Smuggling of antiquities by the international terrorist organization Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant

Around 100,000 cultural objects of global importance, including 4,500 archaeological sites, nine of which are included in the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), are under the control of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq. The profit derived by the Islamists from the illicit trade in antiquities and archaeological treasures is estimated at US$ 150-200 million per year.

Within ISIL, the smuggling of artefacts is organized by the antiquities division (commander: Abu Sayyaf al-Iraqi), which is part of the so-called ministry for control of natural resources within the group’s “government”. Only individuals in possession of a written permit stamped by this “department” are permitted by the Islamists to carry out excavations and to remove and transport excavated items.

Antiquities from Syria and Iraq are exported by the extremists mostly through the territory of Turkey. The main centre for the smuggling of cultural heritage items is the Turkish city of Gaziantep, where the stolen goods are sold at illegal auctions and then through a network of antique shops and at the local market, Bakırcılar Çarşısi (Eski Saray Street, Şekeroğlu district).

It has been observed that new offices for the purchase of antiquities have opened on the Turkish-Syrian border in the administrative district of Akçakale
(640 km south-east of Ankara, Şanlıurfa Province). Ismet Eren, the owner of an antique shop at 24 Karanfil Street in the town of Kilis, is involved in the illicit trade. Bulky goods are delivered by the Turkish transport companies Şenocak Nakliyat, Devran Nakliyat, Karahan Nakliyat and Egemen Nakliyat. Smuggled artefacts (jewellery, coins, etc.) then arrive in the Turkish cities of Izmir, Mersin and Antalya, where representatives of international criminal groups produce fake documents on the origin of the antiquities.

The antiquities are then offered to collectors from various countries, generally through Internet auction sites such as eBay and specialized online stores (,,, and The sites, and are also used to find buyers. The criminals employ concealment measures, such as IP-address spoofing, which makes it difficult to identify and determine the actual location of the seller. Recently ISIL has been exploiting the potential of social media more and more frequently so as to cut out the middleman and sell artefacts directly to buyers. Preference is given to cash transactions, while transactions conducted over the Internet involve the same financial institutions as are involved in transactions for the purchase of weapons and ammunition

Answer by Turkey

Turkey strongly deplores the attacks resulting in the destruction of cultural property constituting the common heritage of humanity by the terrorist organization DEASH/ISIL.

The authorities of Turkey, which is also a country of origin, are displaying continuous vigilance and handling the issue of prevention of trafficking and illicit transfer of cultural property with utmost care and diligence.

In order to prevent the looting and illegal transfer of historical artefacts from neighbouring countries of origin with which we share a common heritage, even before the first call was made by the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in June 2012, Turkey has reinforced existing measures in accordance with its obligations arising from international instruments and mobilized all relevant institutions and agencies, including the Ministries of Culture, Customs and Trade, and the Interior, the General Commands of the Gendarmerie and the Turkish Coast Guard and private museums. UNESCO and the relevant Security Council committee have been informed about Turkey’s efforts and findings, in accordance with Council resolution 2199 (2015), which Turkey co-sponsored.

The illicit trafficking in cultural property from conflict areas was on the agenda of the fifth International Conference of Experts on the Return of Cultural Property, hosted in Cappadocia, Turkey, from 18 to 22 October 2015. Participants expressed their deep concern about the destruction and the illicit trafficking of cultural property from Iraq and Syria and called for the urgent implementation of the relevant provision of Security Council resolution 2199 (2015).

The translation into Turkish of the Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk published by the International Council of Museums, and its subsequent dissemination to all relevant authorities in order to facilitate the identification of historical artefacts of Syrian origin, constitutes one of the recent examples of the steps taken by Turkey to counter the illicit trade in antiquities.

Turkey, as one of the founding members of UNESCO, is currently chairing its World Heritage Committee while preparing to host its next meeting, in Istanbul from 10 to 20 July 2016.

Within this context, the content of the note annexed to the letter from the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, entitled “Smuggling of antiquities by the international terrorist organization Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant”, has been thoroughly investigated by the relevant Turkish authorities.

These investigations, carried out including in the provinces of Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa and Kilis, have resulted in no information, data or any other finding to substantiate or confirm the allegations contained in the above-mentioned note. For instance, the records of the license plate tracking system of Turkey have shown that the trucks owned by the transport companies referred to in the letter of the Russian Federation have not even travelled to the province of Gaziantep.

In the light of these facts, the allegations by the Russian Federation are baseless, fabricated and part of a campaign carried out by that country against Turkey.