Germany a Haven for Cypriot Antiquities?

According to German professor Klaus Gallas at a gathering in Dortmund as reported by the Financial Mirror of Cyprus:

Organised international art smugglers, in cooperation or with the tolerance of the Turkish occupation army, have virtually flooded international black markets with stolen icons and other religious and architectural artifacts stolen from the occupied areas of Cyprus, said German professor Klaus Gallas.

Speaking at a gathering at Dortmund, Germany on the destruction of the cultural heritage in the occupied north, Gallas made an extensive reference to the case of Turkish art dealer Aydin Dikmen in Munich and criticized the German authorities for not giving the go ahead for the return of artifacts which have proved to be of Cypriot origin…

 The event was organized by the Cypriot embassy in cooperation with the Greek Academics of North Rhine-Westphalia and was held at the Municipal Art Museum. It included a presentation of a documentary prepared by the Press and Information Office of the Republic of Cyprus on the destruction of the cultural heritage in the occupied areas…

According to the church of Cyprus, some 500 churches have been either destroyed or pillaged since the 1974 Turkish invasion. Some religious relics have been bought back, others were returned to the church after lengthy legal proceedings and others are still at large.

The PIO states that thousands of antiquities illegally excavated in the occupied part of Cyprus have found their way to foreign markets. The channels through which the works of art are sent to the West remain basically the same. Frankfurt has become the main destination for ‘hot merchandise’, from there it reaches antiquities lovers with purchasing power in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Spain, Switzerland, Great Britain, the United States and Canada.

Germany has a large Turkish population, and the problems with Cypriot antiquities can be traced to the armed conflict on the island between Turkish and Greek Cypriots and the armed conflict which escalated in 1974.  Both sides have accused the other of destruction of heritage on the island.

The limited reporting here is an anecdotal account, and I’d be interested to learn more about the specific objects at issue.   I have very little knowledge of German law, though I do know the relevant EU regulations enforce export restrictions of other member states.  Perhaps the difficulty is that these objects may be ‘orphaned’ objects, where German authorities are unsure of their nation of origin? Or perhaps because of the different governments on the island — the Turkish occupied North or the Republic of Cyprus to the South? Or perhaps its bureaucratic red tape delaying the repatriation?  Or perhaps Turkey is pressuring Germany in some way?  Are the disputes over these antiquities a proxy-fight between Turks and Greeks?  

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5 thoughts on “Germany a Haven for Cypriot Antiquities?”

  1. Sounds like a dose of Greek Cypriot propoganda to me. Here is an alternate view from an academic based in the northern (Turkish part of the Island). It can be found as a comment to David Gill’s blog on 8/21/08:

    Looting is indeed a problem everywhere in Cyprus (North and South), though nowadays, most of the material seems not to enter the open market anymore and not to end up with dealers and auction houses in London, Munich and Switzerland. Instead, the “finds” seem to find a quick way to collectors on the island.

    We did a survey of the published collections here in Cyprus (Severis, Giabra Pierides & Zintilis, all formed after 1960)according to the methods applied by Chippendale and Gill to Cycladic figurines, and we found that 98.4% of the objects in the Severis-Coll., 98.6% in the Giabra-Pierides and 37.7% in the Zintilis-Coll. have no provenance or previous owner at all. Of the 784 objects in the Zintilis collection, 29 had so-called “find spots” in Northern Cyprus while 271 had one in the South (Republic of Cyprus). It would be helpful, if those who deplore the looting in Cyprus would also indicate its consequences to the privileged few who can afford to have their collections published… There is, as always, a lot of hypocrisy around.

    Marc Fehlmann
    Department of Archaeology and Art History
    Faculty of Arts and Sciences
    Famagusta, Northern Cyprus

  2. The police is responsible for taking care of cultural property and if have not been able to do that then they have failed in their duty.

    Thanks, htttp://

  3. Sadly, Gallas is not a reliable source. For example, in the German-language newspaper article the Republic of Cyprus found so useful it produced its own glossy German-and-English reprint, he wrote that ‘the Greek Orthodox Churches and the Christian cemeteries are desecrated and plundered. No such thing exists in the southern part of the Republic of Cyprus’ (2002 [1990]: 6).

    Unfortunately, many mosques and Muslim cemeteries, too, have been desecrated and destroyed, in southern Cyprus; indeed, because most violence against mosques happened before the 1974 war and north-south partition, there are even some desecrated mosques in northern Cyprus.

    Nevertheless, Gallas was right to say that Turkish organised crime dominated the illicit antiquities trade in/through northern Cyprus, and that the military was involved. Still, I suspect that he was wrong and that the involved military were business-minded/nationalist elements within the military, rather than proof of institutional policy.

    I suspect that the delay is due to both sides claiming ownership. The Republic of Cyprus is the internationally-recognised government, but northern Cyprus is where the looted antiquities would have come from (and some looted antiquities have been returned to their geographical origin, rather than to their political owner, much to the chagrin of the Republic).

    Gallas, K. 2002 [1990]: Wo der Himmel unter die Räuber fällt / Where the heavens are plundered. Nicosia: Republic of Cyprus Press and Information Office.

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