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Kurdistan’s Archaeological Looting: KRG cannot catch the ‘Mafias’

Kurdistan’s Archaeological Looting: KRG cannot catch the ‘Mafias’
The construction of an archaeological site in the province of Duhok under the supervision of the KRG’s Directorate of Antiquities and a German University

Peregraf- Sangar Salar

Several archaeological sites in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq have been looted, especially in distant districts which are far from police observations. 

Despite the continuous complaints from archeological experts on the looting, a few "looters" have been brought to justice.

Awder Luqman, archeological expert, has many examples of destruction of archeological sites. One of them is located in Gali Danial, between Shws and Qasrok villages, Akre town, Duhok Province. He says that some armed men tried to loot the archaeological heritage in the village. However, after being confronted by the people of the village, the armed men had fled.

"The armed men opened fire against the people before they fled. But none of them have been captured after police investigation."

According to Awder, over the last two years, archaeological excavations have increased, "The sites which might be a place of valuable things are excavated or exploded to bring them out."

"The looted artefacts are being transferred to Turkey and Iran, and then to the European counties through smugglers. Or they are displayed in the museums of Turkey and Iran as their own heritage without any mention of the original site," said Awder Luqman.

Kurdistan Region of Iraq is an area of rich history, placed in the north-east part of legendary Mesopotamia – home of civilizations like Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian. As many as six thousand archaeological sites exist in the region, but there are still many of them which have not been formally registered.

In late March 2019, archaeologists have discovered an ancient lost city beneath modern-day Iraqi Kurdistan. Newly discovered stone foundations, tablets and other artifacts revealed a city that thrived on the edge of the Zagros Mountains some 4,000 years ago. The hidden settlement surprised the researchers, with one describing the discovery on the Kunara site as "a small revolution."

Kaifi Mustafa, from the General Directorate of Antiquities of the Kurdistan Region, told Peregraf: "Most of the looting of archaeological sites in Kurdistan are conducted by archaeological mafias and businessmen, and some ordinary people as well."

An archeological hill in the town of Saidsadiq which is destructed by unknown people. Photo By Peregraf

The related archaeological officials ask for a special force to protect the sites. However, none of KRG’s Interior Ministry or Council of Ministers have responded to the demand.

Kaifi Mustafa states that protecting archaeological sites is crucial, "because they cannot be reproduced and by destructing an archaeological site, the history of the place will be erased."

The General Directorate of Antiquities complains about the "weak laws" for opposing and punishing the looters.

Kurdistan Region is working under the terms of Iraq Antiquities Law No. 59, enacted in 1936, as amended by amendments 120 (1974) and Amendment 164 (1975). However, the central government of Iraq is working under the Law No.55 of 2002 For The Antiquities & Heritage of Iraq.

The penalties for violating Law Number 59 for those who steal, traffic, or damage artifacts are different and is punishable by a maximum of up to 10 years in prison.  However, the penalties are different according to the central government law, which includes life sentence and execution.

Archaeologist Shawan Hawrami, believes that there are many factors behind damaging and looting archaeological sites in Kurdistan, "The most important is the economical factor, and people try to gain some money in this way." He also mentions the lack of security forces' observation of the sites which the smugglers profit of, "Also, most of the people are not aware of the importance of the archaeological sites."

An archeological hill in the town of Saidsadiq which is destructed by unknown people. Photo By Peregraf

According to the archaeologists, damaging and looting attempts widely occur in most sites all around Kurdistan Region.  

Awder Luqman states that in recent months, an armed group of more than 50 men, exploded a part of Sangi Siaw Castle in Hawraman Mountains, looking for valuable artifacts. He also mentions people digging holes as deep as five meters at the hills of Saidsadiq town in an attempt for finding artifacts.

Kawran Ismail, from the Directorate of Antiquities of Halabja Governorate told Peregraf: "We have filed a lawsuit on damaging Sangi Siaw Castle and the case remains opened in the court. However, nobody has been captured. We have no idea who did that!"

There are more than 200 archaeological sites in the Halabja governorate, 150 of them have been registered so far.

Adwer Luqman mentions some other damaging archaeological sites in Kurdistan such as the attempt to explode the Halamata Cave at the Zawa Mountain in Duhok Province, in addition to getting into a church close to Akre town and damaging an old graveyard in Bawanwr, Garmyan. 

He also mentions another incident in the Nalparez town, Penjwen, where some armed men have dug a site at Yasamal village using an excavator, but they could not finish it and fled.

‌Hemn Ibrahim, Director of the Nalparez town, told Peregraf about that incident: "In mid-May 2017, we were called about it. When we reached the place, all the armed men had fled."

Although causing damage to archaeological sites have increased in recent years, the punishment reserved for looters and smugglers are not clear.

Hemn Nanakaly, Director of the Directorate of Adults Reformatory in Erbil told Peregraf: "No one with allegation of stealing or damaging archaeological sites are jailed in our prison." He also said, for years, nobody has been jailed due to archaeology-related crimes.

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Kurdistan’s Archaeological Looting: KRG cannot catch the ‘Mafias’

2019-07-26 17:08:18

Peregraf- Sangar Salar

Several archaeological sites in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq have been looted, especially in distant districts which are far from police observations. 

Despite the continuous complaints from archeological experts on the looting, a few "looters" have been brought to justice.

Awder Luqman, archeological expert, has many examples of destruction of archeological sites. One of them is located in Gali Danial, between Shws and Qasrok villages, Akre town, Duhok Province. He says that some armed men tried to loot the archaeological heritage in the village. However, after being confronted by the people of the village, the armed men had fled.

"The armed men opened fire against the people before they fled. But none of them have been captured after police investigation."

According to Awder, over the last two years, archaeological excavations have increased, "The sites which might be a place of valuable things are excavated or exploded to bring them out."

"The looted artefacts are being transferred to Turkey and Iran, and then to the European counties through smugglers. Or they are displayed in the museums of Turkey and Iran as their own heritage without any mention of the original site," said Awder Luqman.

Kurdistan Region of Iraq is an area of rich history, placed in the north-east part of legendary Mesopotamia – home of civilizations like Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian. As many as six thousand archaeological sites exist in the region, but there are still many of them which have not been formally registered.

In late March 2019, archaeologists have discovered an ancient lost city beneath modern-day Iraqi Kurdistan. Newly discovered stone foundations, tablets and other artifacts revealed a city that thrived on the edge of the Zagros Mountains some 4,000 years ago. The hidden settlement surprised the researchers, with one describing the discovery on the Kunara site as "a small revolution."

Kaifi Mustafa, from the General Directorate of Antiquities of the Kurdistan Region, told Peregraf: "Most of the looting of archaeological sites in Kurdistan are conducted by archaeological mafias and businessmen, and some ordinary people as well."

An archeological hill in the town of Saidsadiq which is destructed by unknown people. Photo By Peregraf

The related archaeological officials ask for a special force to protect the sites. However, none of KRG’s Interior Ministry or Council of Ministers have responded to the demand.

Kaifi Mustafa states that protecting archaeological sites is crucial, "because they cannot be reproduced and by destructing an archaeological site, the history of the place will be erased."

The General Directorate of Antiquities complains about the "weak laws" for opposing and punishing the looters.

Kurdistan Region is working under the terms of Iraq Antiquities Law No. 59, enacted in 1936, as amended by amendments 120 (1974) and Amendment 164 (1975). However, the central government of Iraq is working under the Law No.55 of 2002 For The Antiquities & Heritage of Iraq.

The penalties for violating Law Number 59 for those who steal, traffic, or damage artifacts are different and is punishable by a maximum of up to 10 years in prison.  However, the penalties are different according to the central government law, which includes life sentence and execution.

Archaeologist Shawan Hawrami, believes that there are many factors behind damaging and looting archaeological sites in Kurdistan, "The most important is the economical factor, and people try to gain some money in this way." He also mentions the lack of security forces' observation of the sites which the smugglers profit of, "Also, most of the people are not aware of the importance of the archaeological sites."

An archeological hill in the town of Saidsadiq which is destructed by unknown people. Photo By Peregraf

According to the archaeologists, damaging and looting attempts widely occur in most sites all around Kurdistan Region.  

Awder Luqman states that in recent months, an armed group of more than 50 men, exploded a part of Sangi Siaw Castle in Hawraman Mountains, looking for valuable artifacts. He also mentions people digging holes as deep as five meters at the hills of Saidsadiq town in an attempt for finding artifacts.

Kawran Ismail, from the Directorate of Antiquities of Halabja Governorate told Peregraf: "We have filed a lawsuit on damaging Sangi Siaw Castle and the case remains opened in the court. However, nobody has been captured. We have no idea who did that!"

There are more than 200 archaeological sites in the Halabja governorate, 150 of them have been registered so far.

Adwer Luqman mentions some other damaging archaeological sites in Kurdistan such as the attempt to explode the Halamata Cave at the Zawa Mountain in Duhok Province, in addition to getting into a church close to Akre town and damaging an old graveyard in Bawanwr, Garmyan. 

He also mentions another incident in the Nalparez town, Penjwen, where some armed men have dug a site at Yasamal village using an excavator, but they could not finish it and fled.

‌Hemn Ibrahim, Director of the Nalparez town, told Peregraf about that incident: "In mid-May 2017, we were called about it. When we reached the place, all the armed men had fled."

Although causing damage to archaeological sites have increased in recent years, the punishment reserved for looters and smugglers are not clear.

Hemn Nanakaly, Director of the Directorate of Adults Reformatory in Erbil told Peregraf: "No one with allegation of stealing or damaging archaeological sites are jailed in our prison." He also said, for years, nobody has been jailed due to archaeology-related crimes.