As part of the funding line of the German Federal Foreign Office for protecting cultural property against robbery and destruction in Syria, researchers in a new research project at Freie Universität are digitizing the inventory of the National Museum of Deir az-Zor in Syria. The inauguration of the museum in 1996 was preceded by a three-year joint project of the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Freie Universität with prominent support from the German Federal Foreign Office for the realization of the permanent exhibition of the museum. There is a file card index of the inventory dating from this period that now serves as the starting point for the digitalization of the museum inventory. Under the umbrella of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and in cooperation with the Directorate General of Syrian Antiquities in Damascus (DGAM), this project aims to create a database of the museum inventory in English and Arabic. Once this is completed, the objective is to excerpt an illustrated short list that would be made available with controlled access via the Internet. The project is headed by Prof. Dr. Hartmut Kühne from the Institute of Near Eastern Archaeology at Freie Universität Berlin. The project was set up for a two-year period. So far the German Federal Foreign Office has approved funding through the end of this year.
This project was set up because of the continued theft and destruction of valuable cultural assets in Syria and in Iraq by the warring parties. Of the 35 museums in Syria, three have already been plundered, and more are extremely vulnerable, including the Museum of Deir az-Zor and the museum of the provincial capital of Idlib south of Aleppo. Deir az-Zor is the capital of the province Deir az-Zor in eastern Syria and today a divided city: the western half is still controlled by military units of the Syrian government, and the eastern half by militia fighters of the Islamic State. The National Museum is in the western half, but there is an acute danger that it will be overrun by the fighters of the Islamic State. If this happens, stolen objects would lose their museum identity and via the art trade would end up in (private) collections. Prof. Dr. Hartmut Kühne said that “with this project, we are helping to prevent the loss of identity of the stolen objects, and moreover, are making knowledge about them available through the Internet.” He continued, "In cooperation with international organizations such as UNESCO and Interpol, we want to ensure that it will be possible to trace any objects that may be taken illegally." This also includes making art dealers aware of the illegality of their purchases.