Staunton, October 6 – The peoples of the North Caucasus face many threats including the continuing battles between representatives of the Russian force structures and militants of various stripes, but one threat that up to now has received little attention is that of people who steal the cultural monuments of these peoples to sell them for profit.
Because the North Caucasus is a contact zone of three great civilizations, Aleksandr Skakov of Moscow’s Primakov Institute on the World Economy and International Relations says, the region is rich in art for which collectors elsewhere are prepared to pay high prices (kavkazoved.info/news/2016/10/05/perspektivy-sohranenija-istoriko-kulturnogo-nasledija-narodov-severnogo-kavkaza-vyzovy-i-ugrozy.html).
There have been cases where one side in a conflict has destroyed the cultural monuments of another as has happened in Afghanistan with the Buddhist statues and in Palmyra, Syria, with classical construction, he says. But far more serious is the threat posed by “’black archeology,’ which as in many other parts of the post-Soviet space is flourishing in the North Cacuasus.”
“’Black archeology,’” Skokov says, is a term which refers to the work of those who are not trained as archeologists and who look for art of various degrees that they can sell for a profit. All too often, he adds, “this leads to the complete destruction” of the sites and of any possibility to conduct critical research on the history of the peoples who created them.
The situation in this regard is “especially catastrophic” in Krasnodar kray, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Abkhazia. Those who engage in “’black archaeology’” use the media and other means to try to convince the local leaders and populations that these “ruins” can bring them profits.
The “’black’” archeologists often do this by suggesting that “’white’” archeologists are doing as much or more damage and are profiting from the removal of cultural monuments while denying all the while that is happening. Unfortunately, Skokov says, there have been enough such cases to make that argument plausible to many.
The “’black’” archaeologists also benefit from the fact that they operate within a much larger group of amateur archaeologists and often present themselves as nothing more than people interested in the past. According to some estimates, the Moscow scholar says, only about 10 percent of all people involved in searching for artefacts in the North Caucasus are doing so as “’black archaeologists.’”
Russian laws governing such activities recently have been toughened, Skokov continues, but so far, this has not had a significant impact on what is going on in the North Caucasus. He says that a related problem, the incompetent or rushed restoration of cultural monuments, is “no less serious.”
Not only in the North Caucasus but in Russia as a whole, the Moscow scholar says, “the Russian Orthodox Church is playing an especially negative role” because in its rush to reopen old churches, it is damaging them by inadequate and ill-informed restoration efforts often by people who have no idea what they are doing.