trafficking of antiquities (manuscripts) from ISIS-held Mosul to Turkey

On the 18th of June, the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities stated that it was ‘following the news of smuggling unique and rare manuscripts from Mosul to Turkey’, including ‘a rare Quran that dates back to the Abbasside Period’, since ISIS’s conquest of the city.(1) It sounded as if the manuscripts had already been smuggled into Turkey (and it still sounds as if they have).

This morning (as I heard from David Meadows (@rogueclassicist)), the Director of Museums at the Ministry, Qais Hussein Rashid, stated:

There have been attempts to smuggle a number of rare Iraqi manuscripts from a number of libraries in Mosul to Turkey, including a rare Qur’an which dates back to the Abbasid era…. [The] relevant authorities in the Iraqi government will take charge of following up the fate of these smuggled manuscripts to ensure their return and the punishment of the parties involved in their smuggling.

Asharq al-Awsat also reported that the ‘statue of Abbasid poet, Abu Tammam Al-Taei’ had been ‘destroyed’, which it has not (at least, on the available evidence, it has not); however, this sounds official and informed.

By ‘attempts to smuggle’, it sounds as if the manuscripts had not crossed the border and have now been seized; but by ‘smuggled manuscripts’, the ‘return’ of which needs to be ‘ensure[d]’, it sounds as if they have left the country after all (and the title only says that the manuscripts have been ‘smuggled out of Mosul’). Either way, there seems to be emerging evidence of trafficking of antiquities from Iraq to Turkey.

Was it a coincidence that the antiquities were stolen immediately after ISIS’s conquest of Mosul? Were they transported from ISIS-held Mosul, through other ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria then smuggled into Turkey (which would be a very long route, but an easy one for that territory’s administrators and a secure one for protected traffickers), or were they transported northwards straight away? It’s certainly a story to watch.


1: the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Da’ash, Da’esh or Da’ish.

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