What are ESTERDAD’s goals?

The aims of this project are as follows:

  • Building capacity by improving international understanding and cooperation among parties with law enforcement or juridical responsibilities;
  • Promoting more effective action against the illegal trade in cultural objects by improving detection and recovery rates of trafficked objects;

Deterring thieves from looting and destroying cultural heritage


  • The Norwegian Embassy in Lebanon, funders of the 2017 & 2018 training courses
  • The Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA), Lebanon
  • The Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), Syria
  • The Tourism and Antiquities Ministry, Iraq


ESTERDAD is a training course bent on developing capacity in Middle Eastern countries for more effective action against the illegal trade and in particular, to improve rates of identification and recovery of stolen and trafficked objects, thereby deterring further trade.


An empowering aspect of this project is that it is conceived, organized and implemented by Biladi, a Lebanese NGO, for the benefit of cultural heritage in Arab Middle Eastern countries.


Biladi has worked for 11 consecutive years on heritage education and protection. Between 2012 and 2014, Biladi launched two initiatives to safeguard heritage in times of conflict: “Lebanese for Lebanon” and the “Founding Committee of the Lebanese Blue Shield”. The current threats to heritage have pushed Biladi to collaborate with Syrian and Lebanese governments to develop initiatives against the illicit trade of cultural property. In order for it to establish and follow up training to an international standard, Biladi has asked its long-term consultant on heritage protection, Neil Brodie, to lead the research team and supervise courses. Neil Brodie is presently Senior Research Fellow on the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) Project at the University of Oxford. He has been researching the illicit trade in cultural property for twenty years and has published many academic books and papers on the subject. The EAMENA project is a founding member of the UNESCO ProCult UNITWIN network

The problem: the illicit trade in antiquities

Cultural heritage throughout the Middle East is being destroyed at an alarming rate. A major cause of destruction, and certainly the most preventable cause, is the looting of archaeological sites and museums for cultural objects that can be trafficked and sold in the market countries of Europe, North America, and other parts of Asia. The trafficking is a problem because it:

  • Violates sovereignties;
  • Fosters criminality and corruption;
  • Supports armed violence;
  • Weakens cultural identities;
  • Undermines local economies;
  • Reduces the educational potential of museums and universities.


Very few trafficked objects have been identified, recovered or returned to dispossessed countries of origin, and there have been no prosecutions or convictions of people for transacting illegally traded material. Thus the trafficking networks survive intact and the looting and destruction of cultural heritage continues. The Middle Eastern countries of origin are poorly equipped to deal with the problem.