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Smuggled cultural artifacts returning to Turkey

Ton Cremers, museumbeveiliging / Museum Security Network » Blog Archive » Smuggled cultural artifacts returning to Turkey.

Historical artifacts that have allegedly been smuggled out of Turkey abroad are being repatriated to the country thanks to the efforts of the Culture Ministry. In addition to 44 historical objects returned in 2010, 1,864 archeological artifacts, most of which are coins, are expected to be returned to Turkey from Serbia this year following negotiations

Turkish officials are continuing negotiations to have the upper half of a Hercules statue at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts returned to the country.
Officials at the Turkish Culture Ministry are hopeful they will secure the return of a number of historical artifacts in 2011 that were allegedly smuggled out of the country in past years, Anatolia news agency recently reported.

Efforts continue to recover artifacts abroad, often found when they come up for auction. This year 1,864 archeological artifacts, mostly coins, are expected to be returned to Turkey from Serbia, tourism officials said.

Turkey hopes to repatriate 328 ancient coins and 23 archaeological objects found at the Bulgarian Malko Tarnovo border gate, 28 artifacts from the Roman period found at the Bulgarian Kapitan Andreevo border gate and 1,485 coins and 379 historic artifacts found at the Serbian Batrovci border gate in 2004.

The Belgrade National Museum has said the coins recovered at the Batrovci border gate in 2004 are similar to ones found throughout the Balkans, but Turkey has said that because the names on the objects include ancient cities that are now part of Turkey, including Constantinople, Nikomedia (İzmit) and Nicea (İznik), the artifacts should be considered Anatolian.

Negotiations have begun for the coins’ return to Turkey and it is expected that part of the collection will be returned to Turkey this year.

Pieces returned in 2010

The ministry and other national institutions have been working to prevent the smuggling of the country’s cultural heritage abroad; inventories of artifacts known to have been stolen from museums or historic sites are sent to all museum directorates affiliated with the ministry as well as private museums and collectors. At the same time, announcements made on the ministry’s website and at border gates warn about smuggling objects.

When smuggled objects are seized abroad, the ministry works to arrange their return. In the case of a disagreement, the state launches a legal suit through the consulate generals and embassies.

Forty-four historic artifacts originally unearthed in Turkey but later allegedly smuggled abroad were repatriated in 2010 thanks to the efforts of the ministry.

Most of the 44 artifacts belonged to the Tatarlı tumulus in the Aegean province of Afyonkarahisar. The artifacts, which were brought back in February of last year, include 38 small wooden items and four pieces of timber dating back to 450 B.C. which were allegedly smuggled from Turkey and ended up in the Munich Archaeology Museum.

The pieces were restored and exhibited as part of the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture events. The exhibition ran at the Yapı Kredi Vedat Nedim Tör Museum between June 18 and Sept. 26.

Additionally, a ceramic object and a bowl from the ancient city of Knidos in southwestern Datça that were smuggled to Britain in 1971 were delivered back to the Turkish Embassy in London in June 2010. The artifacts were later taken to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.

Negotiations continuing for artifacts abroad

Officials said the Culture Ministry was continuing to work for the return of numerous artifacts currently in Germany, the United States, Bulgaria, the U.K., Denmark, France, Italy, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine.

The Boğazköy Sphinx, an altar featuring Zeus taken from Bergama, a statue of a fisherman smuggled out of Aphrodisias and many Trojan artifacts are currently in Germany. The Louvre in Paris is home to an Ottoman ceramic panel, while Russia has many pieces of the Trojan treasure. A museum in Boston, meanwhile, has a statue of Hercules originally found in Turkey. The ministry is negotiating for the return of all these artifacts to Turkey, the agency reported.

Legal cases are also continuing for the return of three silver bowls and two small plates seized by German prosecutors near Darmstadt, as well as for the return of a silver fresco found in the luggage of a Turkish citizen at Germany’s Düsseldorf Airport. Negotiations have continued since 1991 for the return of those artifacts, officials said.

It was determined in 1990 that the upper half of a Hercules statue unearthed during scientific excavations in 1980 had found its way to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts while objects stolen from a church in Antalya’s Kumluca in 1963 are now at the Dumbarton Oaks museum in Washington. Some of these artifacts, however, have since been recovered and are now at the Antalya Museum, the news agency reported.

The ministry is also negotiating for the return of Turkish objects found at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles; the parties involved have agreed to analyze a bronze head at the Getty Museum to determine whether it belongs to a headless statue at the Burdur Museum. In the event that the head is determined to come from the statue, museums officials said they would try to have the item returned to Turkey.

Efforts to find and recover 62 pages of a Quran stolen from the Nuruosmaniye Library collection in 1990 are also ongoing, officials said.

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