Archeology: UNESCO warns of black market in Arab states

Unauthorized digging at sites left unguarded

15 November, 18:55

    (ANSAmed) - PAESTUM (SALERNO), NOVEMBER 15 - The archeological heritage of such countries as Egypt, Syria and Libya is being targeted by the black market in antiquities, warned Mounir Bouchenaki, Special Advisor to the Director General of UNESCO and Director General of its Arab Center for World Heritage. In speaking at the the Mediterranean Bourse of Archaeological Tourism in Paestum, he said that ''the Arab Spring has not yet been a true one for the cultural heritage of these countries''. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, said Bouchenaki, is ''strongly concerned about the situation, not only about the people suffering from the political crises in the Arab region, but also cultural heritage, which has been targeted by traders in antiquities on the black market. Over the past few months we have been seeing a huge number of artifacts taken out of the country and sold illegally.'' The problem is the security of archeological sites.

    ''Unauthorised excavations are being carried out,'' Bouchenaki continued, ''in sites that no longer have the same security measures and protection they had in previous years, prior to the political turbulence. Unfortunately, we have seen this in the past - look at what happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, for example.'' Thus, unauthorised digs bring artifacts to the surface that fetch high prices on the black market.

    On this issue, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova is working with other international organizations to be able to intervene as soon as the political situation allows for it.

    ''UNESCO's Director General,'' Bouchenaki - the Algerian former ICCROM Director General and former head of UNESCO's Cultural Heritage Department - said, ''would like to coordinate with all the specialised organisations like the International Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the International Council of Museums (ICOM), and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ICCROM) to make sure that as soon as security conditions are restored in the country - and I am referring especially to Syria - there will be intervention for the protection'' of the archeological sites. In reference to the situation in Syria, representatives from the Italian Development Cooperation office of the Foreign Ministry underscored at the Paestum Bourse that plans to renovate and reorganize the Damascus National Museum and restructure the Damascus Citadel have been put on hold.

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