewal also depends on preserving its heritage“‘.

State legitimacy

Paul Barford’s asked, ‘where’s the MOU?‘ It’s a good question, but it is a difficult one. Like the repatriation of cultural property to the Assad regime as the representative authorities of the Syrian people, it raises the question of regime/state legitimacy.

Any inter-state memorandum of understanding (which would restrict imports in order to prevent illicit trafficking) would have to deal with either the Assad government, which the United States does not recognise, or the opposition Syrian National Council, which the U.S. does recognise but which operates in exile and without any civil institutional power.

Unfortunately, there is no (official/legal) way to engage directly with the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums as as “a civil institution of the Syrian Arab Republic” (outside state relations). And it would take moral commitment and political courage for a state to establish protective measures on its own…


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