The hard-line archaeological advocacy group Saving Antiquities for Everyone is applauding the UK's new regulations aimed at banning the import of artifacts illicitly removed from Syria during its civil war.
While CPO understands the need for vigilance, CPO questions whether SAFE and related groups intend to take advantage of the bad situation in Syria to further their anti-collecting agenda. In particular, when they call for the US to act, will they once again lobby for any import restrictions to be imposed based on place of production in ancient times rather than find spot in modern times as required under the US governing statute, the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act? Of course, any such restrictions will once again put many minor artifacts without solid provenances at risk for forfeiture though there is no evidence they are the products of recent looting.
And what of the CPIA's process for imposing import restrictions? Any emergency request must come from the Assad government, not SAFE or the Archaeological Institute of America. But if there is a valid request that is granted, should any artifacts that are forfeited go back to that murderous regime or should they instead be held in trust by US Institutions for the benefit of the Syrian people until such time the country is again at peace? Presumably, if recent history is any guide, the repatriationist instincts of SAFE and related groups will demand the return of such artifacts to Assad now, no matter the facts on the ground or the equities of the situation.
But, if so, won't that only confirm that their ideology is more important than fairness or common sense?