Thursday, May 26, 2011

Turkey Cancels Excavations of Foreign Countries

The New York Times reports on Turkey’s renewed demands that artifacts in museums around the world be given to them.

After years of pleading in vain for the return of Anatolia’s cultural treasures from Western museums, Turkey has started playing hardball. And it is starting to see some results.

This month, Germany reluctantly agreed to return a Hittite statue taken to Berlin by German archaeologists a century ago. “It was agreed that the statue will be handed over to Turkey as a voluntary gesture of friendship,” the German government said after weeks of negotiations between the countries’ foreign ministries.

Days later, Ankara announced it was stepping up a campaign to obtain a breakthrough in a similarly longstanding dispute with the Louvre in Paris over an Ottoman tile panel that went to France in 1895.

[...]

Although the Turkish cases for restitution of the sphinx and the tiles have always been more compelling than those for other treasures, like the Pergamon Altar, that were exported with permission of the Ottoman authorities, Ankara’s requests for their restitution went unanswered for years.

Then, Turkey changed tack. Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay announced earlier this year that he would kick German archaeologists out of the excavations at Hattusa, where they have been working for over a century, if the matter was not resolved. “I am determined not to renew the excavation license for Hattusa if the sphinx is not returned,” Mr. Gunay said in February.

[...]

In a first that rocked the archaeological world in Asia Minor, the digging licenses of two longstanding excavations conducted by German and French teams were revoked earlier this year.

[...]

The leader of the canceled German dig at Aizanoi, Ralf von den Hoff, said in an e-mail that his excavation had fallen victim to the ministry’s “extortionate demands” over the Hattusa sphinx.

[...]

But Germany says the return of the sphinx is a one-of-a-kind deal. “Both sides agreed that the sphinx is a singular case that is not comparable to other cases,” the German government said.

Turkey disagrees. “This is a revolution,” Mr. Gunay said last week about the agreement with the Germans. “This is a great development for the restitution of all our antique artifacts from abroad,” adding, “We will fight in the same way for the restitution of the other artifacts.”

[...]

Mr. Gunay said he foresaw a long struggle ahead, of a century or more, but added that he believed that “in the end Europe will return all of the cultural treasures that it has collected from all over the world.”

All governments take note.  Turkey’s goal is nothing less than that “all of the cultural treasures” be “returned.” 

The article has much more.  Is there any irony in the fact that in order to get some old artifacts returned Turkey would cancel excavations which would fill their museums with new discoveries?

HT: Jack Sasson

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