NEDART FOUNDATION IN THE NETHERLANDS WARNS AGAINST MISUSE OF THE ART MARKET BY LOOTERS OF NATIONAL MUSEUM IN BAGDAD
Amsterdam, April 15, 2003 - The NedArt Foundation has been shocked by the recent pillaging of the National Museum in Baghdad. NedArt calls upon the art world to be alert. It will do anything to ensure that no looted objects of the museum will appear on the art market. The overthrow of the government of Iraq and the anarchy arising thereafter has had a dramatic outcome for the National Museum in Baghdad. The museum is world famous for its outstanding collections of Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian art and culture. The museum has fallen prey to looters, which has resulted in the plundering and destruction of countless testimonies of the birthplace of our civilisation. Although information about the exact extent of the damage is lacking, it is certain that the scale of plundering and destruction has been enormous. NedArt has previously expressed anxiety and has indicated the consequences of the war on Iraq's cultural heritage. The NedArt Foundation thinks it is extremely disappointing that, in spite of prior indications and warnings, the coalition forces took no precautions to prevent this. There is a serious danger that an illegal trade circuit will start in Iraq. The same happened in Afghanistan after the plundering of the museum in Kabul. NedArt regrets that this horrible scenario were to become reality. By its nature, NedArt rejects any kind of trade in looted art of the museum: Looters don't deserve a reward.
Due to the character and the value of these mostly extremely rare and valuable objects, the chance that some of them will surface in the Netherlands is small. Nevertheless, NedArt appeals to everyone involved in the Dutch cultural sector to remain alert. The NedArt Foundation will do anything it can and contribute to the prevention of these objects that were stolen from the museum, from finding their way on to the art market. NedArt is considering cognisance, the distribution of essential information, as soon as it comes available, and to involve the art market actively in the prevention of illegal trade. The protection of the cultural heritage in Iraq should play an important role in the rebuilding of the country. The heritage is a significant part of the national pride and as such it can be a valuable binding factor. The NedArt Foundation hopes that the Dutch government will develop relevant activities, but emphasises that international co-operation is indispensable in this case.
The NedArt Foundation, founded in 1998, is the umbrella organisation of the Dutch professional art world, in which the following associations are represented: art dealers, auction houses, modern art galleries, art restorers and book sellers, as well as underwriting agents, shipping companies, antiques and art fairs and art brokers.
Antoon Ott NedArt Foundation www.nedart.com
Statement from the DCMS regarding Iraq's Cultural Heritage
The Ministry of Defence have throughout the conflict been alert to the need to protect sensitive cultural and archaeological sites in Iraq. More recently they have been working hard to ensure that such sites are secured from the risk of looting. We have no means yet of ascertaining how widespread or serious the damage to sites has been. We need to ensure that measures are put in place now both to protect immediately vulnerable sites and to begin the process of helping the Iraqi people to conserve and protect their heritage. We know that local religious leaders have already taken a lead to encourage the return of looted artefacts. We want to do everything we can to work with them on this. One possibility is to encourage cooperation by publicising an amnesty on the return of artefacts on all local media. The Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, is already taking a lead alongside international colleagues from Europe and the US to ensure a coordinated response from the professional archaeological fraternity. British Museum staff are internationally acknowledged experts on the archaeology of the ancient Middle East and can command respect and support from a wide range of other professionals, including those from Iraq, Iran and Syria. It is important in all this that we work closely with UNESCO. The British Museum, with UNESCO, will be hosting a symposium of international colleagues on 29 April. We are also working to ensure that UK administrators and professionals are part of the US Organisation for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs (ORHA). Officials from DCMS will be joining ORHA in the next few days. We are taking measures to ensure that antiquities looted from Iraq are returned if they reach the international art market. A UN sanction currently requires state parties to the UN to impose import controls on objects from Iraq, including antiquities. This means that no objects could reach the UK legally without an import licence. There is absolutely no intention to issue such licences. We are confident that the legitimate art market will cooperate fully, and Tessa Jowell has written to the British Art Market Federation and other key bodies. This leaves, though, the substantial market in illicit trade. The Private Members Bill "Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill" has just had its second reading. It has all party support and we are looking for ways of ensuring its speedy progress through its remaining stages. Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, said during her speech at the British Museum on 15 April 2003: "A wholesale destruction of the antiquities of Iraq would be a catastrophe for Iraq and for the world. "No one can say today just how bad the looting has been. But what we know has taken place is quite bad enough. I accept that the Coalition forces have many tasks to perform, and that the provision of food and water and the establishment of order is their first priority. But, as the British forces in Basra have been able to protect the museum there from further damage, I hope all the forces will see that protecting Iraq's treasures is not an optional extra. It is a duty they owe to the people they have come to set free. "We also need to look beyond the current danger, to the risks that the already looted treasures are placed in the international art market. "It is illegal to import Iraqi antiquities into the UK. I have written today to colleagues in Government, and to the main trade bodies for the Art market reminding them of this, and asking for their help in locating and identifying any which make their way to the UK. "And I have spoken to Neil about the plan for a cultural coalition, a group of experts who can help Iraqi conservators pick up the pieces and rebuild their museums, their libraries and their excavated sites. He has the expertise to put it together, and he'll have my support every step of the way."
FBI To Help Track Down Stolen Iraqi Antiquities
Iraqis Loot Museum After Regime Falls; Ancient Artifacts Missing
POSTED: 12:10 p.m. EDT April 17, 2003
WASHINGTON -- The FBI announced Thursday that it will send agents to Iraq to help recover treasures and antiquities looted from museums after the fall of the Iraqi regime. "We are firmly committed to doing whatever we can to secure these treasures to the people of Iraq," FBI Director Robert Mueller said during a Justice Department news conference. He said the agents would "assist with criminal investigations" and with the recovery of stolen items. Mueller also said the FBI was cooperating with Interpol in issuing alerts to all member nations to try to track any sales of the artifacts "on both the open and black markets." Mueller said the United States recognizes "the importance of these treasures to the Iraqi people" and to the world as a whole.
Experts: Some Looters Had Museum Keys
Experts say some looters clearly knew what they were doing when they ravaged Iraqi museums and libraries in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion.
The U.N. cultural agency gathered art experts and cultural historians in Paris on Thursday to assess the damage. Iraq's top museums were looted, and the National Library was burned. Looters pillaged the collections that chronicle ancient civilization in Mesopotamia. Much of the looting at museums was haphazard, but the experts said some of the thieves knew what they were looking for and where to find it. McGuire Gibson, a University of Chicago professor and president of the American Association for Research in Baghdad, said looters were able to take keys for vaults and remove important Mesopotamian materials from safes. Cultural experts, curators and law enforcement officials are scrambling to track down the missing antiquities and prevent further looting of the valuable items. Many Iraqis have expressed anger at U.S. forces for not providing ample security to such important facilities.
UNESCO Chief Wants Iraqi Artifacts Embargoed
The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said the United Nations should impose a temporary embargo on Iraqi cultural objects. UNESCO also said "heritage police" should be set up in Iraq to prevent further looting of the country's antiquities. UNESCO's chief made the proposals at the start of a meeting of experts trying to save Iraq's cultural treasures. The U.N. agency chief said there is an urgent need to keep the treasures from falling into the hands of those who traffic in stolen objects.
Top General Says Looting Is Easing
The general who is running the war in Iraq said he regrets the looting in Baghdad and elsewhere -- but added that it is beginning to ease. Gen. Tommy Franks said he thinks the downward trend will continue because Iraqis are getting involved in providing security. Franks said 2,200 Iraqi civilians volunteered Wednesday in Baghdad to work as unarmed police officers -- a step that could help relieve the pressure on U.S. troops. Meanwhile, Marines patrolling a rough Baghdad neighborhood where currency is exchanged on the black market fired at suspected looters Thursday, killing one. Five or six others were arrested. U.S. forces have begun to crack down on lawlessness in the Iraqi capital amid criticism that they haven't done enough to protect the city.
Japan to cooperate in preservation of Iraqi antiquities
Thursday, April 17, 2003 at 07:20 JST
TOKYO — Japan has decided to actively cooperate with international efforts to locate, preserve and restore Iraq's antiquities which were looted by residents after U.S. and British forces toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
At a news conference, Senior Vice Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi quoted Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi as telling a meeting that the Japanese government will "actively work for preservation and restoration of Iraq's cultural heritage by cooperating with international organizations." A Foreign Ministry official said Japan will consider providing financial assistance after examining the results of a meeting of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to be held Thursday in Paris, which will start work on listing looted cultural heritage items in Iraq. Iraq, as home to the remains of the ancient Mesopotamian cities of Babylon, Ur and Nineveh, has a rich archaeological heritage. However, many antiquities and national treasures vanished as people looted museums and other sites after Saddam's government was toppled. On Tuesday, Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Atsuko Toyama said Japan will work to prevent the entry of stolen Iraqi antiquities into the country and her ministry will issue notices by the end of this week to museums nationwide to turn down any offer to acquire such treasures. (Kyodo News)
Antiquities fall into black hole
Finding and returning looted Iraqi antiquities will be difficult, writes Suzanne Muchnic.
It will take months to assess what was destroyed and looted at the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, but one thing is sure: the museum, the most important repository of Mesopotamian art in the world, will never be the same. It is estimated that at least 100,000 objects are missing or damaged, and experts say much of the booty is probably already working its way through a thriving global black market in antiquities. After ancient sculptures, gold and silver jewellery and cuneiform tablets disappear in the black hole of illicit trade, experience indicates, they are unlikely to surface soon. Of the 4000 artworks taken from museums during the Gulf War of 1991, "maybe two" had been recovered, said McGuire Gibson, an archeologist and authority on Iraqi art at the University of Chicago. As rumours were flying about where the latest loot had gone, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said: "Objects and documents taken from museums and sites are the property of the Iraqi nation under Iraqi and international law. They are therefore stolen property, whether found in Iraq or other nations. Anyone knowingly possessing or dealing in such objects is committing a crime." Warning everyone, and Americans in particular, against purchasing or handling the loot, Powell said the US would play a leading role in recovering stolen goods and protecting other museums and antiquities throughout Iraq, in co-operation with UNESCO and Interpol.
"It's an important step," Patty Gerstenblith, president of the Archaeological Institute of America, said of the statement. "It puts people on notice that those who deal with this material are subject to criminal prosecution." But stifling a black market with tentacles all around the world may be more difficult than taking control of Baghdad, art experts say. "There is no legitimate market for these objects," said Sharon Flescher, executive director of the International Foundation for Art Research, a New York-based non- profit organisation that provides information on legal and ethical issues concerning works of art. "They are subject to every regulation dealing with stolen property." Officials of major art houses say looted Iraqi material will not turn up in their sales. Objects consigned to auction appeared in illustrated catalogues that were distributed to collectors, dealers, scholars, international police forces and the Art Loss Register, a New York-based organisation that maintains a data base of lost and stolen items, said Matthew Weigman, head of communications at Sotheby's New York. But thieves have ways of circumventing laws and avoiding public scrutiny.
- Los Angeles Times
Iraq's illegal art trade broken
Thursday 17 April 2003, 5:05 PM
The world has seen it before: looters ransack museums in the aftermath of war and priceless plunder vanishes into a shadowy - and highly profitable - global network of antiquity traffickers and their customers. The halls and display rooms of Iraq's ravaged museums and libraries are still littered by the ruins left by rampaging looters. But curators, law enforcement and others are scrambling to assess the damage, document what's missing and try to recover the pilfered. Key to the effort, experts say, will be to collect photographs and descriptions of what's lost and spread the word so customs agents, museums and collectors can identify stolen pieces. "When a very important painting of Manet or Van Gogh is taken from a museum, it is very difficult to put it on sale on the market because these objects are very well known," said Mounir Bouchenaki, UNESCO's assistant director-general for culture.
Details on the state of Iraq's museums were still sketchy, and Bouchenaki and others were hesitant to speculate on what had been lost or whether the looting had been highly organised. The Paris- based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation has planned a meeting of 30 experts to try to catalogue what's missing. Bouchenaki said he also has urged Iraq's neighbours to tighten customs checks for pilfered treasures, and he is enlisting the help of Interpol. The art world has high interest in the damage to Iraqi museum inventories, which contain vital information on the holdings. The records office of the National Museum, for example, was ransacked, though it was not clear what was destroyed. Some say theft or destruction of records could indicate a professional job. "The purpose obviously is you're making it harder for material to be identified and be claimed in the future," said Neil Brodie, of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in Cambridge, England. "So if there was any organisation, that to me is one indication of it." There are also questions about the quality of Iraqi records. The museums were low on cash and equipment needed to photograph and otherwise properly document and catalogue what they had.
"Documentation is very important," said Jacques Perot, president of the International Council of Museums in Paris. "The Iraqi museums were a bit isolated in the museum world." By all accounts, their collections were stunning. Modern-day Iraq is home to ancient Mesopotamia, considered the cradle of civilisation. Iraqi museum and library collections chronicled and illustrated the flowering of ancient cultures, as well as Baghdad's later role as an Islamic centre.
Art gangs 'looted Iraqi museums'
Organised gangs of international art traffickers were behind the looting of the most important exhibits at Baghdad's national museum, experts believe.
Thousands of ancient artefacts dating from the birth of civilisation were stolen and damaged in the wake of the entry of US forces to the city.
Professional smugglers joined opportunist civilians to take advantage of the lawless vacuum, a group of archaeologists has been told. About 30 of the world's leading experts on Iraqi heritage gathered to discuss the situation at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations' cultural arm Unesco on Thursday. Professor McGuire Gibson from Chicago University told the group that some thieves obviously knew what they were looking for and where to find it.
80,000 cuneiform tablets with world's earliest writing Bronze figure of Akkadian king - 4,500 years old Silver harp from ancient city of Ur - 4,000 years old Three-foot carved Sumerian vase - 5,200 years old Headless statue of Sumerian king Entemena - 4,600 years old Carved sacred cup - 4,600 years old
"It looks as if part of the looting was a deliberate planned action," he said. "They were able to take keys for vaults and were able to take out important Mesopotamian materials put in safes."
Some artefacts from the museum have already turned up in Paris and Iran, he said.
"Probably [it was done] by the same sorts of gangs that have been paying for the destruction of sites in Iraq over the last 12 years and the smuggling out of these objects into the international market," Prof Gibson said. Among the items known to have been lost were 80,000 cuneiform tablets that were some of the world's earliest examples of writing, he said. Unesco's director general Koichiro Matsuura called for an immediate ban on the international trade in Iraqi antiquities and a "heritage police" to protect Iraq's cultural sites. "I believe it is necessary to take emergency measures, such as the setting up... of a nationwide 'heritage police' entrusted with the task of watching over cultural sites and institutions," he said. Also announced was a special fund for Iraqi cultural heritage, to which Italy, France, Britain, Germany, Egypt and Qatar have already contributed. "It is always difficult when communities are facing the consequences of an armed conflict to plead the case for the preservation of the cultural heritage," according to Mr Matsuura. "It is as if we were more interested in stones than in people. But nothing could be further from the truth, of course." Unesco, which called the loss and destruction a "disaster", will soon send a team to Iraq to find out what is missing and damaged. The experts were told that some of the country's most prized treasures were hidden in the vaults of the national bank before the war.
But there is still confusion over whether those vaults were looted.
Mr Matsuura said he would press for a UN Security Council resolution to impose a provisional embargo on the acquisition of Iraqi cultural items. A website with information and pictures of the missing antiquities is also to be set up. Among those attending Wednesday's meeting were several archaeologists who said they warned the United States Government about the possibility of looting, including Prof Gibson. US Secretary of State Colin Powell has already pledged to "recover that which has been taken and also participate in restoring that which has been broken". Iraq is described as a "the cradle of civilisation" and the Baghdad museum contained thousands of irreplaceable artefacts dating back 10,000 years. The development of abstract counting, the wheel and agriculture were all charted in its exhibitions. The collections from the Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian periods were particularly prized.
As well as the Baghdad museum, the National Archives Centre and a museum in Mosul were looted and the capital's Islamic Library, which housed ancient manuscripts including one of the oldest surviving copies of the Koran, was ravaged by fire. There are fears that many of the stolen items may be taken out of the country and lost forever.
Story from BBC NEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/entertainment/2955421.stm
Experts to Send Team to Iraq in Wake of Museum Looting
By ALAN RIDING
PARIS, April 17 — An international group of archaeologists and museum directors decided today to send an emergency fact-finding mission to Iraq to measure the damage done to the Baghdad Museum and other cultural institutions in the looting that followed the end of open hostilities.
Meeting at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the 30 experts also called on coalition forces to protect threatened cultural sites and institutions. In addition, they backed an appeal by Unesco's director general, Koichiro Matsuura, for the United Nations Security Council to impose a temporary embargo on the acquisition of all Iraqi cultural objects. But the experts, who included Iraqi scientists as well as American, European and Japanese archaeologists with extensive experience in Iraq, said that even moves to prevent the illegal export of looted objects from Iraq required detailed information on what was stolen from museums in Baghdad and Mosul as well as from libraries, monuments and archeological sites. "At this point, none of us knows anything," said Salma El Radi, an Iraqi scholar associated with New York University. Unesco officials said that a multidisciplinary mission, comprising five or six experts, would leave as soon as it could safely enter Iraq. They said they were awaiting word from John W. Limbert, the American official named by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to coordinate efforts to recover artifacts stolen by looters. Mr. Limbert, a senior adviser to the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs, has reportedly now arrived in Kuwait. Mr. Matsuura, who before the war urged coalition forces to protect museums and archeological sites, has deplored the damage done to Iraq's unique heritage, but he has stopped short of accusing the United States military of negligence. In a step toward improving communication with Unesco, Mr. Powell sent a special envoy, Bonnie Gardiner, a senior State Department cultural analyst, to meet with Mr. Matsuura on Wednesday.
Today's meeting of experts, which was held behind closed doors, focused on exchanging information, developing a strategy to deal with the crisis and setting in motion the fact-finding mission. A note of urgency was added when Dr. McGuire Gibson of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, said he had received unconfirmed reports that some looted objects were already on sale in both Paris and Iran. "It looks like part of the theft was a very planned action, probably by the same gangs that have exploited and destroyed sites in Iraq over the past 12 years," Dr. Gibson said at a news conference. "Baghdad Museum should have been the safest place. It was the main repository of Mesopotamian artifacts. Many regional museums had sent objects to Baghdad for safekeeping because during the 1991 gulf war 9 of Iraq's 14 regional museums were looted." He added that these gangs had become very organized since 1991. "All this has happened since the embargo," he said, referring to United Nations sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein's regime. "I have a suspicion it is organized from outside the country by people who pay those in the country to loot the sites. People have no money and will do anything to feed their family. But once it was organized, there were 300 or 400 people working on a site." The experts said that to date their information about damage to Baghdad Museum had come from the occasional satellite telephone call, press reports and what they can interpret from photographs and television news footage. Donny George, director of research for the Iraqi Board of Antiquities, told The New York Times in Baghdad on Wednesday that "major masterpieces" were missing, but he added, "It's not a total loss." Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, which has perhaps the richest collection of Mesopotamian art outside Iraq, said that he had heard that some treasures had been stored in the vaults of Iraq's Central Bank. "The bank was looted, but we don't know if those safes were opened," he said. "We don't know if the treasures are still there."
Even with little information available, however, an emergency action plan is taking shape. Along with efforts to persuade coalition forces to look out for stolen art objects, Unesco has alerted the World Customs Organization and Interpol to tighten controls on trafficking of stolen art. Mr. Matsuura has also set up a special fund to be spent only inside Iraq for the purpose of buying back stolen art from looters. This week Italy donated $400,000 toward protecting Iraq's heritage and it has since raised its contribution to $1 million. Mr. Matsuura said he had also received offers of financial aid from Qatar, France, Britain and Egypt. Unesco officials said that it had so far received nothing from the United States, which last year announced it would rejoin Unesco after an 18-year absence. Museums and archeological associations across the world are also mobilizing. On Wednesday Germany's Archeological Institute offered expertise and personnel to help restore Iraq's museums. Mr. MacGregor said that the British Museum, which is to act as host to a gathering of experts on Iraqi culture in London on April 29, has offered six conservators and three curators to help in the crisis, and was coordinating its response with the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and Berlin's museums.
UNESCO Proposes 'Heritage Police' to Guard Iraqi Museums
VOA News 17 Apr 2003, 17:52 UTC
The head of the United Nations cultural organization, UNESCO, is calling for creation of what he called a "heritage police" force to try to reclaim artifacts looted last week from Iraqi museums.
UNESCO director Koichiro Matsuura issued his call at a Paris meeting of international experts considering emergency measures for documenting and reclaiming the pieces taken by looters after the fall of Baghdad. The "heritage police" would watch over cultural sites during armed conflicts such as that in Iraq and prevent looters from stealing rare and valuable antiquities. Antiquities experts are criticizing the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq for not protecting the museums.
Iraq's National Museum contained numerous artifacts from Mesopotamia, a cradle of one of the earth's earliest civilizations located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in what is now Iraq. Among the most important pieces missing is a harp from the ancient city of Ur. UNESCO is calling on art collectors and international police to help stop the trade in the stolen items on the black market. A UNESCO delegation is expected to travel to Iraq soon and to develop a database detailing the losses.