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A member of ISIS destroying an ancient Assyrian lamassu (screenshot from an ISIS propaganda video)

In the wake of ISIS’s most recently confirmed attack on cultural heritage — the destruction of Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery — Italy has teamed up with the United Nations to create a task force whose goal is to protect ancient artworks, artifacts, and archaeological sites in conflict zones from extremists, the AP reports.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova signed an agreement in Rome today, creating a 60-person-strong Italian task force of art detectives and restorers, dubbed Peacekeepers of Culture.

The force will establish a center in Turin, where it will train cultural heritage protection experts. It aims to “assess risk and quantify damage done to cultural heritage sites, develop action plans and urgent measures, provide technical supervision and training for local national staff,” the Italian ministry said in a statement. It will also help move some objects to safety “and strengthen the fight against looting and illegal trafficking of cultural property.”

“We are witnessing a tragedy of destruction of heritage, systematic and deliberate attacks on culture,” Bokova said at the signing ceremony, which took place inside the majestic Baths of Diocletian. The Peacekeepers of Culture “could be in the future one of the essential components in the fight against terrorism,” Gentiloni said.

Task force members will include art-theft squad police from Italy’s Carabinieri military police force, known internationally for tracking down stolen and looted artworks, as well as art historians and Italian-trained restoration experts.

While protecting against “cultural cleansing” and the fear-mongering propaganda that comes with it, the task force also hopes to cut off some of the Islamic State’s funds acquired through the sale of looted artifacts, statues, and other antiquities on the black market.

The task force hasn’t yet chosen a country for its first mission, but its members “are already operational and ready to go where UNESCO sends them,” said Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini.

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Carey Dunne

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

5 replies on “Italy and UNESCO Establish Task Force to Protect Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones”

  1. I recall from the distant past reading of an anti-personnel bomb that left structures intact. I am having difficulty recalling the name was it the gamma bomb?? Could a device of this nature be used where there was risk of damage to substantial cultural heritage sites?

  2. Carrying on from billspost (anti-personnel bomb) To what end? I am dismayed that we would want to destroy our heritage, but that is what w do. The “winners” get to erase the “losers”. I can give you a list of examples that we don’t even think about anymore.

    But why would w kill people but leave their cultural masterpieces intact? What is the line of reasoning that gets us there? I’m for leaving both artifacts AND people intact. And I applaud the UNESCO-Italy initiative. But make no mistake- restoration is very expensive and it results in a facsimile of the original. Still, that is far btter than the original destruction.
    By the way, I understand that the “destruction” is now more careful so that monetary gain can be made on the antiquities market. That’s also interesting.

  3. Italy?? LOL.. who recently was forced to return to Ethiopia The 90 meter Granite Obelisk Mussolini had stolen and place in the middle of Rome to give the impression white Roman civilization created? . Are they any bigger racist and crooks on Gods green earth than the Italians?

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