The Culture and Tourism Ministry’s General Directorate on Cultural Assets and Museums notes that there are a number of historical works and artifacts smuggled from Turkey and currently based in other countries, including the US, Germany, Russia, Croatia, Denmark, Italy, France, Switzerland, Serbia, Montenegro, Ukraine and England.
The ministry, in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry, tracks down the artifacts seized in customs checks, exhibited in museums or offered for sale in auctions, and takes measures to request their return, initiate legal proceedings and end the sale transaction. These attempts sometimes pay off; however, there are still a number of artifacts whose fate is unclear.
For instance, the upper part of the Heracles Resting statue, whose lower part is currently on exhibition in the Antalya Museum, is located at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Negotiations are under way for its return.
Historical artifacts -- mostly silver items used for religious purposes -- smuggled from a church in Antalya’s Kumluca district in 1963 are currently exhibited in the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, D.C. The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles also hosts a number of items smuggled from Turkey.
The Troy Treasures, whose return has been requested from Russia for 17 years, are located in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; likewise, the Boğazköy Sphinx is kept at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. The sphinx, which was taken to Germany for repair during the 1970s, never came back.
The Pergamon Museum also exhibits the Zeus Altar, smuggled in the mid-19th century, as well as ruins from Priene and Miletus, İznik tiles, Uşak rugs and Seljuk and Hittite ruins. Four painted wooden planks of Tatarlı Tumulus are held at the Archaologische Staatssammlung Museum in Munich.
A tile pane from the entrance of Selim II’s tomb, located at the Hagia Sophia, and three statues are on exhibition at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
A sphinx figure from the Diyarbakır Museum, a sarcophagus from Akşehir Mahmut Hayrani tomb, a door knocker from Cizre Ulu Cami and some pages from a Quran from the Nuruosmaniye Library are located at the David Collection in Denmark.
Some artifacts smuggled from Turkey are offered for sale in auctions. Sixteen Greek grave stelae are being auctioned at www.edgarlowen.com in the US. The ministry, which became aware of this in 2006, has asked for the return of these items. The ministry, however, failed to stop the auction held by Sotheby’s last year in New York, where a number of items smuggled from Turkey were sold. However, reports indicate that returning the artifacts is still possible provided that Turkey submits undisputable evidence.
Sixty-two pages of a historical Quran stolen in 1990 from the Nuruosmaniye Library Collection were offered for sale at a Christie’s auction in London. Negotiations are being held for the return of a silver kyathos from the Lydian era, which was auctioned in the Bonhams auction house in England. Tiles from the exclusive residence of Murat III and the Eyüp Sultan tomb were offered for sale by Christie’s in Paris in 2007.
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Turkey has been trying to find and recover smuggled items and artifacts, but it fails to attract support from other countries. For instance, attempts have been made to recover coins seized at Stansted Airport in England. Another motion of request was sent to the German authorities to ask for the return of 1,100 historical pieces seized in a Turkish citizen’s house in Germany; however, the German authorities failed to extend judicial assistance.
Russian authorities have refused to return two silver crosses and gold bracelets from the Byzantine era, smuggled from Turkey and seized in Russia two years ago, asserting that these items were handed over to the current owners.
Speaking to the Anatolia news agency yesterday, Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay said they have been tracking down the historical artifacts smuggled from Anatolia to foreign countries. “We have been following auctions, and we asked for support from the Foreign Ministry and other relevant institutions on this matter,” Günay said. “We have stopped some auctions. There have been some returns. These include some important items, but right now, I can’t share the details with the press. Hopefully I will in the future.”
Noting that he got upset when paying a visit to a museum in a foreign country, Günay further said: “You notice that a huge monument and part of a grave stands right at the center of another museum. I was about to sob recently at the British Museum when noticing that all these artifacts were smuggled from our country and exhibited there.”