German court order return of stolen Cypriot treasures
By Natali Hami and George Psyllides Published on September 28, 2010
SCORES of valuable religious artefacts looted from churches in the Turkish-occupied north are a step closer to repatriation following the decision of a German court.
Last week, a court in Munich ordered the return of the artefacts stolen by Turkish national Aydin Dikmen, after the invasion of the island in 1974.
Among the recovered antiquities are frescoes from the monastery of Christou tou Antifoniti, dating back to the 15th Century, a 6th-Century mosaic from the church of the Panayia Kanakaria, murals from the church of the Panayia Pergamiotissa and two icons that originated from the monastery of Saint Chrysostomos.
The antiquities had been recovered by Bavarian police in 1997, hidden inside the walls and under the floorboards in two apartments kept by Dikmen in Munich, under false names.
The Church of Cyprus was unable to repatriate the artefacts despite repeated efforts and it was decided to file a civil law suit against Dikmen.
The trial started in April 2009 with the court last week deciding that the Church had succeeded in proving the provenance of the treasures.
But it could be another two months before the case clears.
“The other side has a month to appeal after receiving the full text of the decision,” said senior state attorney Ioannis Lazarou.
It is understood that neither side has the full text yet.
Lazarou said Cyprus had to prove the provenance of the artefacts — first of all that they came from Cyprus; from these specific churches in the occupied areas and that they were in fact there during the invasion.
“This had to be done for each item,” Lazarou said.
The artefacts were discovered after a raid on October 10, 1997.
Dikmen was arrested following an eight-month sting operation in which Dutch art dealer Michael van Rijn cooperated.
He had been videotaped when he tried to sell the treasures.
Van Rijn cooperated with the police but later refused to testify against Dikmen after he had received death threats.
Many churches in the north of Cyprus have been looted following the invasion and Dikmen seems to have played the main role in selling the artworks stripped from them.
In 1988, Dikmen, Van Rijn, and their associate Robert Fitzgerald sold four Kanakaria moisaics to Indianapolis dealer Peg Goldberg for more that $1 million.
The mosaics were ordered returned to the Church of Cyprus after a 1989 trial in a federal court.
In 1984, Dikmen sold the Menil Foundation of Houston 13th-century frescoes from Ayios Themonianos church near Lysi.
Cypriot authorities approved the purchase on the condition that the frescoes, now displayed in Houston, would eventually be returned to Cyprus.