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16.09.2015 - ODG

"Bulgaria plays a strategic role in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural objects," says UNESCO Director-General


On 16 September, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, took part in an International Conference on “Fighting the looting of Syria’s cultural heritage” in Sofia, Bulgaria, to strengthen global mobilization and regional cooperation against the looting and trafficking of "blood antiquities," financing terrorism in the Middle East.

The Director-General stressed the important role played by Bulgaria in the implementation of the UNESCO 1970 Convention on illicit trafficking, both as a member of its monitoring committee, and as an important point of control of the trafficking routes from the Middle East to Europe.

"From all over the world, Member States are stepping up their efforts. I commend the State agency for National Security of Bulgaria for including cultural objects in its mandate. I wish also to congratulate Norway for changes made to national legislation," said the Director-General. "Satellite images show archeological sites in Syria riddled by thousands of holes… illegal excavations and mass looting are taking place on industrial scale, as an integral part of a strategy of cultural cleansing. The fight against this plague is our priority number one."

Mrs Roumiana Bachvarova, Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, underlined the geographic and strategic position of Bulgaria in the fight against illicit trafficking and reiterated the country's commitment to face the challenge: "We have put in place a number of measures, including the recent adoption of amendments in the legislation to enhance controls, the coordination of national services, the training of professionals, from art dealers to custom officials, to help them identify dubious objects."

Mr. Vezhdi Rashidov, Bulgarian Minister of Culture, declared that "We shall not allow stolen antiquities to be legalized on the territory of Bulgaria,” calling for a culture of "zero tolerance" in this domain.

H.E. Guro Katharina H. Vikør, Ambassador of Norway to Bulgaria, referred to the joint initiative of Nordic countries, including Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden, to clamp down on the illegal trade of cultural objects from Syria and Iraq.

"Culture is under attack, and we need to fight back", said H.E. Stavros Avgoustides, Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus to Bulgaria.

"This is about the people, not only about objects and stones," commented Mr. Carsten Paludan-Müller, Director-General of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU), calling for experts and officials to share information and join forces to strengthen the global response to this multi-faceted challenge.

The conference was organized by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Sofia and the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, under the patronage of UNESCO and in partnership with the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture, the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior, the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus and the non-governmental organization “Walk of Truth” (the Netherlands).

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