Current situation in Syria

Increasing threat of illicit trafficking

Homs, Syria © UNESCO/Prof. Abdulkarim

Many Syrian sources have reported a dramatic rise in illegal excavations of archaeological sites and looting of museums in Syria, which increases the threat of illicit trafficking of cultural property in the region.

Systematic excavations of archaeological sites

Dead Cities © UNESCO

A number of sources report that numerous archaeological sites in Syria are being systematically targeted for clandestine excavations by well-organized and often armed groups, not all originating from Syria.

Looting of museums and warehouses

© UNESCO/Prof. Abdulkarim

Museums in Syria are also a cause for concern. Most of the damage to museums has occurred in the north-western region of the country, where there have been incidences of looting of valuable cultural property. Many works of art are currently unaccounted for. A large number of museums have also had their infrastructure damaged as a result of being caught in the middle of armed conflict.

Looting at Al-Omari Mosque

Al-Omari Mosque © UNESCO/Prof. Abdulkarim

The Al-Omari Mosque in the town of Daraa, has been subjected to acts of vandalism and looting (see picture above).

Looters have recently attacked the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Mosque, located in the Syrian city of Homs. The Mosque also suffered internal and external structural damages, as illustrated in this photo gallery.

National initiatives

"Save Syria's History"

Campaign posters © UNESCO/Prof. Abdulkarim

A national campaign under the banner “Save Syria’s History” was launched to raise awareness on the current looting of museums and illegal excavation of archaeological sites. It also serves to remind all Syrian people of the importance of protecting their rich cultural heritage for the benefit of future generations.

Workshop against illicit trafficking of Syrian cultural property

Workshop poster © UNESCO/Prof. Abdulkarim

To further raise awareness of the Syrian people to the need to protect their cultural heritage, a two-day workshop focused on the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property in Syria was held at the National Museum in Damascus on 12 and 13 May 2013.

The workshop was organised as a follow-up to the UNESCO Capacity Building Workshop in Amman, Jordan

Syrian citizens protect their cultural heritage

© ICOM

Volunteer networks from local communities all over the country have mobilized themselves and come together with a common objective to protect their unique cultural heritage. These networks provide additional security in protecting archaeological sites from illegal excavations, and safeguarding museums from looters. They have also helped recover looted items of cultural significance that were illicitly taken.

Keeping trace of cultural heritage

© UNESCO/Prof. Abdulkarim

The inventories and archives of cultural property in Syrian museums are being digitized to simplify the identification and registration of any missing artefacts. Testimonies, images and videos from the public, and from national and international archaeological missions, assist in completing the digitized database. All this collated information will facilitate a more effective response against the illicit trafficking of cultural property out of Syria, and help potential restitution cases in the future.