Showing posts with label U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield. Show all posts
Showing posts with label U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield. Show all posts

April 20, 2016

Highlights from the US Hearing Entitled “Preventing Cultural Genocide: Countering the Plunder and Sale of Priceless Cultural Antiquities by ISIS”

On April 19, 2016 the US House Financial Services Committee Task Force on Terrorism Financing held a one panel, two hour and fifteen minute long hearing entitled “Preventing Cultural Genocide: Countering the Plunder and Sale of Priceless Cultural Antiquities by ISIS” in the Rayburn House Office Building.

A 16 page introductory memorandum and witness biography can be found on the US House of Representatives Financial Services website here. 

During this hearing, testimony was given by: (in alphabetical, not speaking order)

• Dr. Amr Al-Azm, PhD, Associate Professor, Shawnee State University
• Mr. Robert M. Edsel, Chairman of the Board, Monuments Men Foundation
• Mr. Yaya J. Fanusie, Director of Analysis, Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance,
Foundation for Defense of Democracies
• Dr. Patty Gerstenblith, PhD, Distinguished Professor, DePaul University College of
Law
• Mr. Lawrence Shindell, Chairman, ARIS Title Insurance Corporation

A video recording of the entire hearing can be viewed below.



During the hearing witnesses described the unabated and systematic process of cultural heritage destruction in Iraq and Syria and antiquities looting in the region which has grown steadily given the regions' instability.  

Secretary of U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, Patty Gerstenblith, speaking in a personal capacity and for the Blue Shield organisation she represents, testified before the Financial Services Committee’s Task Force saying, in part

“Unfortunately the looting of archaeological sites is big business, often carried out on an organised industrialised scale and in response to market demand.  And many of these sites are unknown before they are looted.  

As cultural objects move from source, transit and destination countries different legal systems create obstacles to interdiction of objects and prosecution of crimes and they allow the laundering of title to these artefacts.  

The United States is the single largest market for art in the world, with forty-three percent of market share.  Because of the availability of the charitable tax deduction, the ability to import works of art and artefacts without payment of tariffs and because of artistic preference, the United States is the largest ultimate market for antiquities, particularly those from the Mediterranean and the Middle East."

A transcript of Dr. Gerstenblith's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

Key imagery from Dr. Amr Al-Azm's testimony can be viewed here.

A transcript of Mr. Robert Edsel's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

A transcript of Mr. Yaya Fanusie's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

A transcript of Dr. Lawrence Shindell's testimony can be read in its entirety here.


While key takeaways from this hearing conversations are distilled here ARCA strongly encourages its blog readership to take the time to listen to the entire hearing and examine the legal instruments evidence Dr. Gerstenblith underscores as being necessary.  

She reminds us that looting of archaeological sites imposes incalculable costs on society by destroying the original contexts of archaeological artifacts thereby impairing our ability to reconstruct and understand the historical record.  Her testimony reminds us that looters loot because they are motivated by profit and that the looting and illicit trafficking phenomenon we are seeing in Iraq, Syria and Libya are responses to the basic economic principle of supply and demand.   

The statements of all of the speakers remind us that while the market in antiquities has existed for centuries, its role in facilitating criminal enterprise on the scale that we are seeing in the Middle East is a terrifying one.  

Maamoun Abdelkarim of Syria’s DGAM inspecting the condition of delivered
artefacts transported from various parts of Syria to Damascus on Sept. 21, 2015.

Antiquities collectors must be educated to understand that the purchase of objects emerging on the open market without legitimate collection histories (i.e. provenance) are the likely product of conflict-based looting of archaeological sites, and contribute significantly to the destruction of the world's cultural heritage.  Buyers need to be made to realise that their buying power and their, until now, unharnessed demand for archaeological material, absent transparent ethical acquisition documentation, incentivises those facing economic hardship to participate in, or tacitly condone,  the looting that we are observing in countries of conflict.  

If collectors in market nations such as the United States and London refuse to buy undocumented artifacts, then the incentives for looting historic sites, which by proxy funds criminal enterprise and terrorism, diminish. 

Armed conflicts have long been called the “perfect storm” within which large-scale looting can take place, but not without collectors willing to look the other way. 

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO


September 22, 2014

Smithsonian Institution and U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield Meeting at the Hirshhorn Museum: the 60th Anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention Celebrated with a Meeting of Great Minds and Efforts

Harry Ettlinger speaking at the Hirschhorn
by Kirsten Hower, Social Networking Correspondent and List-Serve Manager

Keynote speaker Harry Ettlinger, World War II veteran and former Monuments Men, opened Friday's SI/USCBS meeting with an inspiring keynote speech: “For the first time in the history of human civilization, instead of taking art that did not belong to us, we gave it back to its rightful owners.”

The annual meeting of the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, held at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C, recognized the 60th Anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The timing was equally appropriate as the day before marked the fifth anniversary of the United States' ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention. 

Ettlinger, who made the audience both laugh and cry as he recounted stories of his life and time as a Monuments Man, was joined by many other great men and women who reported on the current state of efforts being made to protect and preserve the world's cultural heritage.

After a much earned standing ovation, Ettlinger yielded the podium to Major Thomas (Tommy) Livoti who spoke on behalf of Brigadier General Hugh Van Roosen about the beginnings of the formation of the 21st century "Monuments Men." Though only in it's infancy, this program will seek to recruit cultural heritage professionals "under the guise of a military initiative" to protect the world's heritage that is threatened by armed conflict.

The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding
by Dr. Nancy Wilkie and Dr. Richard Kurin
The first half of the meeting was rounded off by quick speeches by Dr. Patty Gerstenblith and Dr. Laurie Rush, both board members of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield. Gerstenblith, of DePaul University, spoke about what has happened in the 60 years since the 1954 Hague Convention, both the successes and the challenges still to be faced. Rush, who works as an Army civilian for Cultural Resources at Fort Drum, NY, spoke briefly about the annual meeting of the Combatant Command Heritage Action Group who had met the day before. Their report, which Rush quickly summarized, will soon be available at www.cchag.org.

The second half of the meeting was started by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, who gave a stirring speech about the horrors of cultural destruction that we are witnessing in the world and the efforts being made to bring them to a halt: “We are trying, ladies and gentlemen, to give a concrete reaction to extremist actions…[that the destruction of people and cultural heritage] are crimes against humanity.... Attacks against culture are attacks against people, their identity, their history, and their future.” Bokova ended on a serious but somewhat optimistic note that while the art market is in dire need of more education on the challenges facing cultural heritage during this time, a new consciousness is emerging that could help in the efforts to stem this wanton destruction.

Following Bokova’s speech was a panel of sobering reports from Dr. Brian Daniels, Dr. Salam Al Kuntar, Dr. Susan Wolfinbarger, Dr. Katharyn Hanson, Corine Wegener, Dr. Sarah Parcak, and Dr. Amr Al Azm. Each presenter spoke about the multiple projects that they are part of that are attempting to document and prevent destruction of cultural heritage.

Wolfinbarger (AAAS) and Hanson (U. Penn Cultural Heritage Center) spoke about the ongoing turmoil in places such as Syria, Iraq, and the Thai/Cambodian border, as well as the documented satellite imagery that follows the turmoil.

Parcak (University of Alabama) spoke about “Protecting the Past from Space,” how cultural heritage experts can better track the motions of looting of archaeological sites using satellite imagery and technology.

Kuntar (U. Penn) and Wegener (Smithsonian) spoke about the amazing efforts of locals in conflict areas that are doing everything in their power to preserve cultural heritage sites and objects. Both Kuntar and Wegener have been involved in efforts to educate and supply locals with the best means to continue their preservation efforts.

Amr Al Azm (Shawnee State University) spoke about the cultural heritage of Syria (a main focus for much of the panel) and how it must be preserved to act as a common ground for the Syrians once the conflict is resolved. He closed his speech with a poignant statement that while he and his colleagues are often called “modern day Monuments Men,” that he does not want to be referred to as such; the real “Monuments Men” are the the locals, the ones putting their lives on the line to protect their heritage.

Daniels (U.Penn Cultural Heritage Center) rounded off the panel discussing his work in educating locals in conflict areas about emergency preservation methods and his studies of heritage in conflict situations, which will be launching it’s new website in October (www.heritageinconflict.org). 

The meeting ended with two joyous events; the first being the awarding of the USCBS Award for Meritorious Military Service in Protection of Cultural Property to Brigadier General Erik C. Peterson, Commanding General, US Army Special Operations Aviation Command. His work at Fort Drum alongside Dr. Laurie Rush have been an example of the actions that can be taken to protect and preserve the world’s cultural heritage.

The final event of the evening was the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding by Dr. Richard Kurin (Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, Smithsonian Institution) and Dr. Nancy Wilkie (President, U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield). This memorandum creates a bond between the Smithsonian and the USCBS; that they will endeavor to support each other in the education of cultural heritage professionals as well as locals in conflict areas, and to provide the means with which to do this.

The meeting served as a reminder of the tragedies befalling cultural heritage sites and objects in areas of armed conflict, but also of the hope and initiative that so many are taking to protect these sites and these objects.