February 19, 2015

Great news: the UN bans the trade in Syrian antiquities

A message from Dr Amr Al-Azm who led our campaign calling for an end to the trade fuelling the conflict

The UN Security Council has finally announced a ban on the trade in Syrian antiquities. 

It’s a huge victory for all of us who care about world heritage and want to prevent that priceless history being sold into weapons. We have known for a long time that the dramatic looting and destruction of historical sites in Syria has been a source of income for fighters on all sides.

Eight months ago, when we started this campaign together nobody was pushing for a UN ban on the trade in Syrian antiquities. So how did we get here?

  • In July we launched a public petition calling for the UN ban –  21,818 people signed from more than 124 countries, promoted by people with millions of followers like Ian McKellen (or Gandalf, to some of us):


  • In September we spoke to archaeologists and art historians around the world publishing an open letter with more than 80 prominent academics calling on the UN to introduce the ban. The story was featured in the New York Times, LA Times, Newsweek and others. Experts kep t signing on – last week before the ban was introduced we passed 250 names

  • We were also invited to assist the sanctions monitoring team from the UN Security Council by providing valuable information on how looted antiquities were funding Isis and the Al Nusra Front group

  • Then in December, we participated in a UNESCO conference along with high-level politicians and professionals focusing on the protection of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq

And now, finally, in February of 2015 we have a UN ban.

An achievement of this scale is never down to an individual or group and there have been dozens of experts and diplomats from around the world who have been pushing to make this ban happen. There are too many to list but this would never have happened without their efforts. Huge thank you to them.

But the real heroes protecting the world’s heritage in Syria are the archaeologists on the ground. Every day they are putting their lives in danger by protecting sites and convincing their communities not to turn to looting as the pressures of the conflict deepen. They do this so that people they will never meet in future generations can appreciate the deep cultural legacy of Syria’s ancient history. Like the heritage these heroes are attempting to defend, they live and work on all sides in the Syrian conflict and represent a hope that one day we can heal the rifts in my country by reconnecting with the symbols that unite us.

It is my deepest hope that as we build this campaign from this significant achievement, we can do more to support those doing that critical frontline work.

— Dr Amr al-Azm

Head of the Syrian Heritage Task Force
Associate Professor of Middle East History, Shawnee University
Professor at the University of Damascus (1998-2006)
Director of Science and Conservation Laboratories at the General Department of Antiquities and Museums in Syria (1999-2004)