Friday, August 15, 2014

Some Welcome Honesty

Along with the usual references to shadowy international "cultural racketeers" and the difficult to comprehend refrain that "looting" is worse than "destruction," Dr. Amr Al-Azam, an archaeologist associated with Shawnee State University who involved in efforts to save Syria's cultural patrimony from civil war and ISIS, made this forthright statement to the Chasing Aphrodite blog.  In it, Al-Azam explains why ordinary Syrians loot in areas no longer under government control:

Anything to do with your cultural heritage in Syria belongs to the Assad family. That kicks back if you’re rebelling against the state and the regime. Anything associated with them becomes an acceptable target. Syria had some of the most stringent laws in terms of antiquities ownership. If you’re plowing your field and you hit a stone and discover a mosaic, you must inform the state. The state will come, surround the area, rip out the mosaic and it will disappear. You’re not a stakeholder. All he sees is a valuable item removed from him and taken by a kleptocracy. He says, Why should I let the state have it? 

Perhaps then, a long term solution is for archaeologists to promote changes in the laws of such countries. As it is, unqualified support for stringent antiquities laws that don't recognize land owners as stakeholders does little for conservation and lots to support a corrupt status quo.

There are obviously atrocities taking place in Syria today, but hopefully at some point, peace will return and such honest assessments can be used to help guide future policy.

1 comment:

John H said...

Mr Tompa, you say, rightly in my opinion, 'Perhaps then, a long term solution is for archaeologists to promote changes in the laws of such countries.'

Indeed. But when the sentiments expressed by Tom Hassall, (a former Director of the Council for British Archaeology, to which all UK archaeologists belong) that, all land should belong to the People and unfortunately the nationalization of all antiquities is some way off, is it any wonder that this nonsense has leeched over into both the US and UNESCO?

Who then, apart from collectors for example, can be trusted to lead international governments back to the paths of righteousness? Certainly not archaeologists with a political axe to grind I suggest.

Best wishes

John Howland