May 21, 2015 | Quote

Smugglers Say Palmyra’s Artifacts Will Be “Good Business”

Much of the world is looking on with horror as ISIS storms the ancient city of Palmyra. Smugglers who trade in the booming black market of Syrian antiquities, though, say they sense a lucrative opportunity.

ISIS militants overran Palmyra on Thursday after rolling back the Syrian regime. On top of fears for the tens of thousands of civilians in the city, the onslaught has triggered a torrent of lament for its priceless remnants of history. Situated in an oasis 150 miles northeast of Damascus, Palmyra is home to one of the most important historical sites in the Middle East. It was a center of trade in ancient times and boasts well-preserved ruins dating back to the first century. Its art and architecture bear the influences of the many civilizations that once passed through its gates.

Now ISIS is threatening to destroy these historic remains — just as when it bulldozed the ancient city of Nimrud in northern Iraq in March. Yet the smugglers point out another key part of the unfolding cultural tragedy: Much of Palmyra’s wealth of heritage will also be for sale. “ISIS took Palmyra for reasons of economy,” said a 34-year-old Syrian who has been smuggling the country’s antiquities into Turkey since early in the war. “I’m sure they will sell the artifacts.”


But ISIS is also extremely savvy at lining its pockets — and Palmyra’s antiquities present an ideal chance. Smuggled antiquities are a key source of revenue for the group. “The going assumption is that they’re just going to be taking sledgehammers to everything,” said Jonathan Schanzer, an expert on terrorism finance at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. “But in all likelihood they have people standing on the sidelines ready to ship this stuff out.”

He added: “Their propaganda videos will show the destruction. But we know they’re using this stuff to enrich themselves.”


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