online trafficking of cultural objects from crisis zones and conflict zones and open-source analysis of the illicit trade

Thanks to the support of the Scandinavian Research Council for Criminology (Nordisk Samarbejdsråd for Kriminologi), I was able to participate in their Research Seminar on Crime, Crime Control and Criminology in the Digital Era in Helsingør, Denmark, on the 8th-10th May 2019.

Some papers will be published in the Nordic Journal of Criminology or Nordisk Tidsskrift for Kriminalvidenskab. Other papers, and other materials, will be (published elsewhere and/or) shared by the NSfK.

The programme is online. Numerous papers were instructive for research into cultural property crime, including ones (of those for which summaries have been shared) on:

  • participation online, such as María Rún Bjarnadóttir’s survey of Online Abuse in a Gendered Perspective;
  • digital research methodology and digital research ethics, such as Jakob Demant, Silje Anderdal Bakken, Helgi Gunnlaugsson and Atte Oksanen’s report on Methods in Studies of Illegal Trading on Social Media: a Case Based on the Nordic Drug Dealing on Social Media Study;
  • measurement and analysis of crime, such as Helgi Gunnlaugsson and Jónas Orri Jónasson’s query, Is Digital Crime Increasing in Iceland?;
  • vulnerability of socially excluded persons to exploitation by transnational trafficking networks, such as Maria von Bredow’s study of the experience of migrant children, ‘They Will Always Find Me’ – North African Boys on the Move and Their Use of Social Media;
  • relations between law enforcement agencies and communities, such as Guðmundur Oddsson’s consideration of Distrust in the Police among Immigrants in Iceland; and
  • countering violent extremism, such as Rune Ellefsen’s exploration of Managing Militant Islamism in Norway: a Process-Oriented Perspective.

As the seminar was an opportunity to discuss cultural property criminology (and the crime-conflict nexus/crime-terrorism nexus) with people who specialised in other subjects, my paper reviewed Online Trafficking of Cultural Objects from Crisis Zones and Conflict Zones and Open-Source Analysis of the Illicit Trade.

Some of the material has been covered in print, such as a summary of Antiquities Trafficking and Conflict Financing, or is an update of material in print, such as a study of Metal Detecting, Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Objects and ‘Legal Nihilism’ in Belarus, Poland, Russia and Ukraine.

I plan to publish the rest of its contents as parts of papers that I am writing or will write during my fellowship with the Norwegian Institute in Rome, University of Oslo. However, it is worth sharing some of the evidence immediately. As I note in the summary,

There are more than 66,000 in one Farsi-language community on Instagram, more than 93,000 in one Russian-language community on vKontakte, more than 111,000 in one Turkish-language community on Facebook.

Beyond the communication of transnational communities through regional languages, there is notable regionalisation of networks through crises and conflicts. For instance, Turkish-language communities for cultural goods from Turkey are becoming Turkish-and-Arabic-language communities for cultural goods from Turkey and Syria (and beyond).

Through these online communities, their members equip each other; they teach each other how to identify “productive” sites, how to use detecting devices and digging tools, how to avoid injury and death from collapsing holes and poisonous gases, how to assess objects and where to sell them; they form collaborations; and they buy/sell and exchange objects with each other. These communities sometimes constitute or facilitate “couchsurfing” arrangements, treasure-hunting cooperatives and other resource-pooling and/or profit-sharing collaborations, which range from local to transnational enterprises….

As is also visible through open-source research, retired and serving law enforcement agents, security officials and politicians frequently appear to be involved, sometimes across the front lines of conflicts. To conclude with the words of one treasure-hunter, who highlights how impunity is compounded by corruption and progress has been slowed or stalled, “this business has no party; if your arse is protected, dig; if your arse isn’t protected, do not get into this”.

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