Turkey seeks repatriation of art, Museums resist

1 10 2012

NY Times: “Seeking Return of Art, Turkey Jolts Museums,” by Dan Bilefsky, Sept. 30, 2012

An aggressive campaign by Turkey to reclaim antiquities it says were looted has led in recent months to the return of an ancient sphinx and many golden treasures from the region’s rich past. But it has also drawn condemnation from some of the world’s largest museums, which call the campaign cultural blackmail…

Museum directors say the repatriation drive seeks to alter accepted practices, like a widely embraced Unesco convention that lets museums acquire objects that were outside their countries of origin before 1970. Although Turkey ratified the convention in 1981, it is now citing a 1906 Ottoman-era law — one that banned the export of artifacts — to claim any object removed after that date as its own.

Thievery and looting are wrong, Turkey says, no matter when they occurred. “Artifacts, just like people, animals or plants, have souls and historical memories,” said Turkey’s culture minister, Ertugrul Gunay. “When they are repatriated to their countries, the balance of nature will be restored.”

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