Ivan Macquisten, policy and media adviser to the Antiquities Dealers Association (ADA), speaks on behalf of the ADA at Destruction of Monuments and Memory in the Middle East, a seminar organised by the Iran Heritage Foundation, at Asia House in London on December 16, 2015 (video of speech)
Firstly, I would like to thank you very much indeed for inviting the Antiquities Dealers Association to speak today. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate it, especially as it so rarely happens. In fact, apart from one other conference recently, I have not seen a single instance of a panel, symposium, debate or conference giving the trade a say, so what you have done is really important.
I’m not standing here today with a view to any special pleading for the trade. I am standing here to tell you that what is going on in Iraq and Syria, first from the human perspective and then also from the cultural and historical viewpoint, is as abhorrent to members of the Antiquities Dealers Association and other honest dealers and auctioneers as it is to you and everyone else.
That is why we want to bring our knowledge and expertise to bear in fighting this evil. All we ask of you is that you allow us to do so.
The perception of antiquities dealers as the devil’s disciples is a long misplaced view that even now rears its head as unfounded accusations of dealers funding Daesh appear in the media with depressing regularity – accusations we do not take lightly.
But before we examine what could be behind these ‘blood antiquities’ and billion-dollar headlines, I want to talk about not what separates us but what brings each and everyone one of us here today together.
Principally we share your desire to see Daesh defeated, the peoples of Syria and Iraq given hope, peace and safety, and to make sure that we neither wittingly nor unwittingly contribute to the funding of terrorist activities.
It has been very hard to keep up with the proliferation of conferences and seminars on this subject, as well as all the news stories and newly formed organisations aimed at highlighting real or perceived problems with the antiquities trade.
Nonetheless, we have been monitoring the many and varied claims in the media that looted Syrian and Iraqi antiquities are being traded in London, New York and Western Europe. Aside from the Hobby Lobby investigation now underway, centring on around 200 cuneiform tablets thought to have come out of Iraq illegally, we have yet to see any claim supported by hard evidence.
We all know and understand the vital importance of provenance when it comes to trading in antiquities, but it is also important to apply the same rigour to providing evidence to support claims of wrongdoing.
We need to deal in facts, not propaganda
We are not complacent about the need to be vigilant, nor the need to prevent what looting is taking place, nor how essential it is to prevent trading in trafficked antiquities. However, we need to deal in facts, not propaganda or emotive speculation.
We should be able to rely on what the authorities tell us, but it is difficult when even they do not agree.
Take, for instance, Col. Matthew Bogdanos, whose work protecting the Iraqi National Museum formed the basis of his book Thieves of Baghdad. At a conference held at the Asia Society, New York, on September 24, he told delegates that so much information was classified he had to clear what he said in advance. Giving no source or evidence, presumably as a result of these restrictions, he told the audience, “ISIS is making tens of millions, and I am telling you that this is a low figure that is not exaggerated”.
Just five days later at the Bureau of Educational Affairs Conflict Antiquities symposium, Andrew Keller, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, said: “The U.S. government assesses that ISIL has probably earned several million dollars from antiquity trafficking since mid-2014. But the actual amount is unknown.”
Meanwhile an October 28 article by Jed Lipinski on Nola.com, the website of the Times-Picayune of New Orleans, profiles Tess Davis, executive director of the Antiquities Coalition, a campaign and lobby organisation described in the article as “a Washington-based nonprofit that unites experts against global antiquities trafficking”. Lipinski writes: “The federal government estimates the group (Daesh) could be making as much as $100 million a year from smuggled artifacts, many of which may already be entering U.S. ports.”
So which is it? Bogdanos’s tens of millions? Keller’s several million since mid-2014 or Lipinski’s $100 million a year?
Maybe it’s none of these. An October 29 article on Washington website thehill.com quotes Senator Robert Casey Jr saying antiquities trafficking from Syria and Iraq is second only to illicit oil sales, which bring in up to $100m a month. He plans to introduce a new bill restricting trade in antiquities further on the strength of this.
Mauro Miedico, Chief of Section, of the Terrorism Prevention Branch of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, followed Andrew Keller’s speech at the same symposium.
He told the gathering: “In 2011, my office, UNODC, estimated that the proceeds of transnational crime related to art and cultural property amounted to between $3.4 and $6.3 billion yearly.”
This was his office’s estimate, from four years ago, of crime related to the entire global art market, of which antiquities is a minute part. How does that translate to the $3 billion figure we have heard oft quoted as the value of the trade in illicit antiquities?
‘Cosy cabal of academics and others’
Later Col Bogdanos, when asked who is buying the trafficked antiquities, says: “It is a cozy cabal of academics, art historians, dealers, gallery owners, auction houses, museums and private collectors.” However, again he offers no evidence of this.
How many of these people has he prosecuted in his current role of Assistant District Attorney? Surely he could tell us a figure for that, at least? Certainly, the Hobby Lobby case aside, our monitoring of the media has yet to show up a single arrest, let alone a charge or conviction, for a US, British or Western European antiquities dealer on a charge of trading in antiquities looted from Syria or Iraq since Daesh invaded.
Perhaps Katie Paul could point the way. She is Research Director for the Antiquities Coalition and stated in her October 1 Huffington Post article: “…The American antiquities market is funding the very terror group the US government is seeking to eradicate.” I assume she has evidence of this, although, again, the article offers none.
Nor does Senator Casey, who, despite telling Washington’s thehill.com that the looted antiquities trade is second only to the up to $100m a month illicit oil trade, does not know of any specific cases of U.S. citizens who have bought stolen artifacts from ISIS, but, “wouldn’t be surprised if it is happening”.
I do not quote all of the above to be facetious, but to illustrate a fraction of the issue we are dealing with and why claims in the media need challenging if they are presented without source evidence.
If US Government representatives speaking at conferences within days of each other cannot agree on the figures, we have a serious problem.
Another US Government representative, Robert Hartung from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, also at the Conflict Antiquities symposium, announced the “Rewards for Justice” programme would offer up to $5 million for information leading to the disruption of antiquities sales that benefit Daesh. What he didn’t say was that the programme applies to oil smuggling as well and this accounts for hundreds of millions of dollars of Daesh revenue. Has the $5 million been awarded yet? (See page 9 of 17 of video transcript)
So far I have highlighted the lack of evidence put forward together with a series of conflicting statistics when it comes to the value of looted and trafficked antiquities.
Now let’s look at what evidence does exist and where it comes from.
The 2015 TEFAF Art Market Report, produced by Arts Economics, shows the entire 2014 global Art & Antiques market reached €51 billion. (See page 15, Key Findings)
Legitimate global Syrian antiquities market worth around €20m
Current research undertaken by IADAA (the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art) into the legitimate global trade in antiquities estimates its value at between €150 million and €200 million, so 0.4% of the global Art & Antiques market. How much of that is Syrian antiquities? Probably around 5-10%. That would be around €20 million at most. (See James Ede, ‘Dealers: Trade, Traffic and the Consequences of Demonisation’, IADAA, Articles of IADAA Members)
Commonsense tells us that the illicit trade will be smaller than this figure, so this is what we are likely to be dealing with in reality. Nothing to get complacent about but nowhere near the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars being quoted.
All sides in the debate agree that a very significant source of evidence resulted from a US Special Forces raid in Syria in May. Andrew Keller revealed this during his speech, referred to above.
The raid, at the home of Abu Sayyaf, a high-ranking Daesh officer, recovered receipts from his six-month tenure as head of Daesh’s antiquities division.
These showed that he collected at least $265,000 in taxes for antiquities – known to be charged at a rate of 20% – which would equate to an antiquities trade of about $1.3 million for a few months, perhaps amounting to $4 million over the course of a year.
Importantly, Neil Brodie, Senior Research Fellow in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow, and highly active for decades as a campaigner for more trade restrictions, has subjected these findings to analysis in his recent article for the European Union National Institutes for Culture.
Brodie analyses the receipts and confirms the $4 million figure, although there is some confusion as to whether the receipts also encompass minerals. Certainly, Brodie notes, this “would pay for a lot of antiquities, yet very few have been identified on the destination market”.
Ben Taub, a journalist, has dug a little deeper, having some of the Arabic on the receipts that had not been made public by the US State department translated by Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton and an expert on Daesh. He says its is unambiguous; these documents urge the excavation teams to extract not only antiquities but also metals and minerals. So, what does this
$4 million figure refer to?
Brodie also notes that the more “archaeologically-rich” western areas of Syria remain under the control of forces loyal to Assad, and points to a further source of evidence showing that antiquities provide just 0.8% of Daesh’s income, which “accords well with the US Department of the Treasury’s seemingly low estimation of the antiquities trade’s financial importance”.
‘Archaeology community’s strategy risks inappropriate response’
Brodie goes on to argue that “There is an opinion within the archaeological community that highlighting the financial importance to ISIL of the antiquities trade will make it an issue of national security and ensure a strong government response. The danger with this line of reasoning is that the response might be inappropriate.” The ADA endorses this view. But it suits the agenda of those who are keen on dismantling the antiquities trade.
He echoes Keller in calling for effective strategies to eliminate demand.
If he means demand for looted and trafficked antiquities, the ADA backs him all the way.
Objects may be appearing in countries bordering Syria, principally Turkey and the Lebanon, as well as on social media; in all probability ending up with those who are not part of the known and traditional market. Why do we suspect this? Because we are not seeing anything on the market here in London.
There is a great deal of work to be done to identify exactly where looted material is going, but it is clearly not going to the traditional and established market. The types of objects – beads, coins, pottery – that we have all seen photos of are generally of very poor quality or fake and are of a type that have been on the market for many decades and in any event wouldn’t go very far in funding the rent on a London flat let alone the world’s most notorious terrorist organisation.
Of course the repeated quoting of enormous and patently absurd values of looted antiquities apparently being sold in Europe and elsewhere is only going to fuel further illegal activity in the Middle East and for this reason, alone, the media – and those prompting journalists – need to behave responsibly.
So what are we in the trade doing to make sure we do not handle illicit antiquities?
Our trade associations have actively collaborated with Government in this country to address these issues and will continue to do so. The ADA, for instance, has completely rewritten its Code of Conduct, with mechanisms in place should a member be found in contravention of the Code.
We intend to encourage non-trade association members to embrace the tenets of our Code of conduct and will work hard to ensure that all those who deal in antiquities in this country remain vigilant. You will be able to read the Code in full when we relaunch our website in 2016, as well as much else to improve transparency, clarity and due diligence, such as the links to Red Lists.
And we are also working closely with Law Enforcement, including Scotland Yard’s Art & Antiques Squad, academics and Members of Parliament to ensure that we are part of the ongoing debate. Our involvement is absolutely essential.
Clear provenance carries a premium
No other area of the international art market now prizes provenance more than we do. Best of all, clear provenance now carries a premium at auction, encouraging all concerned to establish it as often as possible.
If objects are being offered well below market value, especially by people you do not know, alarm bells should ring.
However, we too rely on information and this is rarely forthcoming from source countries. This may be for a number of reasons but this cannot continue if we are to be effective.
The trade’s critics are a little too fond of using the Becchina and Medici archives to beat us over the head with. Give us access to them and we will happily ensure they form a major part of all due diligence.
What is needed is not breast-beating and demonisation of the trade, but new and accurate data that provides better grounds for response.
As Neil Brodie warns, the response to the Syrian crisis must not be inappropriate.
It is for governments and international organisations to source this information and to pass it on to those on the ground, including law enforcement, museums and the trade. But this information must be based on facts and not spin or speculation. Only then can we assess what is actually occurring and make sure we are able to halt or reduce smuggling on the borders of these countries.
So how can we in the trade help?
There is no doubt that amidst the destruction, illicit material is being squirrelled away, as has been suggested. This really worries us… as this material will necessarily surface on the open market sooner or later. This could be some years from now.
The challenge for us is to make sure we have the correct mechanisms in place to prevent the legitimate trade from handling illicit material and, where possible, identify it and return it if and when it does appear. It is clear that the help of the trade is going to be vital in confronting this problem and it will require a long-term collaboration.
We must find ways to protect archaeological sites.
In this country there must be an effective system of communication between all parties concerned. What we are finding is that there are press leaks to different individuals with different agendas. What we do need to recognise is that in order to make sure London remains ‘clean’, there is a clear alert system to all of us who are involved from law enforcement, Customs, counter terrorism and academia to the trade. Problems cannot be resolved via the media and press briefings.
We must also find a solution for those antiquities currently circulating in the market, a line drawn in the sand that gives those objects an amnesty so they can be traded freely. It will make managing the future of antiquities a more achievable goal. If you want to suppress the illicit market, it is imperative to support the legitimate market and to encourage transparency as opposed to fear.
Those critics of the trade who find themselves unable to work with us should perhaps ask themselves if this attitude is really in the greater interest. It should be clear to all who have been following recent events who your enemy really is… and it really isn’t us. We are part of the solution and not the problem.