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The destruction and looting of cultural heritage sites by ISIS in Syria: The case of Manbij and its countryside

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 November 2021

Adnan Almohamad*
Affiliation:
Honorary Research Fellow, Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, Birkbeck College, University of London, United Kingdom

Abstract

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) occupied the city of Manbij and its countryside from 23 January 2014 until 12 August 2016. During this period, the region suffered greatly as ISIS monopolized control and brutally imposed its ideology. Fierce battles were fought for the control of oil wells, bakeries, mills, dams, and power stations, all of which were sources of revenue. Antiquities were soon recognized as another potential income source. This article demonstrates the ways in which ISIS began to administer and facilitate the looting of antiquities through the Diwan Al-Rikaz. Within this diwan, ISIS established the Qasmu Al-Athar, which was specifically responsible for looting antiquities. Based on interviews conducted in 2015 and primary documents, this article studies the specific ways in which ISIS facilitated the quarrying and looting of antiquities in Manbij and the rich archaeological sites of its countryside. Further, by examining the damage at a previously undocumented archaeological site, Meshrefet Anz, the looting of antiquities under the direct supervision of the Diwan Al-Rikaz is studied. Using documentary evidence including ISIS’s internal documentation as well as photographs collected by the author between 2014 and 2016, the article demonstrates the methods used by ISIS, reveals its financial motivations, and bears witness to the damage done at specific Syrian heritage sites.

Type
Article
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the International Cultural Property Society

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