CATF Reports Dec. 8, 2016, 9:27am


Last week, Swiss officials confiscated nine cultural relics believed to have been stolen from Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra, Yemen and Libya. The artifacts include a sculpted head of Aphrodite from 1st century B.C. Libya, two funeral bas-reliefs from pre-3rd century Palmyra and five pieces from Yemen. The confiscation of the prized pieces follows UNESCO’s recent addition of five sites in Libya and two in Yemen to the organization’s List of World Heritage in Danger. Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site of immense cultural value, was devastated by ISIS before the city was recaptured in March 2016. The group destroyed, severely damaged, or sold (a poorly understood yet highly profitable ISIS practice) many of the city’s ancient temples and relics.

While the post-Arab Spring spread of instability in Syria, Yemen, and Libya may have created conditions favorable for the theft of the relics, the nine items seized by Swiss authorities are believed to have arrived in the country in 2009 and 2010 after traveling through Qatar. In Switzerland, the pieces were deposited in the Geneva Freeport which has come under criticism for offering, along with other free ports, a duty-free and highly secured warehouse which can serve as a safe house for thieves of relics and art. However, criminal proceedings were initiated after an April 2013 customs inspection raised red flags over the origins of the pieces and a Bern-based expert confirmed that the pieces were genuine. According to reports, the relics will be on public display in the Geneva Museum of Art and History before being returned to their countries of origin.

From The Washington Post:

“The relics had been placed in the Geneva Free Ports, a special duty-free zone for storage, in 2009 and 2010, before the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and the later emergence of the radical Islamic State group.

The prosecutor’s office said Friday that a customs check in 2013 raised suspicions that the relics had been stolen, prompting a look by cultural experts and later a criminal probe.

It says the Aphrodite head from Libya dates from before the 1st century B.C. and the bas-reliefs were from before the 3rd century in Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site later damaged by IS.”

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