Conservation Heritage News Syrian Arab Republic

Emergency red list of at-risk Syrian artefacts released

Country’s future depends on preserving its heritage, Metropolitan Museum director says

Among the works on Icom's red list for Syria are this third-century AD funerary bust, "eye Idols" from the Tell Brak temple, 3200 BC, and mosaics at the ancient site Al Tamani‘ah, dating from the fifth century AD

The International Council of Museums (Icom) has published an “emergency red list” of Syrian cultural objects in danger of being looted and illicitly traded. The list, which includes vessels, architectural elements, stamps, coins and figural sculpture, will be distributed to customs officials, police, auction houses and museums around the world.

Officials from the United Nations, the US State Department, and Unesco took time out from the ongoing UN General Assembly to present the list at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Wednesday, 25 September. Thomas Campbell, the museum’s director, called the situation in Syria “both tragic and deeply troubling”, but said that it would be a “second tragedy” if the country’s cultural history were erased. In a nation where 11% of the population was once employed by the culture and tourism industries, “Syria’s future economic renewal also depends on preserving its heritage,” Campbell said.

The list features types of items most likely to be illicitly traded, rather than specific stolen objects. The classification system aims to address objects that are not already inventoried in museum collections. “The objects featured are the same ones that will be in demand on the art market tomorrow,” said Hans-Martin Hinz, Icom’s president.

While most “red lists” are produced on the ground in partnership with the host country’s ministry of culture, the volatile situation in Syria meant that experts created this list remotely. Officials from Syria’s department of antiquities travelled to Amman, Jordan to meet with Icom representatives, but they were acting as individuals rather than representatives of the government, according to France Desmarais, Icom’s director of programmes. “Syria’s sites have been protected by people of all political affiliations,” she said.

For more on the state of Syria's cultural heritage, see our forthcoming October print edition.

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