Turkey probes Russia’s ‘politically motivated’ claims on smuggled Syrian antiquities
ISTANBUL - Reuters
AFP photoTurkey is investigating Russian claims that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants in Syria and Iraq have profited from smuggling stolen antiquities through its territory, despite its belief the charges were politically motivated, a Turkish official said on April 7.
Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council on April 6 that the jihadist group was netting $150 million to $200 million annually through illicit trade.
“Even though the claims in the Russian media and recently brought to the U.N. by the Russian authorities have been made for political purposes and as propaganda, they are being seriously investigated,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said.
“Turkey has taken all measures to prevent historical artefacts from Syria being removed and marketed,” the official said, adding that it had sent findings on the matter to UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural agency, in the past.
Russian-Turkish relations have been strained since Turkey shot down a Russian jet near the Syrian border last November. Moscow has repeatedly accused Turkey of supporting ISIL by purchasing oil from the group, a charge Ankara vehemently denies.
Churkin said the main center for the smuggling of cultural heritage items plundered by ISIL was the southeastern province of Gaziantep in Turkey. He also said in his letter that jewelry, coins and other looted items are brought to the Turkish provinces of İzmir, Mersin and Antalya, where criminal groups produce fake documents on their origin.
“Turkey will make every effort it can to protect cultural assets, which are the common heritage of humanity, and ensure they are safely passed on to future generations,” the Turkish official said.