Vladimir Sazonov (University of Tartu, Estonia) “Conflict in Syria and Iraq: Destruction of Cultural Legacy, Archaeological Looting, and the Future of Archaeological Sites”


The so-called IS fighters active in Syrian and Iraqi territory with a string of successful conquests behind them wish to gain control over the whole of Syria and Iraq. The Islamists and the civil war represent a threat to Ancient Near Eastern cities (Nimrud, Palmyra, Ebla, etc.) as well as to many museums, important archives and ancient monuments which the Islamists will undoubtedly pillage and destroy, as they are currently doing in Syria and Iraq. The Islamists have shown no mercy towards the heritage of the Mesopotamian civilisation, destroying sculptures and pillaging ancient cities that are thousands of years old. Many Syrian and Iraqi museums and archaeological sites were looted by various people, not only by IS troops. Looters can be local and foreign alike, and among them are not only Syrians or Iraqis but also many looters from other countries too. These looters have stolen or broken many artefacts and damaged archaeological sites.

The cultural heritage damaged by IS includes remains from ancient Mesopotamian high cultures such as the Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations, and also the great cultural legacies from the Persian, Hellenistic, Parthian, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods. Another problem is the illegal trade and exportation of artefacts, illicit activity that is extremely high in Syria and Iraq.


Al-Azm, S. Al-Kuntar, B. I. D. 2015. ISIS’ Antiquities Sideline. The New York Times. 2.09.2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/03/opinion/isis-antiquities-sideline.html?_r=3, last visited 1.3.2016.

Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past, 2008. Emberling, F., Hanson, K. (eds.). The Oriental Museum of the University of Chicago, Oriental Institute Museum Publications No. 8.

Casana. J. 2015. Satellite Imagery-Based Analysis of Archaeological Looting in Syria. Near Eastern Archaeology, Vol. 78, No. 3, Special Issue: The Cultural Heritage Crisis in the Middle East (September 2015), pp. 142-152.

E. Cunliffe, W. Pedersen, M. Fiol, T.Jellison, C. Saslow, E. Bjørgo, G. Boccardi 2014. Satellite-based Damage Assessment to Cultural Heritage Sites in Syria. UNOSAT, 2014, http://unosat.web.cern.ch/unosat/unitar/downloads/chs/FINAL_Syria_WHS.pdf, last visited 1.3.2016.