Turkish-backed factions loot the ruins of “al-Nabi Hori” in Afrin for sale in Turkey and replace them with “fake paintings”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,

December 2019

The Turkish-backed factions operating within the operation “Olive Branch” in Afrin continue to commit innumerable violations not only against civilians and their property, but also against public property and antiquities, as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has obtained documented information about the systematic theft of antiquities in Afrin, specifically the area of al-Nabi Hori (Cyrus), which is located in the northwest of Syria about 30 kilometers away from the center of Afrin, on the border line between Syria and Turkey. As documented by the Syrian Observatory, the region, known by several names, including Cyrus and al-Nabi Hori, which dates back to several civilizations back to the earlier Hellenistic period in 280 BC, is systematically abused by Turkish-backed factions, starting with the fierce Turkish bombing of the “olive branch” in January 2018 to the Turkish-backed faction’s takeover of the area and the start of a massive looting and sabotage.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has obtained information and documents that it has been able to verify, on August 10, October 6 and November 3, 2018, documenting the Turkish authorities and their affiliated factions, namely the “Soqoor al-Shamal” faction, carrying out sabotage and indiscriminate excavations by heavy machinery (Bulldozers), which led to the destruction of archaeological layers without documenting it, in addition to the destruction of fragile archaeological materials such as glass, porcelain, pottery, mosaic paintings, and other effects. Reliable sources said that the violations against the area did not stop after the mentioned dates, but the process of documenting the violations in the region faces several difficulties, most notably the lack of access to these places and exposing anyone trying to approach the excavation sites to the harshest sanctions by the Turkish authorities and their affiliates.

On November 6, 2019, M.A a worker at the illegally excavation site posted on Facebook photos which include pictures of three mosaics and other artifacts. According to the information obtained by the Syrian Observatory, “the aforementioned (M.A.) is engaged in the trade of antiquities and he is from Idlib according to the data he published on his personal page”. The sources said: “The publication did not mention the location of the paintings or the identity of the people shown in the picture, but those paintings confirm that this site is one of the mountain sites controlled by Turkish-backed factions, which was confirmed after a number of followers on the social networking site asked about the location of those paintings, so he had to tell them that its location is (al-Nabi Hori/Cyrus), in which he admitted that he is conducting excavations in that region”.

On November 11, he removed the Facebook post that he had posted on his page and the accompanying images, after a journalist tried to communicate with him to investigate the truth of the paintings and where they appeared, but M.A. did not respond to the journalist’s questions and resorted to deleting the post. Reliable sources said: “On November 25, M.A. reprinted pictures of mosaic paintings and claimed that the paintings he had previously published on his page were modern paintings (fake) and non-original (archaeological), and that some politicized media agencies fabricated the subject and turned it into a material against the Turkish forces as if they are excavating antiquities in Afrin region, and that the pictures were commemorative but used for the media war and incitement against Turkish forces”.

Reliable sources told the SOHR that “(M.A.) admitted in this way the validity of what he had previously denied. Also, we have confirmed that the news sites that published the story are not all associated with self-management, which denies the aforementioned allegations regarding the politicization of the case and turning it into an incitement against Turkish forces and factions loyal to it”. The sources added: “In the first publication deleted by (M.A.), the paintings appeared while part of it is still under the ground that has not yet been excavated, while the new pictures showed the paintings already shows modern, and it was in the workshop of industry and forging paintings and imitation, as the paintings were incomplete, and the work was still going on, unlike the original ones that appeared in the first post”.

Reliable sources said that “sites such as (Albeiska), (al-Nabi Hori) and (Kharabi Raza) and the village (Kakhera), was robbed and the Turkish-backed factions put fake paintings in place instead of the original paintings”. Sources with experience in examining antiquities and the extent of their authenticity, told the “Syrian Observatory”, that “the paintings that appeared in the first post are original paintings and actually belong to the site of al-Nabi Hori, where these paintings appear at a depth of more than two meters, and date back to the Roman period between the first and the second century A.D. One of the paintings is of the goddess Isis, the goddess of fertility and agriculture”.

“The second panel represents a completely young topless young man, except for a golden scarf that descends from his right shoulder to the chest, exceeding his waist, covering the back of his left thigh, holding his right hand with a musical instrument and leaning against his right hand on a column,” the sources said. “Probably it is Apollo, who represents the god of poetry, singing, music and archery of Greece and the Romans”.

On November 11, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights observed systematic theft, looting and abuses of Afrin’s monuments in exchange for large sums of money. Reliable sources confirmed that Turkish-backed factions had released the hands of the archaeological excavators in Afrin in exchange for huge sums.

According to sources, artefacts found at the site of al-Nabi Hori were stolen, and exploration workers used digging machines and sophisticated equipment to detect the sites of these artifacts, while the sources said that the found mosaic paintings were smuggled to Turkey through dealers with facilitations of the Turkish-forces and factions controlling that area. The SOHR confirms what has already been mentioned on August 1, that the Turkish-backed factions within the operation “olive branch” continues its violations in Afrin, by obliterating the history of the region, through the excavation and theft and smuggling it into Turkey, where the responsible for those thefts make money out of the sale of antiquities.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored the armed elements of the Turkish-backed “Sultan Murad” faction digging and bulldozing of soil in the Bulbul area in Afrin countryside northeast of Aleppo, where the elements carried out excavations by digging and leveling the soil on the hill between the villages of Bebaka, Qusha and Sharqa of the Bulbul district of Afrin countryside, in search of antiquities, using heavy machinery in addition to uprooting hundreds of olive trees under the glare of the Turkish forces present in the area.

The actions of the Turkish authorities and their affiliates in Afrin contradict all international conventions and treaties for the protection of cultural property such as the 1954 Hague Convention, the UNESCO Protocols (1970 and 1972) and the Security Council Resolution 2139 of 2014, which called on all parties to Saving the rich diversity of Syria’s cultural heritage and Security Council resolution 2199 of 2015, which prohibits the trafficking of cultural property in Iraq and Syria, in addition to Security Council Resolution 2347, adopted unanimously by Security Council members in 2017, on the protection of human heritage based on these treaties and its clauses and the Security Council resolutions mentioned above. Based on these treaties and conventions, and based on the facts and information revealed by the Syrian Observatory day after day regarding the systematic cultural violations of Afrin at the hands of Turkish-baked factions; the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights appeals to the Security Council and the relevant UN organizations (UNESCO) to activate decisions and agreements, based on the fact that Turkey is a signatory to those agreements and charters. The Syrian Observatory calls on the international community to oblige the Turkish state to prosecute those responsible for these crimes that amount to crimes against humanity, considering these archaeological sites, including the antiquities of ancient civilizations belonging to all mankind and not exclusive to Syria or the region of Afrin. Also, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights calls on the international community to stop the theft, looting and export of Syrian cultural property and antiquities through Turkish territory, to end violations against archaeological sites and to include the names of those involved in the wanted lists of the International Police (Interpol).

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