ISIS Profiting From Looting 'Priceless' Syrian Artifacts

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Amr Al-Azm once ran the Syrian equivalent of the Smithsonian. He's now hearing from sources inside Syria that the terrorist group ISIS is profiting from the looting of ancient historical sites by levying a tax on the bounty. He says these sites are now in great danger of being lost to history.
Al-Azm, now an associate professor of anthropology and Middle Eastern history at Shawnee State University in Ohio, has been going to southern Turkey to train Syrian activists and museum staff to protect and preserve the antiquities.

He joins Here & Now's Robin Young to speak about his efforts.

Interview Highlights: Amr Al-Azm

On how ISIS is profitting

"ISIS came in and essentially started to encourage people to loot these sites, but on a much larger scale, and in return for that started to impose this tax."

"It reverts back to an old Sharia law which says that any buried treasure recovered by a person, they may keep that, provided they pay one fifth to the state. In effect, it became an open season whereby everybody was helping themselves. And ISIS themselves have even started hiring contractors, and in some cases providing the heavy earth-moving equipment necessary to do some of this work. And the damage is immeasurable."

On why antiquities can help stabilization

"There are many aspects of what makes a Syrian feel that he's a Syrian."

"I believe that one of those common denominators is the Syrian people's appreciation and understanding of their common shared history and cultural heritage. So preserving this cultural heritage is going to be very important if people are going to be able to reconnect with those symbols that once helped them identify themselves as Syrians, as opposed to this fragmented state they are now."


  • Amr Al-Azm, associate professor of anthropology and Middle Eastern history at Shawnee State University in Ohio. He tweets @alazmamr.

This segment aired on September 15, 2014.


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