Turks demand return of artefacts
An opposition Turkish MP Serdal Kuyucuoglu says he wants the return of artefacts plundered from Anatolia over the past 200 years.
“There were so many things stolen from Turkey that are now held in museums in the US, England, Portugal, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece,” the Mersin MP said.
“Even Greece, which like Turkey has also suffered from this smuggling and theft, took a lot of artefacts when they retreated after their defeat in the War of Independence.”
Now 44 artefacts were brought back to Turkey last year, and more than 4,000 in the past 15 years, according to the Ministry of Culture.
Kuyucuoglu is a member of a parliamentary commission trying to recover items from museums and private collections across Europe and North America.
The group recently travelled around Europe to ask for artefacts to be returned.
Anatolia hosted the Assyrians, Hittites, Greeks, Phrygians, Lydians, Carians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks and Ottoman empires.
Up to 200,000 items are estimated to have been taken overseas.
“Turkey is an open-air museum,” Kuyucuoglu told the media. “Many cultures grew in Turkey, so it’s a source of many archaeological artefacts.”
From the early 1800s, archaeologists arrived in Anatolia, then part of the Ottoman Empire, to dig at ancient sites.
“In the 19th century, French, British and German archaeologists were in competition with each other because they were trying to fill their museums,” said Professor Kutalmis Gorkay, archaeology chief at Ankara University.
The excavations were often authorised by Ottoman authorities which had little interest in preserving evidence of earlier empires. Amateurs also dug, often working for private collectors.
“This is the cradle of many civilisations, and we have many layers of cultures, items and artefacts,” said Gorkay.
“The problem now in Turkey is we have a rapid increase in the amount of illegal activities, illegal digs. We noticed that in recent years an increase in the amount of these activities. It’s because of the internet where there are a lot of websites promoting such digs.”
The nationalist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is looking to repatriate lost treasures and prevent further exploitation.
“Anatolia is crying for these objects because they are stolen from their motherland,” said Kuyucuoglu. “These cultures grew in Anatolia. The least these countries who hold our treasures could do is return certain items for exhibition in Turkey where they belong.”
The Ministry of Culture said 150,000 to 200,000 items were still abroad, often in places like the Louvre in Paris and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
Priam’s Treasure is a collection of gold, copper and other artefacts excavated by a German archaeologist who claimed it dated to the legendary Trojan King Priam. It was found in 1873 on what is now recognised as the remains of Troy and displayed in Berlin. But it is now in Moscow’s Pushkin Museum, having been stolen by the advancing Red Army in 1945 and later claimed as war reparations by Moscow.
While Germany demands the collection back, Turkey claims it too.
Ottoman court furniture from the 16th century at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Picture credit: WIkimedia