Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Illicit antiquities trade: source, transit, market, mafia

In this and the next of two twinned posts, I don't want to focus upon the illicit trade in Cypriot antiquities, but on the trafficking of illicit antiquities through Cyprus. In this post, I'll describe the situation in the antiquities' source countries, the antiquities' transit routes to the market and the market's role in the illicit antiquities trade. In the next post, I'll more fully explore the roles of Turkey and Cyprus in the illicit antiquities trade and the effects of the trafficking of illicit antiquities through Cyprus upon Cyprus.

[Note: * indicates dead link; see end for live links.]


At the lower and middle levels, the illicit antiquities trade consists of individual businessmen and connoisseurs; frequently, wealthy and powerful political and religious authority figures deal or collect antiquities and there are even cases of people in positions of power using the police to confiscate looted artefacts only to sell them themselves (Art Newspaper, 1997: 2).

They are supplied by locals, who loot to supplement their low incomes, or merely to subsist. One Lebanese antiquities dealer described his artefact diggers quite simply: '[t]hey are poor and they need the money'. Konstantinos Politis (1994: 15) observed that 'archaeologists... had difficulty in condemning the villagers of Safi [in Jordan] for robbing ancient sites in a desperate effort to feed their families'.

The trade is driven by demand, but Politis (2001: 267) believed that the supply from Jordan, at least, could be stemmed 'by educating and informing local governments, as well as poor villagers, that caring for and developing their archaeological sites as cultural resources for tourism can provide them with a long-term viable future, unlike tomb robbing which meanwhile continues to provide a new, though finite, supply of antiquities for the international art market'.

In some places, however, at the higher levels, the illicit antiquities trade funds war, oppression and terrorism directly, through its own profits, and indirectly, through its facilitation of drug smuggling and its laundering of money from drug smuggling, gun running and people trafficking.

Looting and smuggling are run by paramilitaries, militias and extremists*, allied with elements within states' bureaucracy and military, and it will not be stopped by rescuing the looters from poverty, because the paramilitaries' and extremist groups' illicit activities require illicit funding. They cannot practically or morally be provided with an economic alternative and they will continue to supply the antiquities market as long as there is a demand.


To illustrate the situation where the antiquities are looted from and smuggled out of, I'm going to use two of the illicit antiquities trade's most valuable source countries, Iraq and Afghanistan.


Then Iraqi National Museum Director Donny George Youkhana (who fled Iraq with his family after death threats) said that '[r]ich people are buying stolen material.... Money is going to Iraq, and they are buying weapons and ammunition.... This money is going to the terrorists'.

Elsewhere, Donny George revealed that '[Sayid Muqtada] al-Sadr's party [the Shi'ite Sadrist Movement] was heard to tell worshippers that looting artifacts is ethical so long as the money goes for guns or building mosques'. Iraq's police are outgunned when they try to prevent looting, its customs agents murdered when they try to prevent smuggling.

Legal loopholes enable the "owners" of the looted artefacts to smuggle them into market countries and sell them (although U.S. import restrictions may at least limit dealers' access to that market and there are calls for a global ban on the sale of illicit Iraqi antiquities). Moreover, foreign archaeologists are making matters worse, by providing authentications (of origins, dates, etc.) for the smuggled artefacts, making them easier to sell and worth more money.

U.S. investigator Colonel Matthew Bogdanos had already explained that 'as we pursue leads specific to the trail of terrorists, we find antiquities', but recently reiterated that the Iraqi illicit antiquities trade funded extremists*, that 'the link between extremist groups and antiquities smuggling in Iraq was "undeniable"':
"The Taliban are using opium to finance their activities in Afghanistan.... Well, they don't have opium in Iraq," he said. "What they have is an almost limitless supply of... antiquities. And so they're using antiquities."
Bogdanos went on to relate that, '[a]ccording to my sources, (Lebanese) Hezbollah is now taxing antiquities.... [From late 2004 onwards] we saw the use of antiquities in funding initially the Sunnis and al-Qaida in Iraq, and now the Shiite militias'*; even a few of the impressive Italian Carabinieri have been involved in cross-border antiquities smuggling.


They do have antiquities as well as opium in emerging narco state Afghanistan - and some have claimed that the Afghan illicit antiquities trade, [supposedly, but realistically not] worth tens of billions of dollars a year, may in fact be worth more than the opium trade. (So, in Iraq, the illicit antiquities trade may be both more valuable as a business and, because there is no additional opium trade, more important as a form of income.)

In Afghanistan, commanders have been paying archaeologists to direct locals in looting.
According to UNESCO, the looting started under the mujahidin after 1992, but had increased "1,000-fold" when the Taliban took control of the country. With no strong central authority, local commanders were looking for means to buy arms and munitions and turned to either the drugs or antiquities trade to fund their fighting.
At the time, Society for the Protection of the Minaret of Jam Chairman Gül Αğa Karimi 'believe[d] that the area [wa]s too dangerous for archaeologists, even with security guards'.

While the Taliban have lost control of Afghanistan, the warlords'/commanders' networks have kept control of its antiquities trade. Neil Brodie observed the 'paradox that when public order breaks down then looting becomes more organised and, in the presence of well armed soldiers, more destructive. The money gained goes to replenish depleted warchests'.


Like Col. Bogdanos in Iraq*, in Afghanistan, Dr. Neil Brodie found that 'some of the proceeds from looting are used to keep armed militias in the field, or to launder drug money'. 'Nine out of 10 artifacts that come out of the Middle East are controlled by Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad', estimated 'coin collector and self-proclaimed art investigator' Arthur Brand.(1) Indeed, 9/11 bomber Mohammed Atta traded 'ancient Afghan art [antike afghanische Kunst]' in Germany to help fund the World Trade Center attacks.

Again and again, we see these alliances between groups within states' bureaucracy, military and paramilitaries and religious, nationalist and religious nationalist extremists: sometimes, the connections are weak and we can only confidently talk of each of them cooperating with drugs-and-antiquities smuggling mafia, as in Russia; sometimes, the alliances are so strong that the extremists are the mafia, as in Afghanistan, or even deep state special forces, as in Turkey (and so northern Cyprus).

Antiquities smuggling is necessarily a secretive business, all the more so at the higher levels, where the smugglers are paramilitaries, militias and extremists, so finding out who is smuggling what, where and how is obviously very difficult. The antiquities trade, however, is tied to the drugs trade, so if we can identify the drug traffickers and follow them, we can identify the antiquities' routes and the antiquities trade's contribution to war, oppression and terrorism.

Drugs and antiquities

Antonius Tijhuis (2006: 140) dismissed the cases of drugs-and-antiquities smuggling commonly alleged to prove the connection between the two, suggesting that, 'these are not mere examples, but rather a summary of almost all known examples, because other credible cases can hardly be found in the literature or media reports'.

Although he noted that the UK Ministerial Advisory Panel on the Illicit Trade in Cultural Objects (2000: 13) regarded the evidence of links between the illicit antiquities trade and 'other illegal activities' in 'some instances' (sometimes 'very frequently') as 'inevitably anecdotal, [but]... persuasive', Tijhuis (2006: 141) himself judged that, 'any systematic connection has neither any proven empirical nor theoretical basis'.

That may normally be the case, but the Republic of Cyprus Department of Antiquities' information on and others' research into stolen art affirm that, in Cyprus, there is both an occasional connection with the drugs trade at the lower levels and a systematic connection with it at the higher levels of the illicit antiquities trade; the same is true for Turkey.

At the lower levels, for example, in 2004, the Greek Cypriot police's drug squad (YKAN) searched the house of Antonis Demetriou, the brother of the Bishop of Paphos, for drugs, but found antiquities; in 2008, they searched two cars for drugs, but again found antiquities, that time arresting three men (including one theologian from Paphos).

At the higher levels, Nevzat Telli smuggled antiquities and heroin on his own and also smuggled antiquities from Turkey with his Mafioso brother "Blind Edip" Telli and art and antiquities gallery owner Fuat Üzülmez, presumably laundering his drug money in both businesses. Honorifically called the 'official archaeologist' of the Turkish Army in northern Cyprus, Aydın Dikmen is (in)famous for stealing the Kanakaria Mosaics from northern Cyprus, but he was also a drug smuggler.

Trade routes and runners

The Global Drugs Monitor (l'Observatoire Géopolitique des Drogues (OGD)) found that 'polydrug trafficking also integrates other products which these same smugglers do not hesitate to transport to markets where demand is strong' - and demand for Afghan, Iraqi and Turkish (and, indeed, Cypriot) antiquities is strong.(2)

The main route for heroin for western Europe (and, because that is where the market is, presumably also for antiquities) is the Balkan Route, which is in fact three, the central one running from Turkey, through Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia to western Europe, the southern and northern ones established to bypass then Yugoslavia during the 1990s wars.

The southern route goes via Turkey, Greece, Albania and Italy, while the northern one goes via Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania (though it could bypass Turkey via the Black Sea). It is through these three that the Turkish deep state's criminal networks have made themselves 'key' in Europe's heroin supply chain.

Heroin's Silk Route avoids Turkey and the Balkans, instead running from Afghanistan through the Central Asian republics into Russia, the Baltic States and thence to eastern, central and finally western Europe. The PKK is a 'major participant' in the Silk Route from Afghanistan (and Iran and Pakistan).

The PKK receives Russian support and acquires Russian weapons through the Russian mafia (and may have been used by Russia in Chechnya); the vast majority of the European heroin trade is controlled by either Kosovo Albanian or Turkish or Kurdish gangs and the PKK's Silk Route is only viable because the Russian military is involved.

Thus, we can safely assume that the Russian mafia works with the Kurdish mafia (rather than the Turkish and Kosovo Albanian extremists it fights against in Chechnya). Since the Russian mafia also smuggles Afghan antiquities into Europe, it is reasonable to assume that those antiquities follow the heroin into and through the PKK's European network.

[Additional information inserted on the 23rd of May 2008.]

The primary route through Azerbaijan had used opium smuggled from Afghanistan through southern Kyrgyzstan and processed by the Sumgait Azeri mafia, then smuggled into Turkey by the Azeri Grey Wolves and into Europe by the Turkish Grey Wolves.

In 1995, however, there was an abortive coup against Azeri President Haydar Aliyev by the Sumgait-based Azeri Minister of the Interior Rovchnan Javadov's clan and his Special Destination Police Group (Otriady Militsyy Osobogo Naznacheniya (OMON)) - or Special Purpose Police Detachment (Otryad Politsi Osobogo Naznacheniya (OPON)).

Javadov's Sumgait-based clan was allied with 'an uncontrollable right-wing group' encompassing MİT agent Ertuğrul Güven, Turkish Economic Development Agency (Türk İşbirliği ve Kalkınma Ajansı (TİKA)) official Ferman Demirkol and Turkish ambassador to Azerbaijan Altan Karamanoğlu, but, forewarned by Turkish President Süleyman Demirel, Haydar Aliyev managed to suppress the coup.

With their Sumgait friends defeated, the Turkish Grey Wolves' Abdullah Çatlı established another route, using opium smuggled and processed by the Nakhichevan-based Aliyev clan; both routes supplied markets in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. (There are also 'Armenian syndicates allied with the nationalist Dachnak Party...; Ossetian and Abkhazian separatists in Georgia; and Chechen nationalists to the north [in Russia]'.)

[Original post continued.]

The nature of the business means that different observers have different perceptions of which of the Turkish mafia and KLA-ally-dominated Balkan Route and the Russian mafia and PKK-ally-dominated Silk Route supplies more of Europe's heroin, and this is made even more difficult by evidence of collaboration between the PKK and the KLA. Regardless, these are the high-level drug runners and antiquities smugglers and their routes.

We know that looting in and smuggling out of these source countries is largely controlled by Afghan militias, Iraqi al-Qaida, Lebanese Hezbollah* and Islamic Jihad; we can presume that all of those organisations' local groups smuggle antiquities to and sell them in the market countries (like al-Qaida's Mohammed Atta did in Germany).

We also know that they have allies in Turkish Hizbullah and Turkish al-Qaeda and friends of friends in the Grey Wolves, the KLA and the PKK and that it is their friends in the Grey Wolves, the KLA and the PKK who dominate the European end of the heroin trade; so, presumably, it is they, too, who take over a lot of the higher-level antiquities smuggling within Europe.


The role of the market can be established by identifying the roles of two of the trade's richest transit-and-market countries, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

Transit-and-market countries and international law

In Ricardo Elia's (1993: 69) oft-quoted words, 'collectors are the real looters'. Neil Brodie observed that,
Museums set a moral tone. While they continue to purchase and collect material which might be illicit they condone the market, and as museums are often the final repositories of private collections, they also underwrite the market [PDF].
Both investigator Matthew Bogdanos* and former dealer Michel van Rijn pinpointed Beirut in Lebanon and Geneva* and Zürich in Switzerland as central nodes in smuggling networks, which, frequently, funded organised crime and terrorism. One antiquities dealer explained the Lebanese trade: 'We almost always use Cyprus.... We send almost everything by sea. You can't take a marble tomb through Beirut airport. Once the stuff reaches Cyprus, the Lebanese government can't touch it'; both dealers and 'powerless' officials admitted that smuggling is 'usually [done] with the connivance of Lebanese [Christian] militias'.

The primary transit-and-market countries 'laundering' illicit antiquities and receiving the stolen goods, thus ultimately funding the entire process are the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Switzerland; moreover, because they provide tax deductions for donations of private objects to state collections, the states themselves subsidise and underwrite the market with public money.

David Gill had commented that '[g]ood title is a meaningless expression when it comes to antiquities, especially those which have passed through Switzerland' (where, until recently, legal title had been granted to any art that had been held in the country for five years).

Morag Kersel and Christina Luke hoped the illicit antiquities market would change with key transit-and-market countries Switzerland and the United Kingdom's adoption of UNESCO's (1970) Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

Still, Derek Fincham deemed UNESCO's Convention 'largely symbolic'; if it cannot be proved both where the material was found and that it was found after 1970 - particularly difficult with undocumented, looted archaeological artefacts - the Convention is useless.

UNIDROIT's (1995) Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects removes the time limits on which objects can be protected, but requires the source country to compensate good faith purchasers of illicit antiquities - to buy their own property back from those who received the stolen goods - and the source countries are normally poor countries, unable to do that.

It had been hoped that the United Kingdom's Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act and Switzerland's Federal Act on the International Transfer of Cultural Property would have been more effective, but Simon MacKenzie and Penny Green found the new British law, at least, 'ineffective in achieving any substantial effect on the trade'.

Turkey and Cyprus

I will go on to explore the illicit antiquities trade through Cyprus within the criminal and political economy; but since the mess of activities, allies and enemies may be difficult to understand, I will set out the underlying structure of the problem here, then reiterate and detail it in the post on the illicit antiquities trade through Cyprus.

In Turkey and northern Cyprus, Turkish politicians, government agents, police and militias, militaries, security organizations, ultranationalist terrorists, nationalist, racist or right-wing extremist groups and heroin traffickers (who also smuggle NATO military equipment), all collaborate (and sometimes compete) as a deep state, laundering their money through primarily northern Cypriot banks and casinos (where al Qaeda, too, base their offshore money laundering).(3)

Like the Turkish Deep State, there is evidently an 'informal anti-democratic coalition' of 'Deep Kurds' and both structures benefit from and try to maintain and escalate the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, but Greece and Greek Cypriot southern Cyprus do not appear to have similar large, organised and powerful para-states and there is no convincing evidence of their smaller networks' involvement in the drugs-and-antiquities trade.(4)

Rather, with PLO/Islamic Jihad long present, with Hezbollah smuggling cell members and weapons (and possibly, with the PKK, cigarettes) through southern Cyprus and Hizballah, Islamic Jihad and the PKK smuggling heroin, as well as the Tamil Tigers trafficking arms, with Greek and Greek Cypriot networks' cooperation with Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milošević and collaboration with the PKK, Greece and southern Cyprus seem to be places where other people do things. Even the Turkish deep state-controlled heroin trade has routes where Turkish Cypriot drug traffickers smuggle heroin through southern Cyprus into Europe.

[Live links to replacements for http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/03/18/arts/Iraq-Insurgents-Antiquities.php (marked with *): Ashland Daily Tidings; and Kathimerini.]
  1. A member of the coin collecting community, Reid Goldsborough ("Reidgold"), has commented (generally), that, 'people like Arthur Brand and Alan Van Arsdale aren't believed and are regarded as they are because they make extraordinary claims while providing proof that ranges from paltry to nonexistent to schizoid'.

    Still, a coin authenticator, Robert Matthews, has said that, '[h]e often makes allegation[s] that he cannot or will not back-up with solid proof.... but some of the items he brings to light cannot be ignored'. In this case, it is plausible that 90% of the trade is controlled by Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad (other organisations like them).
  2. All sizes of artefacts are smuggled by all means of transport, as "handicrafts" in cargo: the mimbar doors of Aydınoğlu Mehmet Bey Mosque (Ulu Camii) in Birgi in Turkey were transported as cargo on flights from Istanbul through Sofia to London.
  3. The militias comprise the Provisional Village Guards (Geçiçi Köy Korucuları (GKK)), while the militaries consist of the Turkish Armed Forces (Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri (TSK)), the Turkish Cypriot Peace Forces (Kıbrıs Türk Barış Kuvvetleri (KTBK)) - the Turkish Armed Forces in Cyprus - and the Turkish Cypriot Security Forces (Kıbrıs Türk Güvenlik Kuvvetleri Komutanlığı (GKK)).

    Security organizations include the National Intelligence Organisation (Millî İstihbarat Teşkilâtı (MİT)), the Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism Team (Jandarma İstihbarat ve Terörle Mücadele Timi (JİTEM)) (the existence of which retired General Veli Küçük has confirmed) and Special Warfare Units (Özel Harp Birlikleri), also known as Special Teams (Özel Timler), Special Action Teams (Özel Hareket Timleri) or Special Forces (Özel Kuvvetleri).

    The ultranationalist terrorists are the Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP)) youth wing - the Idealist Hearths (Ülkü Ocakları (ÜO)) activists - and the secularist Grey Wolves (Bozkurtlar) and their Islamist splinter group Universal Order (Nizamı Alem; Turkish Hezbollah and Turkish al Qaeda are less well-connected, but are connected nonetheless.

    There are many nationalist, racist or otherwise right-wing extremist groups, like the Kemalist Atatürk Thought Association (Atatürk Düşünce Derneği (ADD)), the Turkish Cypriot Peace Forces Fighters' Association (Kıbrıs Türk Barış Kuvvetleri Mücahitler Derneği (KTBKMD)), the Turkish Resistance Organisation Association (Türk Mukavemet Teşkilatı Derneği (TMT.D./TMTD)) and the TRNC Protection and Preservation Association (KKTC'yi Koruma ve Yaşatma Derneği (KKTCKYD/KYD)).
  4. While tens of thousands vote for the ultranationalist Front Line (Proti Grammi [Πρότη Γράμμη]) and Greek Front (Elliniko Metopo [Ελληνικό Μέτωπο]) and hundreds of thousands vote for the ultranationalist Popular Orthodox Rally/People's Orthodox Alarm (Laikos Orthodoxos Synagermos (LA.O.S. [LAOS]) [Λαϊκός Ορθόδοξος Συναγερμός (ΛΑ.Ο.Σ. [ΛΑΟΣ])]), the largest Hellenist neo-Nazi group, Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi [Χρύση Αύγη]), currently has about 300 active members in Greece and a branch or core group of about 28 in Cyprus.

    The acting Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Çiller-funded* neo-Nazi Grey Wolves/Idealist Hearths, however, were able to export about 3,000 activists to northern Cyprus just for the confrontation in which they killed Greek Cypriot nationalist Tassos Isaac, after the Greek Cypriot police enabled him and other motorcycle hooligans funded by Glafcos Clerides' Greek Cypriot administration and the Orthodox Church of Cyprus to violate the ceasefire lines and the United Nations Buffer Zone.

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