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Stolen icons handed over in New York ceremony January 13, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Occupied, Religion & Faith.

Six 13th century Byzantine icons stolen from churches in the Morphou occupied area after the Turkish invasion in 1974 have been returned to the Church of Cyprus during a ceremony in New York late on Wednesday. They will arrive back in Cyprus tomorrow.

The priceless icons were located at the Sotheby’s auction house after Church investigators spotted them for sale in a catalogue.

They were handed over to Bishop Neophytou of Morphou, who told the special gathering: “The Turkish invasion turned upside down the units and the history of the Church in Cyprus and we continue to bear witness to the destruction of our cultural and religious heritage in the areas occupied by Turkey.”

Neophytou commented that thousands of priceless icons had been trafficked from the north of the island since 1974 and had fallen into the hands of wealthy art collectors.

Cypriot ambassador to the US, Andreas Kakouris, who also attended the ceremony, said the government was first notified in 2005 that the icons were due to be auctioned by Sotheby’s. The auction house was asked to halt the sale until the matter was sorted out.

“The return of the icons is part of continuing efforts by the government to maintain and protect our rich cultural and religious heritage. At the same time, we are following a legal course of action relating to the plunder of our treasures and their illicit export,” he said.

Kakouris said the government had redoubled its efforts in monitoring international art markets to locate and repatriate stolen artefacts.

Orthodox Archbishop of the Americas Demetrios said he was very pleased to see the icons “being retrieved from slavery on their way to freedom”.

Five of the six icons were from the church in occupied Asinou in the Morphou district and the sixth was stolen from a church in Kalopanayiotis. Among others they include depictions of the Virgin of Asinou, the Apostles Peter and Paul and Ayios Andronikos.

All have been well-documented in the past in various publications, which made the Church’s case easier to prove. The icons had been in the possession of the Pankow Foundation created by construction magnate Charles Pankow.

Pankow was well known as a connoisseur of the arts, having established a considerable collection of ancient Egyptian, Chinese and Russian artefacts. He amassed one of the largest private collections of Russian and Greek icons in the United States.

After his death, the administrators gathered a lot of his Byzantine pieces for auction and published a catalogue. An out-of-court settlement was reached with the administrators of the Foundation, but only for the reimbursement of expenses and fees. Bishop Neophytou thanked the Foundation for its co-operation.

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