GeriGündem Turkish cultural heritage in the hands of foreigners
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Turkish cultural heritage in the hands of foreigners

Turkish cultural heritage in the hands of foreigners
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ANKARA - The land of Anatolia, home to many civilizations throughout its long history, is rich in cultural artifacts, many of which are on display in museums around Turkey. Many others, however, are unfortunately in the hands of foreign countries, while Turkey has toiled for their return

Many historical Anatolian artifacts smuggled overseas during the time of the Ottoman Empire are still on display in museums and to be auctioned abroad.

According to information provided by the General Directorate of the Preservation of the Natural and Cultural Heritage there are many Anatolian artifacts in countries such as the United States, Germany, Russia, Croatia, Denmark, Italy, France, Switzerland, Serbia-Montenegro, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Britain.

In collaboration with the foreign ministry, the culture ministry is tracing the origins of artifacts on display in museums or up for sale in auctions. When the origins are discovered, the ministry asks for the return of the artifacts and the cessation of any pending sale. As a result of this process, some artifacts have been returned, but the return of many are uncertain.

One example is the upper part of the Statue of Heracles that is on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in the United States, the lower part is held by the Antalya Museum. Talks concerning the return of the statue are ongoing between the two countries.

Silver pots that were used for religious ceremonies and smuggled from a church in the Mediterranean city of Antalya’s Kumluca district in 1963 are on display in Washington’s Dumbarton Oaks Museum. A meeting is planned with the museum’s officials to seek the return of the artifacts. There are also artifacts from Turkey at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Works are ongoing to have them returned.

New policies for returns
Among the Anatolian artifacts for which negotiations are continuing with European museums include the Treasures of Troy that Turkey has sought the return of from Russia for 17 years and which are kept in the Pushkin Museum. Another example is the Boğazköy Sphinx in the Berlin Museum. Talks have also been ongoing with Germany for 17 years for its return. The sphinx was taken to Germany for renovation at the time of the Ottoman Empire, but was not returned. There are also a Zeus Altar, İznik tiles, Uşak carpets and Hittite foundlings on display in Berlin’s Bergama Museum.

The ministry said bilateral talks with Germany for the return of artifacts started in 1991 and work had started on a new policy to ensure their return.

Anatolian artifacts in auctions
Anatolian-origin artifacts are also put up for sale in various auctions. Some artifacts were on sale in a public auction on the U.S. Web site www.edgarlowen.com. The ministry is also working to have them returned.

An auction that took place last year in New York’s Sotheby’s could not be prevented and a Turkish artifact was sold, however, the artifact can be returned if Turkey submits concrete evidence.

Additionally, Turkey has initiated legal proceedings for the return of some Hittite artifacts such as seals, sarcophagus, two Ephesus coins that are very rare, and a number of historical statues.

Sixty-two pages of a historical copy of the Koran stolen in 1990 from the Nuruosmaniye Library affiliated with Istanbul’s Süleymaniye Library, have been put up for sale in London’s Christie’s auction house.

Turkey has been working hard for the return of Anatolian artifacts found in foreign countries, but many of these countries have not been providing the necessary support.

Attempts made for the return of coins seized in Stansted Airport in England have so far been unsuccessful. German officials have also been informed about 1,100 Anatolian artifacts found in the house of a Turkish citizen in Germany, but have not offered any assistance.

A silver cross and gold bracelet from the Byzantine period that were seized in Russia two years ago have also not been returned as Russian officials can not find the people who currently own them. Turkey had been asking for the return of some Troy artifacts that were smuggled out of Russia for 17 years.

Other artifacts seized in foreign countries and sought by Turkey include:

w 115 coins, seven rings, nine lead items and two arrow heads seized in Croatia’s Majelj border gate last year;

w Artifacts seized at the Serbia-Montenegro Batrovci border in 2004;

w 328 coins and 23 archaeological works seized at the Bulgarian Malko-Tornova border in 2005;

w 28 Roman artifacts from the Bronze Age that were seized at the Bulgarian Kapitan Andreevo border last year;

w Four amphoras and seven amphora pieces from the first and fourth century A.D. that were seized in a vessel that was cruising from Turkey to the Ukraine.

More than 2,000 artifacts returned
In addition to these outstanding items, between 2000 and 2008 Turkey succeeded in the successful return of more than 2,000 artifacts. Among them were 700 coins and more than 300 artifacts from different periods that were seized in Bremen in Germany in 2002. The items were returned to their motherland after a five-year effort. A statue head from the second century that was stolen from the Kocaeli Museum in 2001 and found in Munich, Germany was returned at the beginning of 2008.

Another 349 artifacts were also returned to Turkey last year by Germany, Britain, Austria, United Arab Emirates and Switzerland.

Speaking to the Anatolia news agency, Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay said the ministry was seriously pursuing all Anatolian artifacts abroad. "We and the foreign ministry follow international auctions. We immediately apply to the relevant institutes and have halted some sales. Many artifacts were returned in 2008 and among them were some very important ones," he said.

Günay said he felt deeply sorry when he visited archaeological museums abroad and that lots of artifacts had been taken to foreign countries with the permission of the country’s administration in the 1700s and 1800s.

"I saw a huge mausoleum displayed in the middle of a museum. I was about to cry some time ago in a British museum when I saw our artifacts on display there," he said.
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