Showing posts with label Kuwait National Museum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kuwait National Museum. Show all posts

December 25, 2016

How long does it take looted antiquities from the middle east to resurface? A heck of a long time.

When people query ARCA about why the world is not seeing more looted Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, and  Libyan antiquities on the market, given the continued unrest and looting in these countries, I usually respond resolutely with "it's just too soon."  I underscore this because I know there is a lot at stake, and I know that governments and the media want to be able to draw clearer lines between the world's current terrorist groups, organised crime and heritage looting.

Art can disappear and not resurface for decades after it was stolen and most art crime scholars will agree that the most valuable pieces are kept off the licit market by savvy traffickers and generally don't resurface until the world's interest is diverted, sometimes decades later.  

Case in point, this gazelle-skinned Kuwaiti manuscript.  Time to market? 26 years. 


Acting upon accurate information received by Iraqi security forces concerning a dealer of ancient manuscripts believed to be plying his clandestine trade in the Babil Governorate (also known as the Babylon Province ), law enforcement authorities formed a crime-fighting task force in the region south of Baghdad, hoping to catch the art criminal in the act. 

Under the command of Colonel Adham al-Salihi, director of the anticrime team in Babylon and in coordination with the National Security Directorate and the region's Economic Crimes Department, authorities subsequently arrested three people this week, both buyers and sellers, at a cafe in the city of Hilla.  Each has been accused of furthering the smuggling of antiquities.  In their possession was a historic manuscript, complete with the National Museum of Kuwait's seal on its reverse side.  Kuwaiti news reports state the object was stolen by a former soldier in the Iraqi army during the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, also known as the Iraq–Kuwait War.


Kuwaiti museum authorities are still looking for more than 450 objects looted during the conflict between Saddam Hussein’s Ba'athist government and the Emirate of Kuwait, objects that went missing during the seven-month-long Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Many of these antiquities are feared lost forever, most likely sold illicitly, like the one recovered this week, when sold to private individuals in post-Saddam Iraq and elsewhere in the nearby Arab world. 

Rarely, do pieces like these turn up early on the Western powerhouse art markets, though in 1996, a 16th century emerald, ruby and turquoise-encrusted Moghul dagger was spotted on the cover of a Sotheby's auction catalogue.  With supporting identification documents from the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI) at Kuwait National Museum (KNM), the country's museum authorities were able to stop the sale and the dagger was eventually reliquished to the museum's collection. 

Pending completion of the investigation, the parchment seized this week will remain with the Iraqi authorities for safekeeping and further identification before being eventually returned to the Kuwait museum.

By: Lynda Albertson