Stolen artefacts from the Syrian Roman ruins of Palmyra have reportedly been spotted in the office of a Lebanese member of parliament during a televised interview, further revealing the extent of antiquities smuggling in the region.
The artefacts, which were seen in the background of Al-Jadeed TV's interview of MP Nohad Machnouk, consist of the heads of statues from the historical site.
— Nohad Machnouk (@NohadMachnouk) October 11, 2021
Saad Fansa, a board member of the El-Adiyat Association for the Protection of Antiquities in Damascus, told the news site Enab Baladi that the statues were stolen from the Syrian museum at Palmyra between 2014 and 2015.
Throughout the ongoing Syrian civil war, Palmyra – like other historical sites – was taken over by Daesh before the Syrian regime recaptured it. The ancient Roman ruins have subsequently been subject to the looting of artefacts for almost a decade, fuelling the international network of antiquities trade and smuggling.
Neighbouring Lebanon has been a major hub for that underground antiquities market, offering an easy opportunity for traffickers to smuggle the artefacts.
There have also been international attempts to search for and regain artefacts over the years. According to Syrian journalist Omar Al-Buniya, who spoke to the paper, the international criminal police (INTERPOL) asked Syria's Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums (SDGAM) to provide information and details of all stolen artefacts.
Due to the lack of any antiquities archives, however, the directorate replied that foreign missions who worked in Syria will instead be consulted.
According to Ayman Al-Nabo, the director of Idlib Museum in opposition-held north-west Syria, SDGAM purposefully did not archive antiquities. Al-Nabo claimed that regime officials themselves have actively participated in the illegal antiquities trade, saying that artefacts were left unarchived in a direct effort to enable "easy smuggling".
Despite the allegations of harbouring the stolen artefacts, however, Machnouk insisted to the news site Megaphone that the artefacts have been in his office for over ten years and are in line with regulations by being registered at the Ministry of Culture.