Turkey has instilled fear in museum directors and curators across North America and Europe with its an aggressive new campaign to repatriate its antiquities. Though it ratified the UNESCO convention that permits museums to acquire artifacts that were outside their countries of origin before 1970, Turkey is now relying on a 1906 Ottoman-era law banning export of artifacts to demand return of any object removed after that date. Turkey is employing measures such as refusing to lend treasures, delaying licenses for archaeological excavations, and publicly shaming museums to ensure the return of artifacts.
Turkey’s tactics have met with success. Last year, the Pergamon agreed to return a 3,000 year old sphinx from the Hittite Empire that Turkey said had been taken to Germany for restoration in 1917. And last month the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology announced that it agreed to lend 24 artifacts from ancient Troy to Turkey, whose questionable provenance helped inspire the 1970 UNESCO convention. Additionally, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston returned the top portion of an 1,800 year old statute “Weary Herakles.”
Yet these strong-armed techniques have also met with criticism. Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which oversees the Pergamon in Berlin, stated that “the Turks are engaging in polemics and nasty politics” and that “they should be careful about making moral claims when their museums are ful of looted treasures,” acquired through centuries of Ottoman conquest and rule.
Read the full article: Seeking Return of Art, Turkey Jolts Museums