December 2, 2016

Recovered: Marble head of Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus

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Massimo Maresca, Commander, Archaeology section of the operational department of the Carabinieri TPC, Pietro Savarino, Amsterdam Police and Justice Officer Willem Nijkerk
The second century CE marble head of Julia Domna, wife of Emperor Septimius Severus, the founder of the Severan dynasty, which was stolen from the Museo del Canopo at Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli in 2012, is now coming home. 

The bust was identified in Amsterdam in May 2015 as having been part of the permanent collections at Hadrian's villa, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, just as it was being put up for consignment at Christies in the Netherlands. Suspicious of the very recognizable bust, despite it not yet being represented in the stolen art databases, the auction house contacted Dutch authorities and the Italian Carabinieri del Comando Tutela Patrimonio Culturale - sezione Archeologia to report their concerns. 

Working in collaboration with the Dutch police and the Italian authorities, the auction house informed the would-be consignors that they had declined to list the sculpture and returned the marble head to thier would-be sellers.  This allowed the authorities the opportunity to formally charge two Dutch citizens on suspicion of theft and/or receiving stolen property.  

As the investigation continued, the object was ultimately relinquished without the need for letters rogatory, which are the customary means of obtaining judicial assistance from overseas authorities in the absence of a treaty or other agreement.

Speaking at the Dutch press conference, Major Massimo Maresca, who led the Italian carabinieri a team said "Each stolen piece of art that comes back to our museums is like a wound that has healed." Maresca also thanked the Amsterdam police for their collaboration.

The sculpture has now been relinquished to Italian authorities where it will be held in judicial custody at the disposal of the Public Prosecutor of Rome until such time as all court proceedings have been completed.  At the conclusion of the criminal case, the Julia Domna bust will then be returned to Villa Adriana, where it will be displayed in the antiquarium.

While various websites have estimated the commercial value of the bust at approximately €500,000 it should be remembered that public objects, especially one depicting the Empress of the Roman Empire from 170 to 217 CE, are not for sale in Italy.  

Compliments also to Christie's Amsterdam for their due diligence in notifying the authorities as quickly as they did.  

December 1, 2016

Thursday, December 01, 2016 - ,,, No comments

Just another day, living in gangsta...I mean art market...paradise...

“History is subjective. History is alterable. History is, finally, little more than modeling clay in a very warm room.” ― Bradford Morrow, The Forgers

Papyrologist and ancient historian Dr. Roberta Mazza once coined a phrase to describe the world in general, but which also aptly applies to how the art market sometimes moves and acts....“absurdistan”

Chiming in with her very own “prestigious auction alert” on her spot-on blog Faces & Voices earlier this week, Mazza then drew our attention to an upcoming New York auction we may not want to miss.  In addition to auctioning six, six-figure bibles from the Dr. Charles Caldwell Ryrie collection, auction powerhouse Sotheby's is also offering a “Souvenir Facsimile” of the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, also known as the St John's fragment. 

But who recreates a Canonical gospel as a souvenir? And more importantly, who buys one?  Does its ownership by a famous theologian make the counterfeit knock-off the Bible-nerds equivalent to a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card?

If reading about a certified fake on auction wasn't enough to make me think people will buy just about anything, the auction house news reminded me of this list-serv posting from 2014.  It is from an antiquities collector forum and was posted by a well known dealer.  Its title...

A journey in the life of a looted antiquity...

I'm sure this lovely step-by-step guide was merely an illustration, mind you. Surely the um.... the respectable dealer himself wasn't speaking from any first-hand experience?

“Hello to you all.

I would like to share with you my thoughts regarding how a piece you end up buying in auction at Bonhams or Christies is actually looted.

- A poor farmer in Egypt finds it while ploughing [sic] his land.

- He is scared to report it considering the hell he will go through, confiscating his land, ending up in jail, family dying from hunger etc... so he sells it to the local dealer in the village.

- Local dealer sells it to the middle man in Cairo.

- Middle man sells it to the big boss in Cairo.

- Big boss smuggles it to an Arabian gulf country, e.g. Qatar, Dubai, Bahrain.

- Piece then shipped to a stupid European country, e.g. Portugal.  sorry, stupid meaning = level of  customs awareness.

- Then an invoice is made from a dealer in another European country e.g. Belgium, to this Portuguese dealer for the piece, of course no body [sic] checks, it's an EU transaction, no tax, no customs.

- Based on the Belgian invoice, the Portuguese dealer make an export licence [sic] to U.S.A from ministry of culture, piece origin from Belgium, this totally cancels the fact that the piece came from the Arabian gulf.

- Item received in the U.S , no trouble, legal,

- Item sold in auction + old European collection, legally entered to U.S, customs paid.” 

Dealer name withheld  
Location: somewhere in “absurdistan”

NB:  ARCA has screenshots of the conversation with said dealer in question, but based on the above, we are super happy that US Secretary of State John Kerry has signed off this week on the U.S.-Egypt cultural property Memorandum of Understanding with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

by: Lynda Albertson

November 30, 2016

Auction Alert II: Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction, Munich

On November 29, 2016 ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified four potentially-tainted antiquity scheduled to be auctioned by Gorny & Mosch in Munich, Germany on December 14, 2016.  Each of the four ancient objects are traceable to photos in the confiscated Gianfranco Becchina and Robin Symes archives.

The antiquities identified by Tsirogiannis are:

Lot 19 An Etruscan bronze figure of a youth. Mid 5th century B.C.E.

Image 1 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 19 

The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
"Ex collection RG, Germany. At Royal Athena Galleries, New York, Catalogue XXI, 2010 43. Ex Sotheby Catalogue of Antiquities 13 July 1981 341."

Jerome Eisenberg, editor of the Minerva journal and proprietor of Royal Athena Galleries in New York City is a name that has come up in the past as the purchasor or seller of antiquities with contriversial backgrounds.  Please see the following links for more information on a few of the gallery's previous aquisitions herehere, here and here


Image 2 - Symes Archive Photo
Tsirogiannis previously identified Lot 19 (Image 1) in the Symes archive (Image 2), while on offer through the Royal Athena Galleries in October 2010 along with several other antiquities whose images appeared in the Medici and the Becchina archives.  In January 2011 these identifications were presented by Professor David Gill through his 'Looting Matters' blog and publicized in the Italian press by art and curruption journalist Fabio Isman through the art publication Il Giornale dell'Arte. Each notification published a copy of the Syme's archive photo of the Etruscan figurine.

The fact that this bronze figure reappears for sale now, five years after the first identification, may mean that the Italian authorities chose not to act on this particular object or that the holder of the antiquity at that time, was able to produce sufficient evidence to eliminate it as a potentially trafficked antiquity. That information (if it exists) was not made part of the auction house collection history. 

Lot 87 An Apulian red-figure situla of the Lycurgus Painter. 360 - 350 B.C.E.

Image 3 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 87

The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
"From James Stirt Collection, Vevey, Switzerland, acquired in 1997 Heidi Vollmöller, Zürich"

Image 4 - Becchina Archive photo of a Situla 
The photo provided by Tsirogiannis from the Becchina archive (Image 4) shows the vase badly encrusted with soil and salt deposits). A handwritten note included with the archive photograph indicates that the images were sent from Raffaele Montichelli to Gianfranco Becchina on 18 March 1988.

Montichelli is a convicted antiquities trafficker from Taranto who had a long-standing relationship with Gianfranco Becchina.  Montichelli's legitimate occupation was listed as a retired elementary school teacher, yet it seems he made enough money from the illicit proceeds of trafficked art, to purchase lucritive property (later siezed by the Italian authorities) in some of Italy's more exclusive areas of Florence and Rome.

It is interesting to note that the passage via Becchina in this lot's collection history, pre-dates the auction house provenance written in the sale catalog by Gorny & Mosch.  Did Vollmöller leave out the purchasing history of who the situla was purchased from when placing the object on consignment or did Gorny & Mosch omit it intentionally?

Lot 88 An Apulian red-figure bell-krater of the Dechter Painter. 350 - 340 B.C.E. 

Image 5 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 88
The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
Ex Gallery Palladion, Basel; . ex private collection of Mrs. Borowzova, Binnigen in Switzerland, acquired in 1976 by Elie Borowski, Basel

Image 6 - Becchina Archive photo
of a Bell Crater 
Palladion Antike Kunst (notice the slightly corrected name of the gallery) was managed by Gianfranco Becchina in Basel, Switzerland though the Swiss gallery was officially listed as belonging to Ursula ''Rosie'' Juraschek, Becchina's wife.

Tsirogiannis provided a photo of this krater (Image 6) from the Becchina archive which was dated APR 4 '89' (4/4/1989).  Again we see a "raw" object covered with soil and salt encrustations and missing various fragments. Note that the 1989 date on the unrestored object photo doesn't match up to the date of the object's inclusion in the Elie Borowski collection.

Elie Borowski, whose vast collection of Mideast artifacts later formed bulk of Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, died in 2003. No stranger to the antiquities underbelly, former Getty antiquities curator Marion True told Italian authorities that Borowski, a Basel, Switzerland, antiquities dealer was also a client of Gianfranco Becchina.

Interestingly, Borowski once made a discreet trip to Gubbio to view the recently-fished Getty Bronze before it made its eventual way to Malibu, but Borowski's dip into possible skulduggery didn't stop there.  His name appears in the now famous trafficker's organigram, the handwritten organization chart of the illicit trade seized by Italian authorities from the apartment of Danilo Zicchi.  His name has also been linked to possibly looted antiquities from Turkey as well.

Lot 127 A squat alabastron of the Gnathia-ware with the bust of a winged woman with sakkos. Said to be from the White Sakkos Painter. Apulia, 320 - 310 B.C.E.


Image 7 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 127
The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
Ex Christie's London, 15/04/2015, ex 113; from the private collection of Hans Humbel, Switzerland, acquired at the Galerie Arete, Zurich in the early 1990s.

Image 8 - Becchina archive alabastron
This alabastron is also depicted in a Becchina archive photo supplied by Tsirogiannis (Image 8), alongside other antiquities in the background.  The photo's image is dated 24/9/1988 and was again sent to Gianfranco Becchina from convicted trafficker Raffaele Montichelli.

As with the previous lots, the date on the image pre-dates the collecting history listed by Gorny & Mosch leading me to hypothesize that the collection histories of all four objects have been intentionally spartan on details.

Like Lot 19 in these identifications, this is the second time Tsirogiannis has identified this particular antiquity in an upcoming auction.

But here the trail gets more interesting. 

On April 11, 2015 ARCA published Tsirogianni's original identification of the alabastron with the following provenance provided by Christies.

"Provenance with Petit Musée, Montreal, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1998."

The object was one of two vases comprising Lot 113, in Christie's April 15, 2016 antiquities auction in London and a screenshot (Image 9) taken by ARCA and used in the original April 11, 2015 identification post is reposted below.

Image 9 - Christie's website screenshot April 11, 2015
On April 15, 2015 the alabastron was withdrawn from the auction with a Saleroom Notice that read: "This Lot is withdrawn"

Clicking on the Christie's URL today, which still links to last year's sale, shows that the alabastron photo has been deleted and replaced with an alternative one (Image 10), that shows only Lot 113's piriform bottle.

Image 10 - Christie's website screenshot
November 30, 3016

Additionally, the "withdrawn" notice has been replaced with this one (Image 11)

Image 11 - Christie's website screenshot
November 30, 3016
Strangely, the Gorny & Mosch provenance lists "Ex Christie's London, 15/04/2015".

Did Christie's follow through with the April 2015 sale instead of withdrawing it?Or has Gorny & Mosch listed the unfulfilled auction to add credibility to its own listing now that the owner of the piece has decided to shop the antiquity in Germany.   Who changed out the image of the alabastron for the piriform bottle and for what motive?

And what about the object's prior Christie's provenance which listed "the Petit Musée, Montreal, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1998"?  Was that collecting history a work of fiction that later became inconvenient for the owner and current auction house?

ARCA hopes that by continuing to publicize the frequency illicit antiquities penetrate the legitimate art market, with provenance irregularities such as those seen in these identifications, will force auction houses and collectors to adhere to accurate and stringent reporting requirements on their object collection histories so that new buyers do not continually launder objects in support the illicit antiquities trade.

In closing,  since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has sought to identify antiquities of illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives.

Tsirogiannis has notified INTERPOL of his identifications asking them to formally notify both the German and the Italian authorities.  Let's hope Gorny & Mosch withdraw the object and conduct a more thorough due diligence with the object's consignor/s.

By Lynda Albertson

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 - ,,,,, No comments

Auction Alert I: Ancient Palmyran Limestone Head Ca. 3rd-5th century A.D.?


Two different online auction websites, Live Auctioneers and Invaluable each have "sold" a listing for the same Palmyrene limestone funerary bust.  The object on offer was sold November 29th through Palmyra Heritage Gallery in New York City with a closing bid of USD $3,900.

As some of ARCA's readers may recall from an earlier blog post, Palmyra Heritage Gallery is operated by Mousa Khouli who also uses the Americanized name of Morris. Khouli has dealt in antiquities and ancient coins in the New York area for quite some time and has operated his business as both Windsor Antiquities and Palmyra Heritage. His ancient wares have been found on vCoin previously and are currently offered on the online auction powerhouse website eBay using a seller profile called:
palmyraheritagemorriskhouligallery. 

As detailed in that earlier ARCA blog post, involving another potentially suspect object, Khouli moved to New York City with his family from Syria in 1992. Once in America he opened a gallery specializing in objects from the ancient world in 1995. His father had a gallery in Damascus, Syria for 35 years and his grandfather too worked in the art and antiquities trade, meaning that he should likely be well-versed in the legalities of trading in objects from the ancient world.


But knowing the law and abiding by the law, are two different things. 

In 2008 and 2009 Khouli arranged for the purchase and smuggling of a series of Egyptian antiquities, exported from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and then smuggled into the United States under false declarations to the US Customs authorities concerning the country of origin and the value of the antiquities. The illicit objects included a set of Egyptian funerary boats, a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus, a three-part nesting coffin set, which, according to its hieroglyphics, may have belonged to “Shesepamuntayesher” from the Saite period or 26th Dynasty, and several Egyptian limestone figurines. The contents on the shipping labels and customs paperwork supplied for the imported items were intentionally mislabeled as “antiques,” “wood panels,” and a “wooden painted box.” 

Cultural Property Attorney Rick St. Hilaire, who followed the court case against Khouli and other defendants throughout the federal proceedings, reported in April 2012 that the antiquities dealer/numismatist pled guilty to smuggling Egyptian cultural property into the United States and to making a false statement to law enforcement authorities. In November of the same year United States Senior District Judge Edward R. Korman departed from the federal sentencing guidelines and sentenced Khouli to a relatively light sentence for his misdeeds: six months home confinement, one-year probation, 200 hours of community service, and a criminal monetary assessment of $200. 

Yet looking at the documentation for Khouli's recent auction of the Palmyrene limestone funerary sculpture also raises some questions. At the time of the 2008-09 conviction Khouli provided the purchasing collector with false provenance for the trafficked Egyptian antiquities; documents which stated that the objects were part of a private collection that his father had assembled in Israel in the 1960s.

Under the listing for the Palmyrene limestone funerary bust both websites list: "Private NYC Collection acquired From Israel 10-03-2011 with original Export License from Israel" for the object's provenance.  Along with the written detail, each auction included a reassuring photo for the would-be bidder, a rumpled document written in Hebrew and English that states that the object had been exported from Israel through Sami Taha, an antiquarian and numismatist whose website states he is "serving Jerusalem and the world's market for antiquities from the Holy Land by authority of the Israel Antiquities Authority."

Sami Taha's business is operated with the following details:
Twitter Profile: @BiblicalArtifas
eBay Seller Profile: biblicalartifacts.jerusalem

Until August 2016 he listed himself as an authorised Antiquities Dealer, License No.144 *
Ancient Art of the Holy Land
45 Jaffa Gate, opposite David Citadel entrance
PO Box. 14646
Jerusalem 9114601, Israel
The physical location for his shop has since closed though he is still selling actively on the web. 

* Note:  No copy of this dealer's Israeli Antiquities Authority license has been provided on Taha's website.

If the provenance document for the limestone funerary bust is to be believed, the object was to be shipped to Oslo, Norway on behalf of Anne Christine Kroepelien. Kroepelien's Linkedin profile shows her to be a litigation and offshore refinery lawyer with no mention of any collectioning background.   Interestingly, her name attached to various other ancient objects traceable to Khouli floating their way through various online auction websites, as can be seen here, here, and here.  

But what does an Israeli Export authorization look like?

Below is an example of an authentic Israeli-issued IAA export approval document issued in 2011 (below left). The document next to it is the one provided by Khouli for the Palmyra bust (below right).


Notice that the documentation provided for the purported Syrian object does not identify the export authority in the header, nor is it rubber-stamped or signed.

But why didn't the limestone funerary bust, allegedly from Palmyra, have any documentation from its country of origin, Syria?

Probably because there isn't any.   The general export of antiquities is altogether banned in Syria in all but the rarest of circumstances and the country's cultural heritage is protected by numerous national laws.  A review of the ICOM red list for Syria shows that authentic funerary busts from Palmyra would likely be classified as a movable antiquity, considered immovable in cases where they are parts or decorations of immovable antiquities (such as gravesites) and covered under the following national rulings:

Decree-Law No. 84 of the Civil Code regarding archaeological objects
covered by specific laws - 18 May 1949

Legislative Decree No. 148 of the Penal Code regarding the destructions
of historical monuments - 22 May 1949

Legislative Decree No. 222 on the Antiquities regime in Syria - 26 October 1963, as amended by the Antiquities Law - 5 April 1999
NOTE: Legislative Decree No. 222 encompasses previous national legislation
regarding the protection of cultural heritage:
Legislative Decree No. 295 - 2 December 1969
Legislative Decree No. 296 - 2 December 1969
Legislative Decree No. 333 - 23 December 1969

Law No. 38 on Customs - 6 July 2006

Decree-Law No. 107 regarding local administration - 23 August 2011

Article 69 of the Syrian Antiquities Law specifically provides that an export license may only be granted with regard to antiquities that are to be exchanged with museums and other scientific institutions, and with regard to antiquities given to an organization or mission after excavations are finished.  Neither of these circumstances appear to be the case with the auctioned funerary bust, making the fact that the object has no other substantiating paperwork, prior to 1963, all the more suspicious.

So if the object is authentic, then who moved the bust from Syria to New York, and how and is it authentic? 

ArchaeologyIN (The Archaeology Information Network) has notified Walid Al-Asad, the former director of antiquities and museums in Palmyra on 28 November about the object's upcoming sale and Al-Asad stated that at first glance the auction photo appears to meet the artistic specifications of a Palmyrene limestone funerary bust.  On this basis, ArchaeologyIN formally notified Dr. Maamoun Abdulkarim, Director General, Directorate General of Antiquities & Museums (DGAM) in Syria of the potentially suspicious item.

Questioning its entry into the United States on the basis of the material supplied by the seller, ARCA in turn contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in New York about its concerns regarding the object's limited import/export paperwork and the bust's purported export provenance from Israel via possibly Oslo.

But small organizations and understaffed source countries, acting alone or in cooperation, cannot tackle all of the triangulations between looters, smugglers, dealers and potential buyers. Without the active support of the art collecting community itself, the problem of illicit trafficking will always be a catch me if you can game of cat and mouse.

The appearance of paperwork, should never replace a buyer's own due diligence.

If crafty antiquities dealers can write anything they want about an object's collecting history when promoting their wares for an auction listing then it's ultimately up to the individual collector/buyer to do their own homework before ethically committing to the purchase ancient art.  This is all the more true of antiquities whose purported origins are from conflict-ridden war zones such as Palmyra.

The antiquities dealer says he has an export license?  Do you, as the potential buyer, know what type of actual import and export documentation an ancient object would need to have to have legally passed out of the object's source country and into the hands of the seller in the dealer's destination country?  Do you as a collector know enough about the heritage protection laws in the country where the object originates to make sure what you are purchasing isn't contributing to a country's instability?

As a morally principled art buyer, who are you are entrusting your purchase to? Do you know the background and ethics of the antiquities dealer you are purchasing an object from?  Has that person been involved in dishonest trading in the past?   Have they falsified documentation previously in furtherance of laundering illicit objects through the licit market either for greed or to satisfy collector's demands?

As a buyer, investing in ancient art, the antiquities collector has the right, but also the responsibility, to ask to see all export documentation and to verify that the object's provenance claims are true, before any money changes hands.

Ethical antiquities dealer with a clean object should have no problem with the close scrutiny.  If they do, or if the deal seems too good to be true, then it most likely is.

For more information on this particular dealer's past history ARCA recommends the following Dr. David Gill's Looting Matters posts as well as the comprehensive federal case reporting of Rick St. Hilaire which can be found here. 

November 22, 2016

Targeting History and Memory: A new website explores the prosecution of crimes against cultural and religious property


A new website explores the prosecution of crimes 
against cultural and religious property by the 
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
By: Helen Walasek

A new resource-rich website exploring the prosecution of crimes against cultural heritage during conflict has just been launched. Targeting History and Memory comprehensively documents for the first time how the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) investigated, reconstructed and prosecuted the intentional destruction of cultural, historical and religious property committed during the Wars of Yugoslav Succession of the 1990s. Targeting History and Memory was produced by SENSE Centre for Transitional Justice, which in its previous incarnation as SENSE News Agency has offered comprehensive and balanced coverage of the work of the ICTY since 1998.

Gjakova Hadum Quran School, Kosovo, 1999
The almost overwhelming number of deliberate attacks on cultural and religious property in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and finally, Kosovo, amounted to the greatest destruction of cultural heritage seen in Europe since World War Two. The devastation – one of the defining features of the conflicts – took place chiefly during violent campaigns of ethnic cleansing, campaigns waged against civilians as an integral part of attempts to carve out ethnically homogenous territories, hoping to obliterate the material evidence of a previous diversity. The damage to Bosnia-Herzegovina’s cultural inheritance was worst, particularly to its Ottoman and Islamic heritage.  

The vast majority of attacks were premeditated, systematic, and took place far from the frontlines. Rarely taking place in isolation, they were almost always accompanied by multiple atrocities and human rights abuses against the groups being targeted for expulsion – a scenario being horrifically enacted today, most visibly in Syria and Iraq.

With its emphasis on justice for victims of human rights abuses and calling to account those who committed, were responsible for, or allowed such abuses to take place, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has played a seminal role in the development of international human rights law – including that relating to cultural heritage. 

The Tribunal demonstrated how closely protection of cultural and religious property is tied up with peoples’ rights to enjoyment of their cultural heritage and how intimately cultural heritage and identity are linked. In case after case it showed how the destruction of structures which symbolised a group’s identity was a manifestation of persecution and crimes against humanity. Yet these prosecutions and their importance of the ICTY’s case law are relatively little known to those in the fields of art crime and heritage protection.

With the ICTY winding down and only the trial of Ratko Mladić to complete before the court closes for good in December 2017, SENSE saw the urgency of ensuring that the Tribunal’s legacy was made permanently and publicly accessible. As SENSE Centre for Transitional Justice it has since produced Srebrenica: Genocide in Eight Acts and Storm in The Hague detailing the controversies raised by the ICTY trials for war crimes committed during Operation Storm in Croatia. Targeting History and Memory, SENSE’s third online narrative, was recently presented in Sarajevo and Zagreb, with an event in Belgrade to follow.

Dubrovnik Old City shelling, 1991
Among the iconic images of attacks on heritage during the Yugoslav conflicts were the 1991 bombardment of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Dubrovnik in Croatia by Yugoslav forces, Sarajevo’s National Library erupting in flames after a barrage of incendiary shells from Bosnian Serb artillery in 1992, and the collapse of the sixteenth century Ottoman Old Bridge at Mostar following persistent shelling by Bosnian Croat forces in 1993.  Shocking as these were, it was in towns and villages across Bosnia-Herzegovina in wide swathes of ethnically-cleansed countryside where, unrecorded by the media, destruction was worst. Yet after the intentional cultural destruction of the 1992–1995 Bosnian War, more was to follow during the 1998–1999 Kosovo War. All these cases are explored on the website.

With its easy access to key texts, reports and documents like evidence exhibits and a comprehensive bibliography (much of it downloadable), and through its rich array of audio-visual material, including archival photos, videos of ICTY trial testimonies and documentary films, Targeting History and Memory must now be the best source of information on the ICTY’s prosecutions of crimes against cultural property. Apart from the plethora of background material, the website has two standout features.

For while celebrating ICTY’s achievements, Targeting History and Memory also offers a critical assessment, uncovering the difficulties in prosecuting crimes against cultural heritage during conflict, , not just at the Tribunal, but at all. The prevailing mindsets of those working in the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), few of whom (or more likely, none) probably had any prior interest or knowledge of prosecuting cultural property crimes are revealed in the videos that introduce each section. It also raises yet again the vexed question of ‘military necessity’ relating to cultural property crimes (though apparently not of proportionality) and a brief glimpse of ICTY prosecutors’ discussions on the subject.

Sarajevo National Library, copyright ICTY
The first video, in particular, with its interviews with current and former ICTY prosecutors reveal their thinking behind prosecutions involving destruction of cultural and religious property. They offer some eye-opening excuses and justifications for removing important attacks from indictments such as the still inexplicable removal of the shelling of the National Library from the indictments against Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, surely one of the most documented incidents of the Siege of Sarajevo. Notably, the bombardment was listed on indictments not as an attack on a cultural monument, but as a ‘shelling incident’.

Mostar Old Bridge, 8 November 1993
Another interview reveals how close the destruction of the Old Bridge in Mostar – undoubtedly the paradigm for the deliberate attacks on cultural heritage during all the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia – came to not being included at all in the indictments against the military and political leaders of the secessionist Bosnian Croats attempting to create an ethnically homogenous para-state of Herceg-Bosna (Prlić et al). The insertion of the Old Bridge into a clause on the indictments relating to the destruction or wilful damage to institutions ‘dedicated to religion or education’ now seems to have been intentional rather than mistaken. This decision was to seriously hamstring the judges in reaching a guilty verdict for the destruction of the Old Bridge, although they eventually did – albeit with a dissenting opinion from the president of the trial chamber.

Unprosecuted destruction
Jajce-Orthodox Church
The second standout is the website’s Unprosecuted section which outlines in depressing detail the limitations of international justice for prosecuting crimes against cultural property during conflict. While prosecutions were made (and convictions achieved) for the bombardment of Dubrovnik, there have been none for other major attacks on cultural property made during the 1991–1995 Croatian War such as the assaults on numerous historic monuments in Vukovar with its many Baroque buildings, nor in Bosnia-Herzegovina, for instance, for the destruction of all types of cultural property at the ancient city of Jajce, from mosques and historic Muslim neighbourhoods to Orthodox and Catholic churches.

Ahmici Mosque, Bosnia 1993

And the ICTY has yet to explain why all fifteen mosques totally and intentionally destroyed in Banja Luka appeared on its 1995 joint indictment in of Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, but were completely removed from final indictments. Thus, no-one will have been prosecuted at all for the destruction of the sixteen-century Ferhadija Mosque which reopened in 2016, 23 years after it was blown up in May 1993.


                                                           ENDS

Targeting History and Memory: The ICTY and the investigation, reconstruction and prosecution of crimes against cultural and religious heritage
http://heritage.sense-agency.com/


The author of this blog post advised on and wrote the introduction to Targeting History and Memory.