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Why Gaziantep Became Hub for Smugglers Selling Historical Syrian Artifacts

© Sputnik / Mikhail Voskresensky  / Go to the mediabankHistoric site in Palmyra destroyed in military operations
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The city of Gaziantep, located in the south of Turkey, is the largest trade center of objects of cultural heritage that were stolen by Daesh from Syria. This was announced by the Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, in a letter to the Security Council.

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According to Churkin, there are about a hundred thousand cultural artifacts of global importance under Daesh control. That also includes archeological sites, nine of which are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Profit from the illegal trade of these antiques is estimated at $ 150-200 million a year. Information about the active participation of Gaziantep in the smuggling of antiques from Syria had already been published in the press earlier.

Archaeologist and lecturer at the University of Gaziantep, Eyup Ay, spoke to Sputnik in an interview explaining why the Turkish city of Gaziantep has become the center of trade and marketing of archaeological artifacts and antiques that were looted and illegally exported by Daesh terrorists.

“In the city there is a well-established smuggling network, which includes the bureaucrats at various levels, representatives of power structures, entrepreneurs and merchants,” Eyup said.

The laws on anti-smuggling have not been observed, the Turkish-Syrian border is not controlled and as a result the smuggling of historical artifacts is being carried out through Turkey.

“In Gaziantep there are elements that contribute to the large-scale smuggling of antiquities. Firstly, in the city, of course, there is a wealthy section of the population with a highly developed tradition of collecting and keeping private museums. Accordingly, it contributes to the illegal trade of material values and historical artifacts,” the archaeologist further said.

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He noted that sadly in the past Gaziantep Museum and other museums hired employees with a criminal past behind them- in particular, those that were engaged in smuggling.

“Thirdly we should not forget about the power structure of the police, gendarmerie, which here, as well as throughout Turkey, one way or another are related to smuggling activities. These three factors in combination provide an understanding of why Gaziantep is such an attractive place for smugglers selling historical artifacts.”

Talking about whether any measures were taken by the state to combat the illicit trade in antiquities, Eyüp Ai, who serves as an expert on legal claims related to the theft of the objects of cultural heritage, said that despite their efforts and reports regarding the situation in the area, there has not been any tangible effect.

“The laws are not respected and that concerns not only the antiques. Over the last year or two through the Turkish border the large scale smuggling of people, vehicles, weapons and other items, not to mention the cross-border terrorists has been going on. The situation on the border was and still is so uncontrollable that from Syria to Turkey one can bring anything one wants.”

Stressing as to why it is particularly Gaziantep that has become the main smuggling point, the archaeologist said that that is because there is an already well-established infrastructure, with bureaucrats at various levels and representatives of security agencies such as businessmen and traders all involved deeply in the illegal business.

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