Current situation in Syria
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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. Museums in Syria are also a cause for concern, and there have been many incidences of looting of valuable cultural property. A large number of museums have also had their infrastructure damaged as a result of being caught in the middle of armed conflict.
llegal excavations and looting have exponentially increased since the beginning of the conflict in Syria. These actions have damaged many historical sites and museums, and important Syrian cultural property has disappeared from the country to end up on the black market and/or in private collections.
Numerous archaeological sites in Syria are being systematically targeted for clandestine excavations by well-organized and often armed groups. Excavated archaeological objects of cultural significance make a lucrative trade for unscrupulous dealers operating both locally and internationally. Sites situated near the borders are, in general, more susceptible to being targeted by looters who take advantage of their location to quickly and illegally export artefacts out of Syria.
The majority of the artefacts in the thirty-four national museums have been transferred to secure warehouses. Most of the damage to museums in Syria has occurred in the north-western region of the country, where there have been incidents of looting of valuable cultural property, and 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 armed conflict.
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.
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.
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.
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.