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Switzerland Returns Looted Sculptures From Palmyra to Syria

Three ancient sculptures from Palmyra looted from Syria are now being returned to their home after efforts from Switzerland and United Nations.

The three sculptures were seized in Geneva by customs officials, along with many other stolen artifacts. They were later identified as belonging to the ancient city of Palmyra, in modern-day Syria. It is believed that the sculptures were looted in 2009-10 before the civil war in Syria began.

It is estimated that the sculptures are from the 2nd or 3rd centuries BCE, most likely from the reign of Queen Zenobia. At the time, Palmyra was an important trade city. One of the sculptures depicts the head of a priest with ceremonial headgear. The body of the sculpture is missing, believed to have been damaged when the sculpture was stolen. The other two sculptures are funerary reliefs, depicting a man and a woman respectively, accompanied by an animal with a nose-ring.

The Musée d’art et d’histoire in Geneva

Art theft was a common pattern when ISIS took control of major parts of Syria. The terrorist group often sold historically important artifacts in the black market to fund its operations. The group especially targeted pre-Islamic artifacts to further its cultural genocide. Similar acts have occurred in many other middle-eastern countries, as well as by other terrorist groups including the Taliban.

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Since 2017, the sculptures have been exhibited at the Musée d’art et d’histoire in Geneva to raise awareness about their stolen status. In a 2020 tribunal held by the United Nations, the Syrian government formally requested the return of the objects. Last week, the repatriation was completed.