Syrian cultural property is not threatened for the first time by the warlike conflicts of the recent past. Already in the 19th century, measures are taken to protect it. In 2013, Syria finally banned the export and trade of antiquities completely.

What is considered cultural property in Syria?

The cultural heritage in Syria includes movable and immovable antiquities, i.e. objects and monuments created over 200 years ago. The category of movable antiquities includes, for example, statues, coins or images, and immovable cultural property includes buildings such as sacred buildings, residential buildings and technical facilities, for example canals and dams, but also parts of landscapes shaped by humans such as caves with ancient drawings and inscriptions, as well as the ruins of ancient cities and settlement mounds containing the remains of buildings. Objects created less than 200 years ago can also be classified as cultural property by a ministerial decision due to their historical, artistic or national value. The Directorate General for Antiquities and Museums is responsible for the definition of ancient cultural property.

What are the export regulations?

For antiquities there is a general export ban. Temporary export is only possible for exhibition or research purposes. Due to the armed conflicts in Syria and the associated looting, the European Union is imposing a trade embargo on Syrian cultural property. The import, export and trade of objects from Syria are prohibited. This does not apply to items that are proven to have been exported from Syria before May 9, 2011.

What sanctions are there?

Prison sentences of 15 to 25 years may be served and fines ranging from 500,000 to 1,000,000 Syrian pounds may be imposed for the smuggling of antiquities. Imprisonment and fines for the destruction of antiquities, theft, illegally trading in antiquities, and carrying out illegal excavations are possible.

Chronology of cultural property protection laws

  • 1869
    Edict of Safiet Pasha, Vizier of the Ottoman Empire
    Edict on the collection of antiquities in Constantinople and the introduction of an export ban
  • 1874
    Ottoman Antiquities Law
    Regulation of the movement of excavated antiquities and the division of finds
  • 1884
    Ottoman Antiquities Law
    Regulation of the trade in antiquities; excavations as well as excavation licenses must be applied for
  • 1906
    Decree for the Protection of Antiquities
    Edict on the collection of antiquities in Constantinople and the introduction of an export ban
  • 1920 - 1943
    French Mandate
    Antiquities in Syria and Lebanon are under French administration; updates to Ottoman legislation on the protection and restoration of antiquities
  • 1933
    Regulation No. 166LR on the Regulation on the Handling of Antiquities in Syria and Lebanon – with Amendments from 1934 and 1943
    Regulation of property relations and of publications, excavations and trade; antiquities are recorded in an inventory list.
  • 1958
    The Hague Convention of 1954
    Protection of the cultural property of countries in the event of armed conflict
  • 1963
    Antiquities Act #222 with additions from 1969, 1974, 1977 and 1999
    Regulation of property and licenses; introduction of the reporting obligation for any antiquities found
  • 1975
    UNESCO 1970 Convention
    Means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property
  • 1999
    Amendments to the Antiquities Law of 1963
    Prohibition of trade and export with only a few exceptions; stricter penalties for infringements
  • 1999
    – 2006
    Hague Convention, Second Protocol of 1999
    Clarification and extension of the 1954 Hague Convention
  • 2008
    1995 UNIDROIT Convention
    The aim of the Convention is to counteract the increasing threat to extraordinary natural and cultural property in order to preserve them for future generations.
  • 2013
    Council Regulation (EU) No 1332/2013 (extract)
    Amendment of Council Regulation (EU) No 36/2012 – EU-uniform rules for a ban on imports, exports and trade in cultural goods from Syria.