MEMS Colloquium Lecture: Michael Danti – ISIS and Cultural Cleansing

MEMS Colloquium Lecture: Michael Danti – ISIS and Cultural Cleansing


– So I’m happy to welcome you today to the Dresher Humanities for Medieval and Early Modern Studies
Colloquium Lecture. We’re delighted to welcome
Doctor Michael Danti of ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives. He’s gonna speak to us on ISIS and Cultural Cleansing: Saving the Ancient and Medieval
Treasures of Syria and Iraq. It’s an honor for UMBC to have such a distinguished Professor Danti. First, I’d like to make
some other announcements. We’re in several… If you’d like to tweet during this event, please use the account @umbchumanities and hashtag. I was told to say this thing.
(audience laughing) hashtag humanities forum. I also want to invite you to attend the next Humanities Forum event, Wednesday, March 15 at 4 PM right… condition of Islam and
the rise of the West. Anouar Majid, director of the
Center for Global Humanities, vice president for Global
Affairs and Communications and professor of English at
the University of New England. In this lecture Professor
Majid extends the notion of Orientalism back to
the late Middle Ages and discusses the ways a Western worldview and crusading spirit forged Muslims and other non-Western
traditions into a defensive mode which continues to affect
our world order today. It would be a great talk and of interest to many of you here today. I encourage you to take
a look at other events in the Humanities Forum Series, either on the flyer we have available or at the Dresher Center website. For visitors from outside UMBC, please feel free to sign
up for the Dresher Center Humanities Forum email
list on the clipboard at the back of the room. I’d also like to make
some general comments and make some general notes of thanks to Dean Scott Casper for his generous support of MEMS and our lecture series, the Dresher Humanities Forum, and the co-sponsoring departments of Asian Studies, Political
Science, and Visual Arts. There are MEMS flyers at your seats. We encourage all students here
today who are undergraduates to register for the minor
as soon as possible. (audience laughing)
(laughs) If you have any questions about our minor, please feel free to contact me. We have a reception about 5:30. Please feel free to come
see me, or email me, visit the website and we’d be happy to answer any of your questions. So without further ado, David,
can you take it from here. – Yes, thank you very much. Well it’s a pleasure for me to introduce Doctor Michael Danti, to welcome him to the UMBC campus. Doctor Dante got his BA
from Purdue in Anthropology and his PhD from the
University of Pennsylvania, likewise, from the
Anthropology department, although he is an archeologist. He is currently the
academic director of ASOR, which is the American
Schools of Oriental Research for heritage initiatives. He also will be the
NEH Associate Professor of the Humanities in the
Department of Classics at Colgate University later this year. Doctor Danti is a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. He was elected in May 2011. One criterion of election
is to desire to promote the honor, business, and
emoluments of the society. (audience chuckling)
It’s a perfectly good 18th-century word. The society got its charter in 1751, so just around the time
of our Constitution. Doctor Danti has done
archeological research in Syria for over 20 years, in Iran, and also Iraq, and in the Kurdish part of Iraq. In recent years, however, and that’s why Doctor
Danti is visiting us today, he’s used his 20 years of
working and living in Syria to report on and to analyze
ISIL’s dual strategy of destroying the vestiges of Greco-Roman and Byzantine civilizations in Syria while also profiting from the illegal sale of portable cultural treasures. Doctor Danti is a regular in print, radio, and television media and
probably you’ve seen him and maybe don’t recall having
seen him on CNN or MSNBC. He’s written in the Washington Post. He has written reports for the State Department and Congress, particularly on the economic
benefits that terrorist organizations have gained
from cultural property crime. Doctor Danti is one of the
foremost voices for the preservation of the pre-Islamic
heritage of Syria and Iraq and join me in giving him a hand
as he presents his talk today: Isis and Cultural Cleansing: Saving the Ancient and Medieval
Treasures of Syria and Iraq. (audience clapping) – Thank you very much, David. I’ll move the mic down just here. Everyone can hear me, I assume now. So this is not what I want to (ascending tone) graduate school to do, obviously. I started off in Anthropology because I was in interested in
(ascending tone) the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia. I first went to Syria in 1991 thinking that I was going to be an Egyptologist. I was a surveyor and
I was asked to work on the excavation of an ancient
city in Syria as the surveyor. The city was founded in 3000 BC and was inhabited for 1200 years, which is sort of small, small
potatoes in Mesopotamia. But I really fell in love with Syria because the people were so kind. Living in a Syrian
countryside without a little running water and electricity was a little rough for a couple of decades. It was an unusual experience, but I decided to stick with Syria. I really loved it there over the years. I thought that that’s where I
would be spending my career. I worked in the city just
outside the city of Raqqah, between Raqqah and Aleppo which is now the center of the Islamic
States territories, so-called Islamic State or Daesh in northern Syria. But I was thought I would be spending my entire career there. I was investigating middle
huh-low-see-yan climate change in that early Bronze Age. Will I ever do that again in my career if I stay in
Mesopotamian Archeology the rest of my career? Will we have those
kinds of research agenda in Near Eastern Archeology? In 2010, I can say that I noticed
things were changing in Syria, to a certain extent. People were more willing
to talk about politics than they ever had been. We’d all become accustomed to
working under the Assad regime where one did not talk
about politics publicly. But by about 2008, 2009, people were willing to have
these types of conversations on our excavation or in the
coffee houses in Aleppo. Our staff was Sunni, Shia, Druze, Armenian, Kurd on our excavation. It was a mix of the cultural diversity that it is or was Syria at that time. We would have a lot of
lively debates about what was going on in the country or whether Bashar was going
to be like his father or not. I’ve worked for a long
time under Hafez al-Assad and we had high hopes at first that things were going to change, but they obviously did not. It was one of the first projects
that pulled out of Syria when the protest movement
was cracked down on and there was violence. I decided not to return to Syria in 2011. I received a letter from the Department of Antiquities in Damascus, as did many of my colleagues
in Europe and elsewhere, pleading with us to come back to show support for the regime, but I simply could not do that. I was out of active field
work for two years and then I headed a State Department program to revitalize the College of
Archeology at Mosul University, again, the northern part of Mesopotamia, an area that I was familiar with. I was very excited to be
doing capacity building and rehabilitation work in an
area that had really suffered. It’s the number one college or
was the number one college of Archeology in northern Iraq. I started the new excavation
in Iraq at Kurdistan, a region that had not had
an archeology of its own and actually had been
suppressed for a century. The Kurds didn’t have a
history essentially in Iraq, so I thought that this would be an interesting place to work. And then in 2014… (ascending tone)
Sorry the two microphones don’t like each other very much. In 2014, we were engage with in our
work with Mosul University in the city of Erbil. Erbil’s in the Iraqi-Kurdistan
portion of the country. I was sitting at dinner
with many professors from Mosul University
when their phones erupted. They received word that
a group calling itself, I don’t remember what they were calling themselves at that time, I mean I essentially
trust they were Al Qaeda in Iraq or AQI, had taken over large
portions of the city of Mosul and no one was surprised. They said, well, they finally taken off their masks and they’ve come out of hiding. They had been shaking down
people and extorting people for money for several years in the city of Mosul and they just eventually
conquered the city. And then, very quickly, we realized that we were
in an active combat zone because they very rapidly
expanded across northern Iraq to take more and more territory and then take a lot of territory in Syria. And then we had to cancel the
Mosul University Archeology program because the entire
faculty had to live as refugees in cities like Dohuk, and
Sulaymaniyah, and Kirkuk. They’re currently running the University in the Iraqi-Kurdistan
portion of the country. So I thought, “Well, now what do I do?” I continued my excavations
in Iraqi Kurdistan. When I received a phone
call in 2014 to implement this program for the State
Department to deal with the cultural heritage
situation in Syria and Iraq. At that time we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I agreed to head up this
program at a time when we were really focused on Syria and
the actions of Al Qaeda. But very quickly, on the
first month of the project, the Islamic State unleashed
a wave of cultural cleansing the likes of which we’ve
not seen since World War II, just deliberately destroying
cultural heritage sites and stealing everything they
could lay their hands on to sell for terrorist financing. We’ll talk about that today, specifically. But there’s not a day that goes
by over the last 30 months… I have a staff of about 50
people working on the project. A day has not gone by when we haven’t seen something destroyed or stolen. It’s a daily occurrence. Some days it’s five, six, or seven major incidents
of destruction or theft. So I’ll try to give you
some sense at first here, of the scale of all this. But my main point is it’s not the antiquities
that we are worried about, it’s the cultural
cleansing that concerns us. It’s the brutal manipulation
of cultural identity that’s going on in this
part of the world right now. It’s the erasure of cultural memory. It’s the idea that you’re either with us or you’re against us and we’re going to destroy your community. All vestiges of your identity are gone. That’s what the Islamic States and some of these other groups are doing. But as you’ll see, all of the major
belligerents in the conflict are engaged in cultural property crime. The story frequently in the
United States and Europe is that the Islamic State is
destroying this stuff. Everybody stealing things,
everybody’s destroying stuff. It’s just that Islamic State
is the major perpetrator and they are engaged in these
essentially in genocide-ing against many ethnic and
religious groups in the region. So it’s a new type of program, just to get past the State Department part of it at the beginning. What the State Department
did is they put out a grant proposal and the American Schools of
Oriental Research or ASOR, which is the oldest
professional school dedicated to the academic pursuit of
Near Eastern archeology, won this grant. That then brought the two
organizations together to form the project that I direct. For lack of a better way of describing it, it’s a monuments men and women project. It were more like the book than the movie, if you’re familiar with it.
(audience laughing) I’d like to think of myself as Clooney. (audience laughing) So what we do on a daily basis, you have three major
branches in the project. So we’re archeologists and
historians, art historians, lots of different specialties
that are working to provide monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding for the U.S. State Department,
the United Nations, UNESCO, all these other groups, governmental, intergovernmental groups. We produce weekly
reports that are redacted to remove sensitive information, but this information has been used by… It is my understanding
it’s been in a lot of important documents in this country. We promote global awareness. I do a lot of media prints
as we do a lot of lectures. But most importantly, we plan emergency and postwar responses. We’re actually taking actions
now to try to fix the damage, to try to recover the things
that are being stolen, and to counter some of the
radical ideology that’s evolving out of this situation. The way that we do this is we gather human-source information. We don’t have to try to do this. A lot of our colleagues
on the project are Iraqis and Syrian archeologists. There are other types of scholars. So we talk to the people
that we’ve known for decades. We can pick up the phone
and call people in Mosul and find out what’s going on. Usually they’re calling us to
let us know what’s happening because they want this
information to get out. Their biggest fear is that the
people in the outside world won’t know what these groups are doing. So that part of the project has been like pulling the ocean back with a broom in terms of the information
that’s flowing out to us. These people risk their lives
to get us this information, so we’re very careful with that. We also have a team
that scours the Internet for things like Islamic
State, or Jabhat al-Nusra, or whatever they’re
calling themselves now. Social media. These groups advertise the
things that they’re doing. They use it as propaganda. So we have teams that look
through their social media or collect other news stories
coming out of the region on a daily basis and we compare that with the human source information
to try to verify or authenticate the accounts
that we’re getting. And then we have a team that
works on satellite imagery. Archeologists for
several decades have used satellite imagery for their research. Archaeologists know the landscape. We know the landscapes of
the Middle East intimately and we are very good at
identifying new features. So we do a lot of comparisons
of satellite imagery, pre-conflict, conflict imagery, to look for archeological looting or to verify the destruction
of cultural sites like churches or mosques or shrines. A lot of that is an obvious signature. We look at airstrike damage. We look at where refugee
communities have sprung up on archeological sites. So these three sources of
information when they’re combined are very powerful for providing
really accurate and timely information for policymakers, for people in the conflict zone, or trying to do something
about all of this damage. Now what I’m gonna do now
is I’m gonna talk about the situation in Iraq, compare it with the situation in Syria, and then give you some of the happier news about what the project’s been doing in the conflict zone to
address all this destruction. So you have the Mediterranean
over here to our left and you have Syria, Euphrates River snaking its
way down to the Persian Gulf. I don’t know where it says Mosul. That’s the Tigris River. Euphrates and Tigris River,
you have essentially there. Between Maragheh and Mosul, that’s the so-called Islamic State. That’s also Mesopotamia. Then you have the region
of Syria, Lebanon, Israel. Jordan here, that’s the Shah-mee-ya. The area that is west of
Mesopotamia or Al Jazeera, the area between the two rivers. So in our first year we documented 732 major heritage incidents. That’s a minimum number of
incidents and it’s unprecedented since the Second World War and one year to have this many major cultural heritage incidents. In many cases, the numbers don’t do it justice. We’re talking about the complete destruction of a cultural site, not just its damage. It’s gone. And in some cases not only is it gone, but all vestiges of it
have been bulldozed away and taken away and trucks. In a lot of cases it’s cultural cleansing. So that was staggering for us
as we implemented the project. We had to really hit the ground
running, as you can imagine. So, the magnitude, frequency
and spatial extent of this, unfortunately has steadily increased. I thought after the first
year that this would abate, that this would start to slow down. Boy, was I wrong. The entry of particularly
of Russia into the conflict and the flow of arms coming
in from all over the world, especially Iran, has made this essentially the
worst cultural heritage crisis since World War II. I just want to kind of give you some idea what we do with this information. I don’t expect everyone to digest this, but the things we do, we database all this on a daily basis. We’re keeping running sort of
tab on all of the destruction, trying to grab all of this
information and archive it for future prosecutions and to write histories of what’s happened. So you can see these
are the different causes of cultural heritage
damage in the conflict zone and the worst is intentional
destruction of heritage places. In terms of our typology, we’ve placed it under military activity, but this is Islamic State and other groups intentionally targeting and
destroying the cultural site. Now most groups in the
conflict have been guilty of intentional destruction. You could say that the
Assad regime has done this when they have helicopters
hovering over a mosque and they kick a 55-gallon oil drum, pull a TNT out of it that
smashes through the roof of the mosque during Friday prayers. That’s a fairly intentional
distraction of a mosque. You’re not going to miss and you know what you’re dropping it on. But again, there’s a little bit of
latitude in this definition, but Islamic State, Al Qaeda,
and some other groups, particularly Salafist groups, have been intentionally destroying sites that they believe are shirk or bidaya, things that are inappropriate to their belief system, their particular interpretation of Islam. The second major cause of destruction has been military explosives, where things are hit secondarily. It’s an unfortunate circumstance,
but it’s been destroyed. Again, sometimes it’s a little hard
to distinguish between those, but if you look at number three, it’s illegal excavations
of archeological sites. So you have all of this
damage from warfare and cultural cleansing and then people out on the countryside
living in towns and villages are going out and they are looting the archeological sites nearby. In every family, every
village, every town, there’s a story about
somebody’s great-grandfather, great-grandmother, who is digging an irrigation channel or working in a field somewhere and they found a jar with coins in it or they found some gold somewhere. So there’s a lot of
digging out of desperation to try to feed the family by
heating oil for the winter, these types of things. Criminal organizations like
Islamic State have come in and they are exploiting that. They pay these people a
few dollars for antiquities that they then sell on
for a lot more money. By the time something goes
for five dollars in Syria, makes its way to Switzerland
and the United States, it’s selling for five or $600. So essentially, Syrians and Iraqis are selling
away their cultural heritage to support themselves. It’s really predatory. Then the middleman, organized crime and
terrorist organizations, are making millions
and millions of dollars and this is proliferating the conflict. I’ll show you some satellite
imagery of this here in a bit. The idea of what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to crack down on all of these different types of destruction. Now in terms of the types of
sites that are being targeted, if you were to watch the news, in 2014 and 2015 particularly, you would’ve thought that all
of the Islamic State was doing was destroying ancient
archeological sites, if you’re watching the news in England or let’s say in New York. It seemed like Islamic State was targeting pre-Islamic heritage. We immediately (sighs)
tried to address this. That’s what I try to do on
live television and radio is that in reality what
we where seeing already from the very start of the conflict is that Islamic State and other groups were focused on more
modern religious heritage, the parts of the heritage that is a part of living, vibrant communities: cemeteries, mosques, churches, shrines. I’ll show you some examples here, but it was only secondarily
or in a tertiary sense that they would then destroy ancient sites like Palmyra or Ah-puh-mey-ah, things from the classical area
or earlier or medieval sites. They often did that to
get the West’s attention as a type of click-bait on the Internet. They would post the videos
and they post the pictures up and they realized that it
increased the number of hits on Islamic State’s social media and that people in the West
where outraged that someone had destroyed a classical heritage site and of course they could
use that to their advantage as propaganda then in the Middle East. “The people in the West
don’t care about you, “they care about these ancient sites. “We believe these things
have to be destroyed “because they’re polytheistic
and inappropriate.” So we see a lot of targeting of archeological sites and monuments. But you can see in our first year, religious sites and monuments were heavily, heavily targeted. That only grew worse later on. Top 10 sources of damage in 2015 and 2016, just quickly now. Explosives from military, intentional destruction of heritage sites, illegal excavation. It hasn’t shifted too much, But look at how many incidents
that we documented, over 350. It’s actually 375 incidents of military explosives being used to damage or destroy heritage sites. What caused this? The entry of Russia into the
conflict in October 2015, period. Mosques, Sunni mosques
in the north of Syria, just daily being hit in
airstrikes over and over, double tapping, triple tapping them in 15 or 20-minute time lags, many of them from the Medieval period, so they’re obviously significant from a cultural heritage perspective. (inhales deeply)
(sighs loudly) Often times they just flat-out denied that this is happening or the forces that are doing this claim that the mosques are
being used by terrorists. In this year, in our most
recent reporting here, 850 cultural heritage incidents, 3.4% increase, and you can see the distribution of some of these incidents on the map. The damage is concentrated in
areas of northwestern Syria. That is the area controlled
by the Syrian opposition who do not have helicopters or airplanes and they’re being hit in airstrikes by the Assad regime and by the Russians. So this part of Syria
is just being leveled. Aleppo, Mehm-mihdj, Maarat al-Numaan, that entire area. It’s rich in thousands
and thousands of years of archeological sites, Mosul and then the area
of the Syrian desert. There are quite a few
incidents in Damascus, but they’re fairly minor in terms of magnitude. So this is a typical feature of a mosque after a series of these
airstrikes and missile strikes to give you an idea of the type of damage that we’re talking about. This is a mosque that’s
from the early 20th century. It’s not old but it’s a
part of the community. Obviously it’s important
to the people there. A lot of these mosques that are more modern with the rebar and cement sit on locations of earlier mosques where there are medieval shrines and other substructures that
are historically significant. The leading cause of damage in year two was military explosives, with a minimum of 361 incidents. And again, these sites are
being hit over and over again. Most of the major
belligerents in the conflict do not recognize that this is happening. This is just to give you
some idea, is this abating? We’re almost done with the statistics, but what I want to do is
to show you the magnitude of what’s happening on a quarterly basis. This is what’s happened since
September, November 2015. The amount of damage has just gone up and it’s maintained its elevated levels. It’s still there right now and we are still seeing
these high levels of damage in the most recent report in quarter. So what can we do about this? Well, we’ll discuss that here in a minute. But I want to show you some examples of these different types of damage. The second leading cause of damage, again, the numbers don’t do it justice in terms of the magnitude, is intentional destruction
of heritage places. In 2015, 2016, there were 98 incidents
of intentional destruction of heritage places. Most of them were perpetrated
again by the Islamic State, or Daesh, or ISIL as the State Department
likes us to refer to them. We call these performative
deliberate destructions. This is a video still from an Islamic State video. The Islamic State goes to
an ancient heritage site, in this case, this is the
ancient site of Nineveh. It was in the Syrian capital city in the first millennium BC, very famous the site of Nineveh for all major religions in the region. It’s a very important site, very well preserved. It’s a part of the modern city of Mosul. The Islamic State occasionally
goes out to the site, they take cameras, they set up, they give speeches as to
why these ancient remains from 900 BC or so are inappropriate to
their vision of Islam. And then on cue for the cameras, they either use explosives, or
heavy machinery, jackhammers, to destroy ancient sculptures,
reconstructed monuments. It’s usually a combination
of reconstructed and ancient monuments. They film it, they then edit it. Very slick, they put background music, they use slow-mo or repeat mode, and then they put these
videos and stills up in their social media at particular points in time. They don’t release it
suddenly in the Internet. They wait to a particular date when it will have maximum impact or they wait until they’ve suffered some kind of political
or military setback, and they use this as a kind of smokescreen to hide what’s actually happening as a way to divert
attention from a setback. We have seen a lot of them. That’s the way we’ve coined the term performative deliberate destructions. These are very carefully
planned out and choreographed. (sigh) In terms of medieval heritage, Islamic heritage has
suffered the most losses. This is the city of Mosul. What we often do to show
you what’s being lost is I’ll show you before-after
satellite imagery or in this case, I’ll show you the before
and after photographs. Here we have a picture of a
very important Shia shrine, The Mashhad al-Imam Yahya ibn al-Qasim from the 13th century. It’s a Shia shrine built
by Badr al-Din Lu’lu who was the Mamluk Sultan of Mosul. This is one of hundreds of
structures in the area of Mosul that’s from a period of Islam that’s been destroyed by the Islamic State. And again, they filmed it. They packed it full of explosives. It is a spectacular example of an octagonal and dome
structure or mook-gar-nah, and they packed it full of
explosives and blew it up. The people of Mosul, called Mosulawis, tried to prevent this from happening, but Islamic State
threatened to kill them all. In some cases, the people of Mosul have
managed to save mosques and other cultural heritage in their city by forming human chains around
it to prevent Islamic State from using bulldozers or heavy machinery. But it’s a very dangerous
thing to do, obviously. So most of the major heritage sites of Mosul have been destroyed. The Islamic State then
comes in with earth movers. To remove the debris using
heavy in-tandem trucks and then they frequently
sell the real estate underneath of it, the site. This is a total purge of the, sorry, of these cultural sites from the landscape. Again, but what we wanted to emphasize, particularly in 2014 and
2015 and for the media, was this is Islamic State’s
choice of Heritage targets. Again, in the media it seemed like what was being targeted was ancient or pre-Islamic cultural heritage sites or maybe Christian sites. They were getting a lot of
attention in the Western media. But this was the first
couple hundred deliberate destructions perpetrated by Islamic State. You can see right here what
Islamic State was focusing on (rapid clicking)
woops, sorry, was Shia heritage, Shia heritage throughout
northern Iraq and Syria. This is a way to try to
foment additional violence. They’re trying to foment cycles of retributory violence
between Sunni and Shia to unravel a very unstable government and peace in Iraq right now,
in the southern part of Iraq. They want to pick Kurds against Arabs, Shia against Sunni and Sufi, Turkey and Iran against Iraq and Syria. a big six sort of six-sided chess match is the only way you can really describe the complexities of this conflict. But they want to foment this
sort of retributory violence. So they frequently target
Shia cultural heritage. In terms of Christian heritage, they take churches and monasteries and they repurpose them for their own use. They’ll store weapons
in churches, in tombs, or they’ll use them
for other Islamic State administrative purposes thinking that if they use a historic church, the West is less likely to target it. They’re using heritage as a shield, the same goes for mosques, obviously, and other types of religious heritage. And unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective,
they’ve been wrong. These sites have been targeted and airstrikes and drone
strikes repeatedly. They have not been able
to shelter in them. So this is sort of typical
of the Islamic State then. ISIL’s Dual-Exploitive Doctrine is how I describe this when I talked to Congress. One: They paired, one, the deliberate destruction or
co-option of cultural assets, cultural sites: museums, mosques, churches, usually heritage places
to achieve ideological, tactical and strategic objectives, and to gain media exposure with the acquisition and
sale of cultural property for terrorist finance. For a while the story was okay. The Islamic State is destroying cultural heritage sites and antiquities. They’re destroying sculptures. They’re destroying museum objects. The only do that
occasionally for the cameras. If something’s portable
and they can sell it, they’ll destroy a little
bit for the cameras and the rest of it gets packed away and sold off to Turkey or Lebanon, period. Trust me, if it’s not nailed
down, they’re stealing it. While there’s this veneer
of a religious organization, it’s a very thin veneer. In reality, they’re an international
criminal organization that is engaged in
trade-based money laundering, kidnap for ransom. The organization is
essentially just a very violent international criminal organization. So but the young fighters who travel to the region to fight for them perhaps believe the propaganda. This is a young fighter. I can’t really talk about where he’s from, but he’s from northern Europe, went to Syria in 2014
and he began appearing in videos and pictures, of videos that are… essentially, the intentional destructions or performative deliberate destructions of Sufi shrines in Syria. He’s in video after video of
destroying these Sufi shrines. Sufism is a mystical sect of Sunni Islam and they emphasize saints and Islamic State absolutely believes that
this is a form of heresy and they exhume these
saints from their graves. They destroy these shrines and they destroy the
portable material culture. So this is sort of typical
Islamic State social media. So written ISIL propaganda
definitely promotes and legitimizes their doctrine among its followers and would-be recruits as a crucial step towards
establishing a caliphate and within its
interpretation of Islamic law and ISIL’s apocalyptic metanarrative of a coming battle between East and West, followed by a zero year. They want people, at least these young recruits to believe that they’re a historical
force to be reckoned with, nothing can stop them and that they will trigger
this apocalyptic battle in the town of Baalbek in northern Syria. Do ISIL’s Emirs believe this? No. I mean, there’s a core group of about
six or 700 ISIL fighters from all over the world that are certainly just gangsters and then they bring these young guys in and they’re disposable. Where did they get this idea? Well a lot of these is
Islamic State fighters and Jabhat al-Nusra fighters. Jabhat al-Nusra is an Al
Qaeda organization in Syria. They’ve got this idea of
intentionally destroying heritage sites from… Some of spent time in
Afghanistan and they saw the media impact of the
Taliban’s destruction of the bombing of the
Bamiyan Buddhas back in 2001. This region of Afghanistan in 2001 was suffering from a severe famine. It had been going on for some time. The Taliban had been
threatening for a while to destroy these Buddhas, these colossal Buddha sculptures and they got a lot of media
attention in the West. Suddenly, the Taliban were thinking about
destroying these sculptures. And in the West, organizations offered to pay the Taliban not to destroy these and their (mumbles) Taliban said, “Wow, that’s really interesting. “You’ll pay us not to destroy these things “that we believe “is idolatry to us. “We would prefer to wipe this out. “But you won’t provide
food aid for the people “suffering from this famine.” And then in a very performative
way for the cameras, they destroyed the sculptures. It really got them
attention for their cause. I think that’s where
this really got going. Well we’ve seen destruction of heritage, time immemorial, right? The Romans in Carthage, I mean this happens. But this sort of performative
deliberate destructions and this propagandistic use of this in this part of the world really kind of goes back
to this route destruction. When Islamic state first
took northern Iraq, they essentially announced
their presence in Mosul by targeting one of its
most famous shrines, the shrine of Nabi Yunus
or the Prophet Jonah. This is a shrine that is holy to Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Yazidis, the major religions of northern Iraq. Now in terms of its
historical significance, most of which you’re looking at there, it was reconstructed during the time of the Saddam Hussein regime. Underneath of this, there have been a church
in the Byzantine era, there had been a shrine here all the way back into the Middle Ages to the Prophet Jonah. The reason it’s on a hill is that this is part of the site of Nineveh. This is one of the two acropoleis of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh. So if you would dig below that you would find ninth,
eighth century BC remains. There’s actually, we now know,
a palace underneath of this that dates to the time of the Assyrian king Ashur-hah-tun. Talk about why we know
that here in a second. So Islamic State decided
to target this structure, not because it’s a mosque, it’s a Sunni mosque. But because it has a
aboveground tomb structure and they believe in their ideology that that can become a site of intercession between a Muslim and Allah, and then that can lead people astray, and therefore aboveground tomb structures need to be destroyed so
that they don’t become these sites of an intercession. So they loaded it with
explosives, and destroyed it, and cleared away all the debris. It had a major impact psychologically
on the people of Mosul and it really got everyone
else’s attention globally, obviously. They then destroyed sculptures
from Nineveh, Nimrud, the Roman-era city of
Hatra in northern Iraq, and the Mosul Museum for the cameras. Now all the while they
were doing these deliberate destructions of heritage
in the Mosul Museum, they were taking most of the antiquities and selling them onto
the antiquities market. We were getting reports of that on our project from people in Mosul. They were telling us this was going on. So we were in a very awkward
position because we knew that this had happened
before Islamic State released to the social media and we knew they were also stealing things and sending them away for money. What to do with that
information at that time? We chose in this case, to
sit on the information. We waited until Islamic
State announced this and released their videos. Their video showed destruction
of Colossus sculpture. This is a massive Assyrian sculpture, one of the gateways of Nineveh. The video showed the destruction
of classical era temples and palaces at the Desert city of Hatra. This is an important
city that’s associated with early Arab ethnicity
in the north part of Iraq, just west of Mosul out in the desert. This just continued and continued. We made the decision in 2015 to try to counter Islamic
State’s use of this information by announcing the destructions
before Islamic State could put their videos up online and that’s controversial because in a way, we’re releasing stuff
that could be construed as propaganda for the Islamic State. We’re obviously not
producing propaganda videos the way that they do, but we wanted to preempt
their use of this information and provide the public with evidence before Islamic State could do it and information on what
these heritage sites mean, accurate information on them, essentially try to defuse the impact of this as much as possible. The incident where we first did this was the Islamic State’s destruction of the Assyrian capital city of Nimrud. Nimrud is located on
the Tigris River in Iraq and it has a very famous
palace of the ninth century BC that was built by the
Assyrians first major ruler, Assurnasirpal II. Assurnasirpal set up an empire
that stretched from Turkey, to Western Iran, down to the Persian Gulf, and eventually, under his
successors, all the way to Egypt. So major empire, a proud
chapter in the history of Iraq. His palace was excavated
by British, French, but then British archeologist
in 1840s and 1850s, and some of these
sculpture were taken back to the British Museum in 1850s and created a sensation in the West and really brought the
archeology of this part of the ancient Near East
into the public’s eye. You’re seeing what you’re seeing here are the bas-reliefs or
the walls sculptures, flat slab sculptures, that
decorated Assurnasirpal’s palace. They record his conquest
of Syria, southern Turkey, parts of Iran. They have cuneiform or
wedge-shaped inscriptions on them and then wonderful carved pictures, so sort of text and pictures. There are hundreds and hundreds
of meters lining the walls of the Palace of Assurnasirpal. It was spectacular. Maybe of these sculptures
graced the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of
Art, the British Museum, lots and lots of little
museums up in New England. Is what Islamic State did was they began by manually
smashing up the sculptures and using little jackhammers
and front loaders to smash them up. We knew about this because we were getting high resolution satellite
imagery of the site and we could see little
piles of brand-new fresh white limestone appearing
outside of the palace. We could see the front loader, the heavy machinery tracks
going into the palace. We could see little changes
and taxicabs were pulling up at the palace and the
site guard was calling us. There is a site guard. He was hiding in a neighboring village, an official site guard who sang, “They’re destroying the
sculptures in Nimrud.” Now, eventually, Islamic State fighters
went into the palace and they gave speeches. Most of them had Saudi
accents or Gulf accents and they’re Arabic not Iraqi. They packed lots of
barrels full of fertilizer, lined the walls of the palace, and then the largest delivered destruction
we’d seen and still is, they destroyed the entire palace. It’s just phenomenal explosion. They released the video but
we were able to essentially let people know this was
coming ahead of time. They just continued to do this. I mean they are running our targets. They’re actually running out of targets. At this point… At first they were destroying
ancient religious heritage and the speeches that these
fighters gave at Nimrud, they talked about how this was polytheism and it’s inappropriate to Islam and that the West had told Iraqis, Western archeologists had
discovered this stuff, dug it up from the ground and
it was a corrupting influence and it was a colonial
conspiracy that Western people were telling Iraqis that this
was part of their heritage and they shouldn’t be a
part of national identity. After they ran out of religious targets, they’ve just started
targeting secular sites. These are the gates of the
ancient city of Nineveh. The Islamic state destroyed those, again, in this case, with bulldozers. But these have no religious significance. Again, they’re running out of targets. Now, what they seem to be
doing in the last year or so, most of their destructions
are just retributory violence. As they’re losing territory, they have this scorched-earth policy. Before they’ll retreat, they’ll just destroy whatever they can blow with explosives or get
a front loader out to it as they move back. So Iraqis risked their
lives driving by this site to take pictures of Islamic State’s destruction of those gates and sent the photographs to us. Then we released this information
in National Geographic before Islamic State posted their video to get the information out there. Because it’s important
to the people of Mosul when people risk their lives to provide these types of information, obviously, you want the
public globally to see it. Very brave. And then Islamic State eventually still released their social media. You can always tell its theirs
because their Daesh flag is up on the upper right. They published information on these deliberate destructions
in their glossy magazine. They produce a magazine
called Dabiq, D-A-B-I-Q. It’s available online
in multiple languages. It’s usually mainly published in English and is used as a recruiting device. I do not recommend you look at it. It’s horrific. What they do is they
intersperse human atrocities with destructions of heritage sites. They are still producing it and they talk about exactly
what their reasoning is for destroying cultural heritage. Erasing the legacy of a ruined nation. This is how they titled their expose of the destruction of
sculptures in the Mosul Museum. They tell us they’re erasing this inappropriate cultural memory. They tell us they’re engaged
in cultural cleansing. It doesn’t require a
lot of interpretation. Secretary Kerry, I think it was last
year or the year before, addressed a lot of this as genocide. Now all the while they’re doing this, they have a highly organized bureaucracy, that again is stealing everything that’s not nailed down and selling it: refrigerators, cars, houses that they confiscate from refugees or people that they run
out of Iraq and Syria, but also antiquities,
private art collections, coin collections, jewelry, manuscripts, Bibles, Korans, libraries, archives, the collections of Mosul University. It’s all being sold. How do we know that? For a while, we would put these stories
out that Islamic State was engaged in this type
of cultural property crime for terrorist financing and people said, “No. “That’s not going on,” especially people who were trying to defend the antiquities trade. They don’t want the people in the art market
to worry that maybe if they buy something in
this part of the world, that it might have come
from these organizations or it might be supporting terrorism. But we knew it was happening because Iraqis and Syrians were telling us, and because when we looked
at satellite imagery of Syria and Iraq, whole archeological sites
were either disappearing or were looking like Swiss cheese. I had never seen anything like it. There had always been
archeological looting in Syria and in Iraq, to a lesser extent. The Syrians and Iraqis did a good job protecting these site
when I worked there 1990s. But even at my own site, te-loh-sweh-huh-ra-meen
near the Euphrates River, I would go home in the evening, have dinner and at night
sometimes thieves would go out out and try to loot tombs
that we were excavating. I would come back and find cigarette packs or in one case a tomb
collapsed in the night and we found that somebody’s
sneakers in the tomb. As we dug away the collapsed area, we weren’t gonna find a looter
in there with the shoes. But they were pretty brazen about it, but once the Syrian Civil War broke out, the looting just expanded
exponentially, just everywhere. But Islamic State came in
and what they did was they provided new management structure, capacity building for crime. They go out and what they do is they said, “Okay all you people on the countryside, you can’t just lose these
archeological sites. You have to buy a permit from us to do it and then you are gonna pay us a percentage of the money you get for the antiquities or pay us a percentage of the antiquities according to Islamic law, which is 20%. We’ve got these permits and U.S. special forces raided a particular Islamic State emir in the city of Deir ez-Zor
in Syria back in 2015 a man named Abu Sayyaf
and he was in charge of regional antiquities sales
in his part of Syria, also, oil sales and natural gas sales. They view antiquities
as a natural resource to be mined from the earth and sold to support the organization. They don’t care if this stuff
has human representations or animal representations on it. They’re not gonna destroy
it for religious purposes, they’re gonna sell it
to Turkey, to Lebanon. Who do you think is buying it? Not (chuckles) Syrians and
Iraqis, I can tell you. Most of this stuff is cropping up. The low and middle-tier stuff is popping up on do-it-yourself
websites and Facebook pages. You can buy it. They put it in a DHL or FedEx envelope and they’ll mail it to you. We know that because people
are reporting it to us and we’re finding those websites. Some of this stuff’s being
confiscated in Syria and Lebanon. U.S. Special Forces made this recovery, 700 antiquities in Abu
Sayyaf’s private collection. He had paperwork, accounts on the sales
of these antiquities. He had a nice collection of his own stuff and on his laptop, he had lots and lots of digital
photographs of antiquities that he didn’t possess. Some of those were given
to our project to look at. I already had pictures
of those antiquities. They were for sale in
Turkey where we were able to begin to connect the dots as to where these things are going. So some of it’s really high-end stuff, some of it’s junk, a lot of it’s fake. A whole lot of it’s fake. What they’re doing is they’re
assaulting massive amounts of fake antiquities into this
stream and selling it on, making quite a bit of money. This is the ancient city. This is a satellite
image of ancient Nineveh. You see a lot of modern
houses on top of it. This is the city of Mosul in Iraq sort of spreading out. But you see the city walls here of… See if I can… I don’t dare to make it. Maybe I can, yeah. This is the city wall of ancient Nineveh, that Islamic State destroyed the gates and I showed you earlier. This is the mound of Nabi Yunis where the shrine was destroyed. This is the mound of Kuyunjik. What we most recently
seen is that Islamic State has been tunneling. All of these little colored
circles, this is a close-up, are tunnels that Islamic State fighters have dug into the ancient mound. At first I thought this was
for purely military purposes. The Islamic State and other
organizations have been tunneling into archeological
sites for defense. But what we found out recently, Nineveh few months back was liberated and these tunnels are massive and many of them were clearly excavated for antiquities specifically. Underneath of Nabi Yunis where Islamic State destroyed that mosque, they found a seventh
century Assyrian palace. There were sculpture strewn everywhere. We have no idea how many antiquities they’ve taken just from that one tunnel. All right, and these are
what these tunnels look like. Now this is really
distressing ’cause not only have they tunneled away all
these archeological deposits, scientific data, all right? This is scientific data. It’s the cultural heritage of Iraq. That’s a sad loss, obviously to science
and cultural heritage. But everything above
this has been undermined. How are we going to deal with this? And let’s say in the post conflict, are we to fill all
these tunnels back again so the sites don’t collapse? It’s gonna destroy all
that material up above it. They’ve done this at site,
after site, after site. So that’s Iraq right
now, we’ll return to it. But if you have any questions, please just go ahead and at
any point raise her hand. Syria, if anything, is the situation’s worse because you have more belligerence, more fighting forces on the
ground fighting each other. You have archeological looting
and you have Islamic State doing these deliberate destructions, so it’s got this horrific
trifecta of destruction. One of the best ways that I
can sort of show this quickly is that this was the Aleppo that I knew, the city that I lived in. At the center of Aleppo is a large UNESCO World Heritage Site and its old city was a medieval… There was a spectacularly
preserved medieval walled city at the center of Aleppo. When you walked the streets of Aleppo, it was like walking the streets of a place in the 16th century in some ways. I mean the architecture was spectacular, some it went back to
the 14th, 15th century. Wooden arcades up above you and balconies, really narrow alleyways. At the center of all this, you have this massive
covered marketplace for souk, where I would go to shop for
our excavations to buy tents. I could go to the blacksmith
and they would manufacture special archeological picks
on order on the anvil. There were people weaving ropes. You could buy carpets, (mumbles) there, water pipes, gold jewelry. You name it, there was
a shop for everything. It was just a spectacular
experience to go on and to visit this place. It’s totally destroyed, burned down in a fire. Unfortunately, this part of Aleppo, at the very center of it, you have this citadel mound, very, very high mound that’s
strategically important for controlling the old city. All around it is this old city, the UNESCO World Heritage Site. What is this mound? It’s an ancient archeological
mound or tell in Arabic, T-E-L-L, tell, that has six or 7,000 years of archeological deposits in it. On top of it, in the medieval period when the Crusaders in the 12th century, 11th, 12th century, when the Crusades started, the anti-crusader forces
of Syria built a fortress on top of it to fight back the Franks. And so what you’re looking at here are the towers, the bastions, the wall, a massive gateway and entry causeway of this anti-Crusader fortress, spectacular, spectacularly well preserved Islamic fortress, which has a mosque inside of it, and many other important structures. The Germans excavated this site and managed in a very deep
excavation to get down to like about the eighth or ninth century BC and they had to stop digging ’cause they were getting so deep. Again, what’s happened here, in this area around the citadel, there’s been intense fighting because the Syrian opposition
controlled the routes into the city that
spiraled into the center and came up to the citadel to right here. Assad’s forces controlled this side and spiraled sort of around the opposition’s forces for two years and they were in this stalemate. I’m not sure why that happened. I didn’t do it. There we go. And they couldn’t root each other out. It became a sniper’s nest. Assad’s forces used mortars
and snipers upon on the citadel to fight the opposition down here. Assad’s forces would bring
in helicopters and jets and destroy historic
buildings throughout this area and really massive airstrikes. The opposition forces dug massive tunnels, hundreds of meters, from their territory,
under historic buildings, and then pack the tunnels
with fertilizer and explosives and it will blow up whole city blocks to take out Syrian regime positions in this sort of medieval, or World War I, I-don’t-know-how-to-describe-it warfare. That’s what the satellite
images look like. These are the explosion epicenters of tunnel bombs. This one was a 15th-century mosque and Islamic school or madrasa. Not only is it completely gone, but several meters of what was under it have been thrown into the
air and came raining down on all the surrounding minarets and domes, just raining bricks and rocks onto them. While it looks like these
buildings are intact and the surrounding area, most of them have been shaken
so many times by bombs, tunnel bombs, airstrikes, or
debris raining down on them, most of them will probably
have to be demolished. It’s almost all gone. I don’t recognize it. The satellite images
are really distressing. But when I see… This is just one impact of a mortar attack on the citadel to try to
root out a regime sniper. That was a medieval wall of the citadel, completely collapsed. This is where that citadel is today, just to give you an idea of the damage. So there’s the old city citadel. This is opposition territory before. This is all belongs to
the Syrian regime now. The Syrian opposition has
been run out of Aleppo. But up until about six months ago, this was opposition territory. Each one of these little red and blue dots was a regime barrel bombing on the UNESCO World
Heritage Site of Aleppo, to give you some idea of how many bombs are being dropped on this medieval city. And these cemeteries? Deliberately targeted all the time. Cemeteries are a primary target. This is what Aleppo looks like. I’m sorry it’s a little coarse-grained, but these are places I used to recognize. When I look at these photographs now, I don’t know what I’m looking at. I don’t know these intersections. I see these parts of Aleppo, the city’s gone. It reminds me of places like
Bologna at World War II, after the Nazis were pushed out or parts of Poland, France or… I mean the whole urban escape
has just been flattened. What are we going to do with this? What will the international community do in the post-conflict period? How many billions of
dollars for Aleppo alone? Who should go and do this
kind of work and why? It’s really troubling when we look at the city of
Aleppo and what’s happened, and that’s just one city. Mosul, Raqqa, Hama, Ho-ums, Palmyra. Let’s talk about Palmyra. That’s the Aleppo citadel today. I used to have coffee and tea here at a cafe. Christian sites. Syria, you may or may not know, Syria had some of the very best preserved early Christian churches and monasteries in the Middle East. It was a spectacular landscape. Actually whole landscapes
of early Christian landscapes preserved. This what’s called the Dead
Cities region of Syria, if you’re not familiar with it. Buildings that were preserved all the way up to the roof level from the Byzantine era
and up to Medieval times. This is what was left. I used to visit this
particular site all the time. Loved this site ’cause when I was a kid, I was fascinated with
the story of Saint Simon or Symeon the Stylite, who sat on top of a column and would answer questions to pilgrims. They would come and visit him. This used to be a column and there was a church built here in honor of Saint Simeon after he died. But pilgrims on the road, the pilgrim road to Jerusalem, would stop at the site and
chip away at the column to take away little pieces of them. The column is a relic. So when I would visit
the site in the 1990s, that was supposedly Saint Simeon’s column, as I remember it and in this wonderfully
preserved early church. There was a monastery there
and many other buildings. This unfortunately, this
site was militarized. It was used as a military
base by Jabhat al-Nusra, that Al Qaeda group I was mentioning. It has been bombed repeatedly and that’s what Saint Simeon’s
column looks like today and that’s what the site looks like. It’s just been hit repeatedly
by rockets and mortar fire. I could go on, and on, and on. But the Dead Cities region, which was just this spectacularly
preserved landscape, has been pulverized. Not only has it been hit
by all these airstrikes, it been heavily militarized, but it’s where refugees from Aleppo have moved to seek shelter. Since there are only
subterranean tombs in this region and these well preserved buildings, rather than stay in Aleppo
and be bombed by the regime, or the Russians, or whoever, whomever, they moved out of the countryside and they took shelter in heritage sites. They’re tearing down
the walls of these sites and grinding the limestone up to make cement and plaster for
their houses, reusing them. So again, all these different processes
that are coming together to destroy serious heritage. But no site in Syria has been
hit quite so hard as Palmyra. Palmyra really tells a story. I’m gonna move through it quickly. But our project followed Palmyra from the start of the
Islamic State occupation all the way up to today. Now what is Palmyra? Palmyra or Tadmor as it’s called, is a city out in the Syrian desert. So Syria. You’ve got the coastal zone,
which is like California, beautiful place. Always wanted to have an excavation permit to work in that part. I worked out here in the
(chuckles) middle of the desert. But I loved to go to Palmyra. It’s an oasis out in the city that essentially linked the
silk route and the spice roots coming from China through Iran, and Iraq, to the Mediterranean, and Rome. in antiquity. Because of that trade,
the silk, the spices, from the time of Alexander the
Great or slightly after him, through the Roman era, up through the Roman era, Palmyra became fabulously wealthy. It was a Syrian city. It was a city that had
many different religions: early Jewish community, pagan religions of the Middle East, classical pagan religions all kind of coming together. It had many different ethnicities: Persian, Egyptian, Syrian, Arab, Nabataean. Many different languages
were spoken there. It was a cultural fusion
in the Classical era. It had an architecture that was incredibly well preserved. It took all of these
different ideas from Persia, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, sort of fused them together. So the wealth of this sort
of international character made it just an incomparable place. It was where I usually would end up. When I was teaching in Syria, I would teach groups,
archeology, and Assyrian history. I would always take the
students to Palmyra last. Go out there, try to get there early in the morning when the sun was coming up. We would go to… Near Palmyra, there’s a medieval fortress that looks out across the Roman and we would watch either sunset or sunrise, depending on my state of health. The reason it was so well preserved is it has just passed through so many different phases of history. Why I like it so much too is that Palmyra was the epicenter of a rebellion against the Roman Empire. It’s Queen, Queen Zenobia, essentially cast off the yoke of Rome and led a rebellion against Rome, that essentially for short period of time, she ruled the area from Egypt
all the way up to Turkey. Now that Rome putdown Zenobia’s rebellion and this Palmyra empire very quickly, but in a way, it’s a really compelling
period of Syrian history and to Syrians it’s very important too. Actually Zenobia, or a reconstruction of what
she might have looked like, was on a Syrian paper currency. It’s an important part
of national identity. A commercial center, a
multi- cultural center. Now, when Islamic State
conquered the site, it had already suffered
a lot of destruction because the site was militarized
by the Syrian regime. Because Palmyra sits in the desert, it sits at the center of a
number of different roads coming in from Iraq and other areas and so it has a lot of
military significance. It was also the location of quite possibly the Syrian regime’s most infamous prison where they put political prisoners that they wanted to disappear. So it had kind of a
reputation as this sorta… Also, it was a desert smuggling town. When I would go there,
you could buy anything. When Islamic State came in, they essentially pushed
the Syrian regime out and Syrian opposition that had been trying to fight for
the site for some time. Now during that time, the regime had destroyed some things, the opposition had destroyed some things, and a lot of illegal
excavation had taken place under the watchful eye of Syrian soldiers who were paid to just
kinda turn a blind eye while people looted the site. But when Islamic State came in, things really went from bad to worse. But what did Islamic State focus first? While they were still fighting the regime, as Islamic State fighters came in and they were still fighting, they were still under fire, rather than continue fighting, some of their fighters peeled off and began destroying
cultural heritage sites. But they didn’t focus on things
from the pre-Islamic era, they focused on things
that were significant to other sects of Islam. This is what shows you their motivation. It shows you their leadership’s thinking, clearer than anything else I think. They immediately deliberately
destroyed a Sufi shrine while they were still
fighting to secure the city to produce a video. They blew up a Shia shrine
out in the neighboring desert from the time of the Prophet Mohammed. It’s actually a shrine
to one of the Prophet’s close relatives, Sheikh Mohammad bin ‘Ali. Loaded it full of
explosives and destroyed it, and filmed it and photographed it. So far Palmyra, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, hadn’t suffered any damage. We were a little puzzled. They took people who had been
convicted of minor crimes and forced them to destroy
cemeteries in the town. These are the cemeteries
that people were related to because aboveground graves
are inappropriate to Islam. So if you’re caught smoking cigarettes or your beard’s not long enough, you’re wearing the wrong
clothes, your veil’s not proper, you can be sentenced to destroy 100 or 200 tombstones out there. (sigh) And then they destroyed an important Christian monastery. The monastery of Mar
Elian or Saint Julian, which dates back to the Middle Ages where many many patriarchs of the Christian church had been buried. Not only did they destroy the monastery, they exhumed all the
patriarchs from their graves and looted what was in those graves on camera. There is one of the sarcophagi
from the Early period. Pretty graphic stuff, lots
of deliberate destructions, but this is cultural cleansing. Didn’t touch the UNESCO
World Heritage Site. And then, we began to hear reports
from the people of Tadmor who we could get on the cell phone that Islamic State was putting
explosives in the various, this is a satellite image, in the various standing
monuments of Palmyra. There are temples, there are tower tombs, there are subterranean tomb complexes. There’s just monuments everywhere out in the desert. What could we do? They went into Tadmor and on bullhorns, they announced to the people of the city, there’s a modern city there, that they were putting
explosives in the monuments. They wanted the world to know. So people were calling us
up and telling us this. I received a map of where
the explosives were located. Talk about frustrations. And then eventually, one
by one, drip-drip-drip, they began to destroy the monuments. They started with a tiny little temple, the temple of Baalshamin in the Semitic language
of Palmyra or Palmyrene, Baalshamin is the Lord of Heaven. It was a tiny little temple. I loved it ’cause it had a
tree growing inside of it. It was so picturesque. It combined elements of Greco-Roman and Egyptian architect… I could go on, blah-blah-blah,
it’s beautiful. It was aesthetically pleasing. I used to walk out into
it all the time total. Totally annihilated it. Loaded it with several tons of fertilizer, blew it up, filmed it. Why did they pick this one? I have no idea. The main temple of Palmyra
was the temple to the god Bel. Bel in Semitic languages mean The Lord. This temple had been turned into a church with the coming of Christianity. Then it had become a mosque and so it was very well preserved. Islamic State put 60
tons of explosives in it and completely annihilated it. That’s what it looks like now. Here is a clever way that
people have been doing before and after photos to sort of impress upon you what’s
been lost, before and after. Then they turned on the cemeteries. Palmyra’s famous for its tower tombs, lots and lots of these. When explorers first found these, Western explorers first entered
these in the 18th century. They found mummies with
Chinese silks on and jewelry. Oftentimes there are some
subterranean tombs as well where whole families
were buried in antiquity, many of them incredibly well preserved. These structures and
the subterranean tombs are filled with sculpture and sometimes inscriptions
on who’s buried there. These were targeted by Islamic State. What they did… I’m not gonna keep showing photographs of destroyed monuments. There’s so much that you can take. But they destroyed the most
significant tower tombs. It was as if the they went through a list of the tombs that had contributed to the site becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site and destroyed those. But while they were doing this, they were looting the site. They were digging all over the place, coming up with all sorts of
sculpture in antiquities. They were renting out
metal detectors to people to go look for coins and other objects. They spared the theater of Palmyra. Palmyra has a fairly well
preserved Roman theater. That’s the main portico there. That’s the skene or the
background of the theater. There’s the stage and this is where people
sat on the lower level. But instead of destroying it in their first occupation of this site, Islamic State occupied the site twice. They brought prisoners here and executed them in the theater and then they left the theater. Islamic State was eventually
driven out of Palmyra, but then they came back. In the second occupation,
they blew this up. Why? Probably for revenge. Because right after Islamic State was driven out of Palmyra the
first time, what happened? There was a concert held by
a Russian symphony orchestra and there was a celebration. The city had been liberated. People came back and they started to try to restore the site and the Museum. Islamic State came back,
killed those people, and blew up this and many other monuments. I can go on and on, but probably some of the
greatest tragedies we’ve seen. They’re also targeting cultural personnel. This is a man that I got to meet twice. This was essentially the father of modern Palmyrene
archeology, Khaled al-Assad, a very famous Syrian archeologist who refused to leave
Tadmor when Islamic State came the first time. They arrested him. They held them for a
while, then let him go. But eventually they arrested him again and they executed him really brutally because he refused to leave and he tried to protect the site. And this has gone on with I think the last count at 14 or
15 Syrian archeologists. People who are working for my project had been killed in Mosul. This is one of the really
hard parts of our job. We’ve lost a lot of colleagues and people we’ve worked
with for a long time. So, what’s happening? Again, it’s an erasure of cultural memory, a manipulation of
cultural identity, right? They’re trying to rewrite
history, what’s going on here. Many different forces are
contributing to this destruction. But right now the top of
the to do list in a sense is to get non-state actors, violent non-state actors
like Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra out of the equation. Why? Because they are the very antithesis of cultural heritage preservation and cultural property protection. They are deliberately
targeting cultural assets for finance and to promote their ideology or for revenge. Thank you. (audience clapping) – I’d like to open it to questions. I’m sure some of you have some
questions for Doctor Danti. So please feel free. – [Male Questioner] In
Lebanon during the 1980s, there was a civil war, very big Civil War. Was the destruction of
sites similar in any way to what’s happening in Iraq and Syria? – Yeah. I mean Beirut was the big
example for our region and a good chunk of historic Beirut was damaged during the war. But what really damaged Beirut was what happened after the war was over. So when the international
community came in and they began to redevelop Beirut, it’s like they let out all
the stops for development, and large parts of the
historic city of old Beirut were destroyed for development. They hadn’t been destroyed in the war, they were destroyed during
the redevelopment of Beirut. A lot of archeology was
destroyed underneath of it too. So much so, that today in cultural preservation and cultural heritage lingo, we have a vertical Beirut-ization, where development,
post-conflict development, can be almost worse than the destruction that occurs during a conflict. It’s always controversial
when you go in to try to redevelop a cultural site, even in the best of circumstances. If you ever get a chance and you’re interested in this topic, go to Dresden. Dresden is a city that has
gone through a lot of pains over the decades and what it should be and how it should rebuild the
monuments that were destroyed during the firebombing of
the city during World War II. You can see so many different ideas in the architecture encoded
during the Soviet era, rebuilding of the city, the post Soviet bloc reconstruction of it and how they went about trying to rebuild the cathedrals and palaces of Dresden. I recently got to see it and
it was really interesting. What we’re most worried about
with Aleppo, and Palmyra, and a lot of these other sites, is what’s gonna happen, in
a way, after the conflict. When they unleash all of
the development dollars that had already been lined up to essentially go in and fix Aleppo and put in malls, hotels,
tourist attractions. What do you think is… Are they gonna sweep a lot
of these buildings aside? Or the argument will be
made that there too unstable to preserve and it will be
quicker and easier for everybody if they just knock them down. So we’re really worried
about what’s gonna happen. Yeah, Jennifer. – [Jennifer] Many people
in the Balkans compare, well not just in the Balkans, but compare Aleppo and
what’s going on there to Srebrenica and what happened
with the Bosnian genocide. So do you think the
Bosnian genocide will be much of an influence on how
to deal post this situation? – Yeah. Some of the legal instruments
that were developed for prosecuting crimes against heritage for Dubrovnik and some of the other… the Mostar bridge, those cases were some of the
first that were essentially prosecuted for the
destruction of heritage sites successfully. More recently, the Mahdi case in the International (chuckles) Criminal Court. If you’re familiar with Timbuktu and the Timbuktu manuscripts, one of the individuals, the ones involved in
destroying shrines in Timbuktu and the manuscripts of Timbuktu
was successfully prosecuted in the International Criminal Court. So there’s legal
precedent for prosecution. One of the issues that we’re gonna see with Syria and Iraq is jurisdiction. ICC isn’t gonna have jurisdiction in at least in Iraq’s case, and I think what we’re gonna want to, well I hope what’ll happen is
there’ll be a special tribunal and they will develop some new legal instruments for prosecution. The legal instruments
that were developed for Dubrovnik and some of those destructions, the problem is cultural property crime. A lot of the laws that
are developed to treat the theft of a refrigerator
or the theft of a car, the same as the theft of an antiquity. Now when you steal an antiquity, you’re taking something
that has symbolic value, it’s part of someone’s cultural identity. A refrigerator and a car,
maybe you really like them, but not quite the same obviously. So there needs to be this
disambiguation legally in terms of the penalties
between cultural property and other types of capital goods and other types of property. So it would be good if there
was a special tribunal, but at least there is
legal precedent for it. But the scale of all of this, I mean is I think what’s most daunting. What I think is going to happen and what I hope will
happen is that they’ll use the deliberate destructions
of cultural heritage sites to show the thinking of
ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra, what their leadership was up to because it’s a strong
argument for genocide. It really shows their hand
and what they’re involved in and start a cultural
cleansing and genocide. Cultural cleansing is not
really a crime per se. Genocide, religious persecution, depending on the legal
instruments you’re using, those are crimes. Cultural heritage destructions really are demonstrable in that regard, and if you prosecute
for these disruptions, what’s your evidence? Their own videos and photographs. They show themselves on camera. We’ve got their voices. That means we don’t have to bring in witnesses and who are at risk. The reprisal attacks against witnesses are always a major issue in
these types of court cases. So fortunately, in a sad sense I guess, but I mean what Islamic State
has done in these brazen acts is they provide us with hopefully
all the evidence we need to essentially bring them to justice. I think you had your hand up. – So (clears throat), one of the things that archeologists and people concerned with
antiquities law learned in the 80s and specially the 90s after the Hague convention
went into effect, was that you really need to target these mid-level brokers in
the antiquities trade. The wealthy purchase is
usually several steps away from the criminal actor the guy on the corner,
in a manner of speaking, is just doing it under
duress by and large. What programs are there to
try to find those bottlenecks in the antiquities
trade and shut them down so that there will be fewer
things going into the market, less money flowing back to the actors, to the perpetrators of these crimes? – Right. There’s been legislation
in the United States to address this, and to make clear the terrorist financing, and what’s really going on. In Europe, there are some efforts to crack
down on the freeport system. If you were to ask me right now: Where do you think the
high-end antiquities are going? I would say to really wealthy middlemen who are buying up the
material and are holding them in freeports where you
have complete anonymity and you can hold this cultural property. You can conduct private sales, right? There’s no scrutiny and you can hold that cultural property for a long time. How do we know that? Because there have been major
busts involving freeports. If you’re interested in this, look at the Medici conspiracy, which is the most popularized
account of a big art bust that involves freeports. I think a lot of materials
are in the freeport system and if there is regulation of
the freeport system, then they can really crackdown on this. ‘Cause what’s happening
is the cheaper stuff and the middle range stuff is
being sold on the Internet. It’s hard to fight that. But the high-end antiquities
are just disappearing. We know that they’re going out. They’re usually going to Turkey and they’re going into Bulgaria and they’re smuggled overland into the Schengen
free-border system, right? And then they’re moved from
jurisdiction to jurisdiction throughout Europe to complicate
prosecution down the road. Because if you’re going to
unravel it and prosecute it, you’ve got Belgium, and
Holland, and France involved, all these different laws. That’s what happens with
most antiquities cases is people just give up. So what do I think is gonna happen? It’s gonna take one big case
where someone gets prosecuted and they’re found to actually have objects that come from Islamic State looting. They will be tried and found
guilty of terrorist financing. That will probably send
a shockwave through and people will actually
exercise their due diligence and they’ll check to
see if those antiquities have a real legal provenance and not a provenance that said: from an old European family, 1960 or they might as well
just put pre-1970 on it, and it just turned up
somewhere under somebody’s bed in a box and here they are for sale. I mean most provenance in galleries and auctions is a joke. I mean where do people think all these antiquities are actually coming from? If they aren’t appearing in documentation, in a will, or a divorce, or
in the photograph somewhere, do people think that coins reproduce in drawers on their own for sale? I mean, but people will tell you, “Well, they must all.” “Really? “It can’t all be looted. “Really? “It can’t be, no,” right? The problem, of course, is that the looters are stealing
things are easy to launder. Islamic State is looking for coins. They are renting metal detectors
to people to find coins and they’re selling coins because coins from the Hellenistic,
and Roman, Byzantine era, can be laundered as coming
from the Mediterranean. And when you’ve got one coin,
there are 600 others like it, meaning you’ve got something that’s got plenty of others like it, it’s not a unique work of
art and it has a fixed value. You can look it up online. You know what you should get for it. You don’t have to be a genius to sell them and they are easy to smuggle. The most common way for smuggling coins is you mix them with other change and you walk through the
metal detector at the airport. I’m not telling you that. You shouldn’t do that.
(audience laughing) I mean it’s so hard to crack down. Now go ahead, you have a follow up.
– I have a follow up question for information’s sake. You mentioned the freeports and you mentioned the Medici conspiracy that the book written about. – Yeah. – Those brokers… Switzerland, those freeports
in Switzerland in particular, which I learned they became
notorious because of that, but Switzerland’s not really
for the Schengen zone, which you mentioned earlier.
– Right. – Has the Swiss government been
cooperative in this effort? – Yeah we actually met with them and I spoke with them twice. They are concerned about this, yeah. – All right, have they done any action? – I think so. I think that because of recent
events there in the art world a couple of different times
recently in the fine art world, there’s more scrutiny there, but there are plenty of
other freeports and there are new proposed freeports
for the United States. So the freeport system
is something that also a very important part of the art world. So freeports serve a real
function for the trade in art but they’re used for
some (chuckles) pretty nefarious purposes as well. Yeah. – [Man In Red Beanie] What
do you believe should be done with recovered antiquities? – Oh, boy. – [Man In Red Beanie] Like
you’ve arrested someone. You’ve got the coins.
– That’s a good question. – [Man In Red Beanie] You can’t send them back to Syria.
– Right. – [Man In Red Beanie]
What happens to them? – So I was at an event in
Abu Dhabi a few months back where this was the topic, whether there should be safe havens for these orphaned antiquities
that we know are from Syria and or Iraq, they’re from
(chuckles) Mesopotamia. What should we do with them? Or they’re from the conflict zone. We need a place to keep them, but what do you do with them? Obviously we want to repatriate them. Where should that place be? And of course nobody
agrees on exactly where these things should be kept. Right now it looks like it
might be the the Louvre, but it’s controversial. What happens with antiquities when there’s safekeeping for things
that had been stolen and made their way onto
the art market or you know? What happened after World War II, with all the fine art
was taken by the Nazis? It’s all been given back, right? (chuckles) Look at the Holocaust Art
Restitution project on Facebook or is it easy to give it back, art that was taken by the
Nazis during the Holocaust? (chuckles) No. It’s in a lot of major museums. It’s known to have been
taken by the Nazis. It’s known which families
it was taken from and it’s still on display (chuckles). It’s really hard to get this stuff back in repatriation and restitution cases. So the fear is that what we’ll do is say well it will go off to museums for safekeeping in these safe havens. And they’ll say, “Time’s not really right
to give this stuff back. “Let’s do an exhibit.” Or, “Now we’ve counted this as assets “and it’s our (chuckles) balance sheet. “If we give it back,
what will the Board say?” Or, “Who should we give it back to: “the government of Syria and Iraq? “Oh, we don’t really like them right now. “We don’t think they’re
gonna take good care of it. “So we’re just gonna hold
on to it like, I don’t know, “the Parthenon freeze, for example.” There are so many examples of this. Just, you know… (slaps hand) (sighs) Oh, boy. So what I’m really worried about. Then there’s the idea of
the encyclopedic museum and shouldn’t we just
distribute all this stuff all over the world to make it safe? Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. Let’s disperse Near Eastern art so that it’s not all concentrated in one region. Why not Egyptian art too? I’ll follow that idea,
the encyclopedic museum. When I begin to see
things in the Smithsonian on display in… I don’t know. Pick a country.
– Sydney. – Yeah, right. I mean it kinda only seems
to flow one direction, that mentality that we
should distribute this stuff. But there needs to be a
place that the objects can be conserved and kept in safekeeping. But I’m also really wary
of this idea as well. There is no perfect solution. So there was a lot of discussion
of this and I think that the idea would be UNESCO
and the Louvre in Paris. Sure. – The Nimrud bas-reliefs are
at the Walters Art Museum here in Baltimore.
– Sure. – That I was interested in seeing them and they’re in very good condition. – Yeah. So that could be taken as an argument for distributing the material
because some of the best now of Syrian reliefs that we
have are the things that were moved in the 1840s and 50s. And so I’d say it’s a very
complicated, complicated issue. The hot topic now is: Shouldn’t we do 3D
scanning of all this stuff? And when we do that, we
can a virtual Palmyra. People have done this with some
of the monuments of Palmyra that have been destroyed. There was 3D scanning of these monuments and they’ve made replicas of them. Now I’m interested in what
you all think about that. The Arch of Triumph from
Palmyra has been on display in the U.S. and in England. You can go and see an
exact, exact, replica of it. Shouldn’t we be doing more of that? What are the implications of that? I get asked this question
a lot and it really really makes me queasy inside to think that that might be where
everybody’s minds going. So we’ll do all these 3D scanning and it doesn’t matter, does it? Okay, it’s still bad when
these things get destroyed, but we can just stamp out
another one on the 3D printer. It undermines the notion
that this heritage has an intangible value. When I go to Palmyra and I touch a column or I go to the theater, I’d like to think that that’s
what Zenobia saw and touched when she was there. I don’t know. It’s a feeling, the symbolic value of it, the feeling that you have that you know that it was there in ancient times and it’s also a part of
everyone’s identity there. Is it something that’s
cranked off of a 3D printer have that same idea? We could easily undermine that intangible value of cultural heritage. – [Female] I think you
can go bpth ways with it because I think it’s a useful concept particularly because, for instance, here I am internally crying that I’ll never get to see this stuff. But on the other hand, the concept of being able
to mass produce anything makes it seem less valuable. But I do know also that the man in Israel, there were certain places
where they had removed the actual piece of rock and replaced
it with a replica. It was amazing to see but it just didn’t have
the same emotional impact. – Yeah, yeah. It’s when you go to see
something in the museum, there’s that one painting
or that one sculpture and it’s not there. Or they have a replica
there, is that okay? Or are you disappointed sort of feeling. For me in a way, the 3D scanning is great. There are drones now for
(chuckles) archeology. You’ve got all this technology and it’s gonna be really
helpful for putting back some of these monuments back together. I mean the Temple of
Bel is now the largest three-dimensional puzzle in archeology. Shouldn’t we put it all back together? That’s another question
for all of you to consider. Should it be reconstructed? If it’s reconstructed, who should do it? When it’s reconstructed,
who will pay for it? And when it’s reconstructed, should we put up signage there that essentially reminds the person there what happened during the Syrian war? Will the next government Syria allow that? This is a part of its history too and these are the sorts of
things my mind is turning towards for post-conflict reconstruction. Very complicated issues. Go ahead. – [Female With Moving Hand]
So you mentioned that ISIL’s (mumbles) hide (mumbles)
and, you know, those folks, and that sort of stopped
the bombs come in. I mean, I was wondering, sort of… I don’t know what an
occupied site looks like, whether it’s obvious it’s been occupied. But has there been cases of you staging it and trying to get the site to be bombed (mumbles) essentially? – That’s an interesting idea. Not that I’m aware of. But in my mind I hadn’t
actually turned to that before. Since it’s always been… We usually have the follow-up
evidence of what they’ve done. I do know of sites that they’re using that nothing’s happened at all. It’s just suspiciously
going on, and on, and on. But no, that’s a very interesting concept, in terms of what they would
like to have happen is that… I mean they are trying to
have these site targeted, obviously and in our lot of cases. So let’s just put a lid on that idea, (chuckles) shall we? (audience laughing)
(laughs) Yeah. – [Off-Cam Female] Is there
anything we can do to help to raise more awareness for this project? – Usually what I say is
what can we do to help and I have a whole another
talk that I could do about what we’re doing to try to help. I encourage everyone to contribute somehow to the leading edge of
humanitarian relief. That’s what our project is generally is we’re a part of a larger
humanitarian relief effort. We don’t compete with that
people needing fresh water, food, education. Cultural heritage is a part of all of that and it’s an important part of it. But again, and contribute to the relief organization of your choice. I have some of my own that I really like. So I’m doing what I can
and my colleagues are because we’re archeologists
or are historians. But when I donate or when I spend time, I try to do things on that end of it. But yes, when someone’s really interested, we have internships and we’re doing a lot of things to try to crowdsource some of this work. One of things that we’ve been doing in the University of California system, since we have so much
satellite imagery to analyze, we’ve released some of that
imagery to the UC system in a Near Eastern archeology classes. They have the students… They’re training the students
to analyze satellite imagery and they’re entering their observations to cultural heritage
damaging to a big database to sort of sort through
it for us as a first go. That’s an example of it. We do have internships and student volunteers that work on a project to
scour the Internet to find, especially if they have
Arabic language skills, Kurdish, Turkish language skills, to look at the open-source streams for us. We’ve done a lot of student projects and we’ve got some
Masters thesis coming out. I would caution you. It is very interesting work, but the psychological
toll that it takes on you, day after day as you parse
through all of these atrocities, it’s horrific. It can be really hard on an individual to do that type of work. So, I mean again, it’s something to think about before doing it. But yeah, there are a lot of things. Before I forget, I mean we are doing a lot of things, we try to address all of this damage. Our project’s been involved in many different reconstruction
projects, preservation projects, and museums, and sites
in the conflicts zone, but we don’t often talk about it. Why don’t we talk about
the reconstruction work that we’re doing? Targets. (chuckles) So all this good stuff that’s going on, but all you hear about is the bad stuff. Why? We don’t want give them the targets, human targets or the
heritage site targets. I can point to examples
where there have been heritage projects to fix
things or reduce risk and we think that those sites were deliberately targeted later because there was an
effort to preserve them. So we don’t talk about that very often. We’ve actually recovered antiquities. We’ve gotten people arrested
for smuggling antiquities. We’ve revealed whole networks
in the conflict zone. Again, I don’t often talk about that, because it’s just a lot of redacted names and people with blurry faces. But I mean if I were to do
the talk in antiquities, the antiquities trade, it’s absolutely staggering
how much of that’s going on actually on a daily basis. But again, the details, you can’t really provide the details. Questions? Yeah. – [Facilitator] Okay, we’ll
take one more question. – [Doctor Danti] Yeah, one more. Sure. – Hate to get political, but we certainly have heard that they’re going to be big cuts
in the State Department. Will that affect your program, you think? – Yes, it already has. We were supposed to… I mean there’s a competitive
grant that we applied for. I can’t say we were the awardee. We were supposed to have
heard by January the first whether we were the awardee and the money was supposed
to be in place if we were, and no one’s heard who got the grant. Our program is still running on other grant money and everything, but again, yeah, not so much. So I’m hoping that it will
continue to be prioritized. And if it is, I think it will be because of the counter-terrorism dimension of it. All right. Thank you very much. Great questions.
– Thank you so much. (audience clapping) – Really appreciate it.

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