State arms-for-antiquities trafficking between Turkey and Syria?

Consolidating my attempt to piece together evidence of terrorist antiquities trading and state arms smuggling between Syria and Turkey (with testimony of antiquities trafficking by air), there is new evidence that a Turkish intelligence agent not only smuggled weapons from Turkey into Syria, but also smuggled antiquities from Syria into Turkey.

I found reports by Ayça Söylemez (@aycasoylemez) and Fehim Taştekin (@fehimtastekin). Söylemez’s work on matters in Turkey has shown up in my Twitter feed for a long time. Taştekin has discussed arms trafficking by Turkish intelligence (to al-Qaeda) and commodity/antiquities looting/smuggling by the Islamic State before.(1)

According to the prosecutor’s indictment, which includes wiretap evidence, a Syrian Turkmen agent of the Turkish National Intelligence Organisation (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MİT)), Heysem Topalca (2), trafficked arms into Syria to al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra, and apparently ‘brought illicit antiquities [historical artifacts] from Syria to Turkey and sold them in Turkey [Suriye’den Türkiye’ye kaçak yollarla tarihi eser getirip Türkiye’de sattığı]’.

Topalca is also the alleged planner of the double car bombing in Reyhanlı and alleged leader of Syrian Turkmen paramilitary Al-Huwwa Billa. It is reasonable to assume that – if he did smuggle antiquities back to Turkey – any antiquities that he smuggled back were from jihadi-occupied territory.

Such structures for financing dirty wars have a long history in Turkey.


1: I fear one note – ‘Captured antiquities are being sold. In Haseke and Deir el-Zor, 3,000-year-old antiquities were sold. [Ele geçirilen tarihi eserler satılıyor. Haseke ve Deyr el Zor‘da 3 bin yıllık eserler satıldı.]’ – may be partly based on the Sunday Times’ report of Islamic State trafficking of a black basalt stele from Tell Sheikh Hamad (in Haseke province), which Paul Barford has debunked.

And, when Taştekin translated the key points from the BBC investigation, he included the information from the interview with an “antiquities” smuggler who was actually a forgeries smuggler [a trafficker who was trying to sell his goods, and who was trying to sell forgeries as well as antiquities, which makes me question the prices he claimed to have witnessed as he tried to impress a potential client], as again Paul Barford showed. Obviously, that does not change the reliability of his work in general; it is just a demonstration of how incorrect information becomes a part of public understanding.

2: Heysem Topalca has also been known as Ghassam Topalca, Haisam Toubaljeh, Haitam Topalca, Haitham Toubaljeh and Haytham Topalca.

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