The Museum of Raqqa was looted by ISIS militants. Now its staff is trying to restore the museum and track its stolen artefacts.
It is no secret that heritage sites across Iraq and Syria have sufferedimmensedamage over the course of the conflicts that gripped both countries. Heritage sites were caught in the crossfire of warring factions, looted by those who took advantage of widespread lawlessness or, worst of all, destroyed by iconoclastic ISIS militants. As the group’s stronghold and one of the richest heritage regions in Syria, Raqqa bore the brunt of much of that damage.
The Museum of Raqqa was founded in 1981. The two-floor building itself was a heritage site, built in 1861 and having been the seat of government during the Ottoman era. At its peak, the museum housed some 7,000 artefacts from the surrounding regions and belonging to various civilisations that inhabited what is now Syria.
The conflict in Syria caused unimaginable damage to the museum. When the city was captured by various Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups in 2013, some of their fighters broke into the museum and stole a number of valuable items. However, it was ISIS, which consolidated control over the city in 2014, that inflicted the worst damage. Under the group’s control, practically every artefact and valuable was looted. The group did not inflict the widespread, public and iconoclastic destruction they visited on Mosul or Palmyra but opted to sell them instead, using the proceeds to fund their so-called Caliphate.
The group appears to have had a market for these items in the nearby Tabqa City. However, much of the artefacts were also smuggled to Turkey where they were sold by intermediaries, eventually finding their way to Europe and elsewhere.
Today, the Raqqa Civic Council, in cooperation with the Committee of Culture and Antiquities and the Vision Organisation, is trying to restore what was lost, sometimes tracking the stolen items to other countries in hopes that they can be recovered. It will not be an easy task, due to the difficulties tracking and the limited financial resources. However, the restoration of items such as the Lion of al-Lat and the Palmyra busts is, however, a course for optimism.