Talha Sadiq, Blog Writer

Syria’s civil war has now entered its fourth year with the civilian death toll rising by the day. According to estimates, over 200,000 people have died and millions have been displaced by the ongoing conflict. The UN estimates that more than 12.2 million Syrians are in urgent need of assistance. Despite these alarming facts, the international community has yet to step up and provide meaningful political assistance along with essential humanitarian aid.

Canada’s announcement that it will resettle 10,000 more Syrian refugees in the near future is a meager commitment considering the scale of the humanitarian crisis. Canada is already falling behind on its initial commitment of accepting 1,300 Syrians by the end of 2014 with only 1,100 refugees having arrived so far. Canada, along with the rest of the international community, needs to step up and respond to this crisis immediately.

It is easy for Syria’s recent strife to overshadow its much longer rich and vibrant history. Ruins of the ancient city of Ebla – home to world famous archeological sites – are now under the control of rebel groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant/Syria (ISIL/ISIS). These groups are actively destroying artefacts and erasing the physical remnants of history in similar sites across the region. While modern infrastructure can be rebuilt, historical artefacts are irreplaceable.  Once they are destroyed, they are lost forever.

The looting of artefacts and antiquities from these sites is a major concern, especially since they provide a major source of revenue for ISIS militants. Similar to the African Blood Diamonds that fuel conflict and insurgency in that region, these artefacts are helping to finance insurgents in Syria. Key artefacts traded illegally are coins, stonework and statues. A recent BBC report highlights that certain pieces are sold for over million dollars and it is hard to trace source and origin once they end up in the black market. Most artefacts and antiquities are brought into Lebanon illegally; looters are easily able to exchange them for weaponry because borders are not fully protected. From Lebanon, these artefacts then end up in the Middle East, Europe and beyond. It is often those countries fighting against regional militants that provide the most lucrative black markets for these looted artefacts.

Syria’s historical treasures showcase many achievements of human civilization. The current conflict is not only engulfing Syria’s future, but also wiping away its past. A political solution is needed to end the conflict, one which includes an immediate cease-fire along with a call for all stakeholders in the conflict to stop the transfer of arms and weapons. Any solution must look beyond the problem of direct financing of militants and focus also on the indirect financing that occurs through the black-market trade of antiquities.