Culture Under Threat: The Security, Economic and Cultural Impact of Antiquities Trafficking and Terrorist Financing

Forum – Culture Under Threat: The Security, Economic and Cultural Impact of Antiquities Trafficking and Terrorist Financing

24 September 2015.

The event was held from 8:30am-11:30am at Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue in New York.

The forum featured keynote addresses, public discussion, and a private dialogue to chart action for the future. Asia Society is pleased to join UNESCO, the Antiquities Coalition and the Middle East Institute in a special high-level forum in New York City on September 24, 2015 titled “Culture Under Threat: The Security, Economic and Cultural Impact of Antiquities Trafficking and Terrorist Financing.”

The forum is part of a major new initiative to find regional solutions to the recent surge in the destruction and looting of antiquities across the Middle East. UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, His Excellency the Foreign Minister of Iraq Dr. Ibrahim Al-Jaafari and Asia Society Policy Institute President Kevin Rudd will deliver remarks. Asia Society President Josette Sheeran and Antiquities Coalition Chairman Deborah Lehr will serve as co-chairs and hosts of this historic event, which will feature delegations from the nations most affected by the theft and destruction of these treasures, as well as the heads of leading cultural organizations.

It has been a time of particular turmoil in the Middle East. While the loss of human life resulting from instability is tragic, so are the attacks by militants and organized criminals on local cultures, and the damage done to some of the great treasures of antiquity. The destruction of historic sites and looting of antiquities are now widespread across the Middle East, from Egypt to Iraq to Syria and Libya – the region on which the foundations of human civilization were laid. These attacks constitute a form of “cultural terrorism” – indeed some are calling them “war crimes” – and the illicit trafficking of these antiquities is being used to fund the causes of terrorist and criminal networks.

What can leaders in the region, international agencies, and the heads of global cultural organizations do to reverse these attacks against our shared history and heritage? This gathering will focus on answers that question – whether they involve diplomacy or law enforcement, education or military action, or some combination. The forum will convene the finest minds and most effective policymakers to the table, to at least begin to find answers to this pressing global problem.

More information is available here.

Morag Kersel has storfied the Twitter feed from the conference here.

Charles Henry posted a summary (weblink) of the event, 2015 Culture Under Threat and Digital Libraries – Council on Library and Information Resources (pdf), including suggesting forming “an international effort to develop a Digital Library for the Middle East, which would include high-resolution images, rich metadata, and tracking software for border control and inventory audits. A digital library at this scale would help reveal the region’s cultural heritage as a means to inhibit the looting of objects that are currently unknown or untracked, and over time also encourage scholarship and interest in this rich, foundational culture for future generations once the crisis has passed. National and international funding agencies have expressed interest in the concept of a Digital Library for the Middle East, and CLIR and the Antiquities Coalition are pursuing those leads.

Videos of the event are available on the Asia Society webpage here. A Press Release summarising the event is available online here, or as a pdf here, with further details available on the Asia Blog (weblink here or pdf here).

As part of the event, the Antiquities Coalition has launched a Call to Action.  Sign your name here.