Turkey’s Gaziantep is main ISIS trade hub of antiques hauled in Syria & Iraq – Russian UN envoy

A picture taken on March 31, 2016 shows destruction at the museum of the ancient city of Palmyra, some 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus. © Joseph Eid
The Turkish city of Gaziantep is the trade hub used by Islamic State to sell objects of cultural heritage, stolen from Syria and Iraq. In an official letter to UN Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin outlined how the valuables are being transported and sold.

“Antiquities from Syria and Iraq are exported by the extremists mostly through the territory of Turkey. The main center 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),” states the letter that was made public on Wednesday.

According to Churkin, about 100,000 cultural sites of global importance are currently under Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) control, including 4,500 archeological sites, nine of which are on UNESCO World Heritage List. The Russian envoy also claims that the profits from the illegal trade of antiques and archeological values by Islamists amounts to some $150-200 million a year.

Moreover, Churkin states Islamic State has a special unit for dealing with antiques led by commander Abu Sayyaf al-Iraqi, part of the so-called Ministry of Natural Resources established by the terror-group’s ‘government,’ which also holds the grip of the oil operations.

According to the envoy, new smuggling hubs are popping up on the Turkish-Syrian border, with the “bulky goods” being delivered by the Turkish transport companies, which Churkin names.

“Smuggled artifacts (jewelry, 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.”

Sales of these items are usually carried out through online auctions such as eBay, as well as specialized online stores, including vauctions.com, ancients.info, vcoins.com, trocadero.com and auctionata.com.

The diplomat pointed out that smugglers use secrecy measures that impede the ID and location of the real seller, including IP-spoofing.

Less than a week ago, RT has obtained evidence that also shed light on the jihadists’ black market of antiquities and its transit routes via Turkey. According to a note that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) turned over to the RT Documentary crew, IS militants asked Turkish border guards to allow a Turkish antiquity seller into Syria for the purposes of mutual profit. It reads: “To the brother responsible for the border, Please assist the passage of brother Hussein Hania Sarira through your post along with the man from Turkey – the artifacts trader, for the purpose of working with us in the department of artifacts in the Ministry of Natural Resources. May Allah bless you, Loving brother Abu Uafa At-Tunisi.”

Also while filming in the town of Shaddadi, located in the Syrian province of Hasakah, RT reporters came across archaeological pieces, fragments of various ceramic pots. Abandoned in a tunnel, which IS fighters fled through, they were discovered by YPG troops after they liberated Shaddadi from jihadists in February 2016. No one knows where the objects came from, but Kurdish fighters also found an old map in French, which could date as far back as colonial times and indicated excavation grounds.