Help stop the destruction of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq


While fighting takes its toll on the lives of civilians in Syria and Iraq where survivors are left to endure hardship, bereavement and displacement, trade in looted artefacts from both countries is flourishing, supported by unscrupulous or ill-informed people willing to buy valuable and attractive objects from the Middle East without paying close attention to their provenance.

This trade involves illicit excavations, the pillaging of museums, libraries, shops, galleries and homes. Pieces stolen and smuggled out are often damaged and lost, few ever return to where they rightfully belong.

The destruction of heritage in Syria and northern parts of Iraq is having a dramatic effect on the region’s heritage, including monuments, places of worship and archive collections. It is devastating the invaluable and irreplaceable heritage of Syria and Iraq, a heritage that has always played a central part in communities’ collective memory, pride of place and sense of identity, all of which are important factors in any future efforts to reconstruct a peaceful and prosperous life with a shared sense of purpose.

UNESCO works with governments, national and international organizations such as INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization, as well as museums, auction houses, to stop this trafficking.

Confiscated statue from the site of Palmyra © UNESCO

While the lawful circulation of art and cultural objects can facilitate the transmission of knowledge about the rich diversity of cultures across the world, UNESCO is working to prevent the illegal trade in these artefacts to preserve the heritage of all humanity for future generations.

Cultural heritage is a non-renewable resource that belongs to all of humanity and that protecting it is part of our responsibility for the future. In the midst of unbearable violence and bloodshed, the people of Syria and Iraq, their children and future generations worldwide, need your support in opposing illicit trafficking and spreading the message of cultural heritage preservation.

Before buying an object of uncertified provenance, people should also bear in mind that the money they spend will help prolong fighting as much of it will line the pockets of murderous extremists.

We need your support!

What actions can you take to help protect cultural heritage?

  • avoid buying any undocumented artefacts
  • check the validity of the documentation
  • should you observe any suspicious activity related to illicit trafficking of cultural objects notify the relevant national police authorities or INTERPOL
  • make sure the artefacts offered for sale are not protected by law

Useful links

Awareness-raising videos

The two short video clips below (38 seconds each), one on Iraq, the other on Syria, are available to be disseminated on the internet and social media platforms.

Please share the videos!