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Antiquities of Cyprus, Victims of Invasion May 24, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Occupied.

The Mediterranean’s first wine was made in Cyprus 5,500 years ago, predating winemaking in Greece by 1,500 years; perfume was manufactured and exported 4,000 years ago, but the antiquities of the 12,000 years of history, so extensive that this ancient island should be regarded as “one huge monument” have been savaged: since the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, sixteen thousand icons, mosaics and frescoes, and 60,000 ancient artifacts have been brutally torn from their contexts, smuggled, hoarded by dealers, consigned for sale to auction houses, and sold to museums and private collectors.

Tragically, the looters not only diminished the value of the artefacts while attempting to remove them, and by removing them from their historical and geographical context, but also destroyed the sites they plundered, said Michael Jansen in her lecture War and Cultural Heritage, presented on May 18 at the Onassis Foundation, presented in collaboration with the International Press Organization.

Cultural property, she said, is a non-renewal resource; archaeologists and historians learn a great deal about our development and history as long as sites are left undisturbed. “Artefacts have voices which tell our story if they are left onsite; in the homes of the wealthy and in museums, they are dumb objects sitting on shelves and languishing in glass cases. Once they tell our story, they can be sent into the world and put on display.”

Mrs. Jansen has followed the issue of the fate of cultural heritage in times of war for thirty years and reported on this issue and the illegal trade of antiquities for Archaeology magazine for the last twenty years. “Unless scholars are able to continue to search out our past and build on the grand narrative of human development and civilization, humankind as a whole is impoverished; the fabric of our historical narrative becomes filled with holes,” said Mrs. Jansen, “We are diminished. Loss in one country or part of the world is a loss for global civilization. Although tomb robbing is said to be the second oldest profession, looting is a crime against civilization, a crime against humanity.”

Mrs. Jansen was introduced by Dr. Mark Rose, executive editor of Archaology magazine, who spoke about the plundering of archaeological sites and museums, and destruction of cultural and religious monuments in countries devastated by war, also mentioning a listing change regarding the return of antiquities to their originating countries.

Mrs. Jansen discussed her 2005 book, War and Cultural Heritage: Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish Invasion, which tells the story of ethnic cleansing, the expulsion of the Greek Cypriot majority, and pillage, the theft of the island’s rich cultural heritage, that began as soon as Turkish soldiers stormed ashore on July 20th, 1974. with the specifics of the brutal destruction and illicit marketing of the island’s historical, cultural, architectural and religious heritage.

“Looting generally accompanies warfare and unrest in countries with rich heritages, she said, “but the case of Cyprus is particularly dramatic because it is confined to a small, well defined geographical area, said Jansen, a resident of Nicosia, Cyprus, since 1976 Mrs. Jansen, who describes the south as “a land of plenty”, and the north as a “wasteland.” said that while little excavation and study of antiquities is being done in the north, archaeologists working in the south are making fresh discoveries all the time. “In the Turkish occupied north, both Christian and ancient sites have been mercilessly plundered and scholarly investigation has been disrupted. Meanwhile in the government-controlled south, sites have been largely preserved and scholars have been at work uncovering the distant past, Scholarship in the north remains frozen while it moves forward in the south.”

Mrs. Jansen discussed the three phase of the invasion of the island. First,158,000 Greek Cypriots fled, while archaeological sites, museums, churches, monasteries, castles, libraries and private collections were robbed and vandalized, sometimes at random by rampaging soldiers and sometimes by professional art and antiquities thieves belonging to a well-organized network on the island.

During the second phase, 2,000 of the remaining 4,000 Greek Cypriots were forced to leave as Turkish Cypriot smugglers systematically targeted specific treasures, which, said mrs. Jansen, were shipped them to “the leading wholesaler of Cypriot loot, Aydin Dikmen in Munich. Dikmen, who began his career in Turkey hawking illegal finds and forging artefacts became a ship-breaker and major player in hot art mafias.”

The third phase is ongoing: 500 Greek Cypriots have clung to their homes in the Karpass Peninsula and looting has continued from unexplored sites while the cultural heritage of the north is also being depleted by illegal excavations, dissolution by neglect and destruction by developers.

A film “Cyprus: The perishing heritage” (production of Cyprus Press and Information Office) shown before the lecture. A comprehensive survey conducted by Greek and Turkish Cypriot architects and engineer revealed that while a majority of mosques in the south are in fair to good repair, most churches and monasteries in the north — some considered to be major world heritage sites because of their irreplaceable mosaics — were looted of icons, brutally stripped of wall paintings and mosaics by Romanian technicians trained by the mainland Turkish smuggler and dealer Aydin Dikmen. Churches and monasteries were also desecrated, being used as toilets and to house animals.

There are three levels of operatives engaged in the illegal art trade, said Mrs. Jansen, tomb robbers who harvest the crop, receivers or middle men, and customers. Tomb robbers and customers are many, but middle men – wholesalers and primary dealers – are few and are closely connected. The authorities and police forces and customers know who looters, dealers and buyers are but rarely take action against them. Sentences are light for those who are caught and tried. But the police in some countries are becoming more active.

Trade in stolen art and antiquities is said to be $5-6 billion a year, with Istanbul, Munich, Zurich and London, being the hubs, and artefacts flowing along routes used by drugs and arms smugglers who often buy looted art to launder their profits from their other enterprises. As well, terrorist groups in Iraq are selling antiquities to finance their operations.

The climate of opinion is changing, however, since the late eighties, around the time the Indianapolis court decided to send the Kanakaria mosaics home to Cyprus when the presiding judge took the view that the dealer had no right to stolen property even though he claimed the buyer had bought them mosaics in “good faith.”

While individual Turkish Cypriots have long been aware that the heritage of the island belongs to them as well as to Greek Cypriots and are trying to rescue it, the Turkish Cypriot and mainland Turkish authorities have done little to preserve Christian and archaeological sites, said Mrs. Jansen. “A belated effort has been made to repair and maintain major archaeological sites in order to attract tourism.” She also noted that some Turkish Cypriot and Turkish journalists did their best to halt the looting by publicizing it. “Turkish Cypriot poet Mehmet Yasin and mainland Turkish journalist Ozgen Acar of Cumhurriet, in particular, campaigned against pillaging.”

Cyprus is not the only victim of pillage. Cambodia, India, the Balkans, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, and the countries of Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America have been subjected to looting, and purchasers of artifacts cannot continue to abide by the maxim, “Don’t ask too many questions,” said Mrs. Jansen. Leading museums and collectors in the US are facing serious moral pressure and prosecution over “hot artefacts” in their collections.

Among the distinguished guests who attended were: Susan Adams – Director of Foreign Press Association, Alan Capper -President of Foreign Press Association, Ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis -Cyprus Mission to the UN, The Honorable Martha Mavromati- Counsul General of Cyprus, Andreas Hadjichrysanthou- Deputy Permanent Representative of Cyprus to the UN, Eleni Avgousti-Cyprus Mission to the UN, George Alexopoulos- Consul of Greece, Demetrios Boutris- Former Trade Commissioner of California, Peter Papanicolaou- philanthropist, other members of the Foreign Press and numerous scholars.

A documentation of 505 Christian and 115 Muslim sites with photographs and descriptions can be found on the website: www.cyprustemples.com.

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