UNESCO, the U.N. cultural, education and science arm, has in
the past month started to train customs officials and police in
neighboring Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan to look for the
trafficking of cultural objects out of Syria, said Francesco
Bandarin, assistant director-general for culture at the agency.
Bandarin said the new Hollywood film — which tells the story of
experts tasked with retrieving artistic treasure stolen by the
Nazis during World War Two — would raise global awareness of the
illegal trade in artifacts stolen during more recent conflicts,
such as Syria, Mali and Libya.
"I would like to thank Hollywood for bringing this issue to
global attention because sometimes Hollywood is more powerful
than all the U.N. system put together," Bandarin said of the
film, which opens in North America on Friday and stars George
Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett.
"This issue of heritage protection will be on everybody's mind
and for us this is a tremendous opportunity," he told reporters
at the United Nations in New York.
The European Union gave UNESCO 2.5 million euros ($3.4
million)this week to establish a team in Beirut to gather better
information on the situation in Syria, to fight the trafficking
of artifacts and to raise awareness internationally and locally,
Syria's history stretches back through the great empires of the
Middle East to the dawn of human civilization, but cultural
sites and buildings around the country, such as Aleppo's Umayyad
Mosque, have been looted, damaged or destroyed in the conflict.
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Bandarin said some objects had already been
recovered in Beirut, including statues that had been illegally
excavated in the desert town of Palmyra. Illegal archeological
excavations across the country pose a great cultural threat, he
"Most of the objects that we saw are essentially statues or parts of
statues. We know also that other objects that are more difficult to
retrieve, like coins and metal objects, are circulating," he said of
what was found in Beirut.
The Syrian government has told UNESCO it had emptied
the country's 34 museums and moved the contents to safer places.
Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of Syria's antiquities and museums told
Reuters last year that tens of thousands of artifacts spanning
10,000 years of history were removed to specialist warehouses to
avoid a repeat of the storming of Baghdad's museum by looters
following the 2003 U.S. invasion and overthrow of Iraqi President
The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed in
Syria's conflict, which began in March 2011 with popular protests
against President Bashar al-Assad and spiraled into civil war after
a crackdown by security forces.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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