Archive for November, 2014


German media investigation does not disprove Islamic State antiquities trafficking, may corroborate it and its $36m income

Hyperallergic have published my post on claims and denials of antiquities trade funding of paramilitary activity in Syria and Iraq.

Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR have analysed some of the data from the notorious haul of 162 USB memory sticks from Islamic State military councillor Abdulrahman al-Bilawi. Antiquities trade representatives have claimed that the German media report disprove claims that the Islamic State is profiting from looting and trafficking of antiquities. They imply that Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR’s investigation exposes the Guardian’s report as false. In fact, the representatives’ claims are false and Georg Mascolo, Volkmar Kabisch and Amir Musawy’s findings lend credibility to Martin Chulov’s claims.

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Fresh evidence points to destruction of Yazidi temples by Islamic State

Hyperallergic have published my analysis and confirmation of new video regarding the destruction of Yezidi temples in Babila. Contact Transterra Media to buy it. I’ve included more frames from the relevant videos here, for comparison.

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UNSC Monitoring Team recommendation: moratorium on trade in undocumented antiquities from Syria or Iraq

Peter Campbell (@peterbcampbell) has broken the news that, in a Letter (1) to the Chair of the United Nations Security Council Committee on Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals and Entities, the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team has recommended ‘a world-wide moratorium on the trading of antiquities from the Syrian Arab Republic or Iraq since the passing of resolution 2170 (2014) that lack clear, certified provenance‘.

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Who destroyed the Armenian Genocide Martyrs’ Memorial Church in Deir Ezzor?

Hyperallergic have published my fisking of, well, Fisk. ‘Fifty days after the destruction of the Armenian Genocide Martyrs’ Memorial Church in Deir Ezzor, Robert Fisk has reported it, but his report is riddled with peculiarities, mistakes, contradictions and historical inconsistencies….’

The centrepiece of Fisk’s report is his apparent scoop that the al-Nusra Front, ‘Jabhat al-Nusra [JaN] rebels appear to have been the culprits‘. Drawing on my initial verification and reaffirmation of the attack, and further research into the circumstances at the time of the attack, I conclude that it is ‘possible, and intriguing, that the agents who implemented the attack may have been subjugated former Jabhat al-Nusra fighters who served under the flag of the Islamic State’.


Turkey could employ cultural heritage workers to support seizures of conflict antiquities from Syria and Iraq

Hyperallergic has published my update on the threatened hunger strike of cultural workers in Turkey, which has been averted by government concessions (or postponed with empty promises).

In the article, I note that the state could employ cultural heritage workers to support policing of the trafficking of antiquities through Turkey from within Turkey and from Syria and Iraq, but ‘very serious questions continue to be raised – most recently by a pressganged Islamic State worker – about Turkey’s intentions regarding the Islamic State and the Kurds‘.


There is a lot wrong with Robert Fisk’s report on the destruction of the Armenian Genocide Martyrs’ Memorial Church

There is a lot wrong with Robert Fisk’s seven-week-late report that Jabhat al-Nusra blows up Armenian church in Deir el-Zour: A savage blow that echoes through Armenian history, including the date of the commemoration of the genocide and contradictions between his story this year and his story last year, grimly concerning his digging up of genocide victims’ bones (despite their delivery to the memorial church). Even the central point of the article – Jabhat al-Nusra’s responsibility – does not appear to be correct. I’m working on a complete report.


Assessing the destruction of Yezidi shrines, demonstrating the Islamic State’s programme of genocide

Hyperallergic have also published my piece on assessing the destruction of Yezidi shrines, where I point out that, despite problems with access, confusion, fear and propaganda, we know that the Islamic State is advancing its programme of genocide.


Turkish and Kurdish, secularist and Islamist sites burned. Anti-massacre (“pro-Kurdish”) protesters unjustly blamed.

Hyperallergic have published my look at the targets of political violence in unrest over Kobani in Turkey. While anti-massacre protesters – who were presented as pro-Kurdish or Kurdish nationalist protesters – were blamed, some of their communities’ own buildings were burned.

Apart from the buildings that were selectively (and incompetently) exploited in government propaganda (such as Ziya Gökalp Museum, Siirt Province Public Library and Varto Cultural Centre), I argue that ‘a disparate range of violent groups variously burned statues of the secularist founder of the Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, offices of the Islamist-rooted governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), offices of the Kurdish opposition Democratic Regions Party (DBP) – which is still known by its old name, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) – offices of the minority opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and offices of the Sunni Islamist Free Cause Party (Hür Dava)’.


Thirty to fifty percent of Islamic State’s assets come from antiquities trafficking? Six hundred million to one billion dollars? WTF?

I’ve just woken up and I’m rushing to get out, so I’ll be brief. ‘Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s ISIS has amassed a kitty of over $2 billion, thirty to fifty percent of which comes from the sale of artifacts stolen and vandalized from museums and archeological sites in Syria and Iraq.’ Or should I say “…?” The two-billion-dollar guesstimate included military equipment and other physical assets (and a massively overblown or even mythical bank heist). And, to state the obvious, thirty to fifty percent of two billion dollars would be six hundred million to one billion dollars.

First it was claimed that antiquities looting-and-smuggling was the Islamic State’s second-largest income source, which could only be known by a senior figure in the Islamic State’s administration, now the (fairly) precise share has been “calculated” (by an unknown source that was not even credited as an anonymous informant). I am really sorry to be so blunt, but, WTF? I rather suspect unknowable information is being planted. Who needs to make the Islamic State look worse than it is and does!?


Antiquarium is an antiquities trade intelligence database

Founder Jason Felch and lead developer Miles Zimmerman are preparing to reveal an antiquities trade intelligence database, Antiquarium (née WikiLoot). Citizens will help to collect the data and experts will curate it. Together, they’ll mine and analyse decades of data on repatriated antiquities and from other legal, professional, business and media records.

And they’ll answer key questions on the illicit trade. How big is it? How does it work? How are illicit goods smuggled? How can ethical buyers or receivers of cultural objects avoid looted and counterfeited goods? If you’re interested, introduce yourself to them via

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